Republican-leaning super PACs were first influential in the 2010 congressional elections. Now, presidential contenders are receiving millions of dollars in financial backing from new, free-spending, unregulated political action groups.
Make Us Great Again PAC, a super PAC supporting Republican front-runner Rick Perry, was cofounded by Mike Toomey, a former chief of staff to the governor. Documents show the group plans to spend $55 million to support Perry's White House run.
The Perry-aligned super PAC must compete with Restore Our Future, formed to boost his rival Mitt Romney. It raised $20 million from January through June. Its treasurer, Charles Spies, was general counsel for Romney's 2008 White House bid.
The third-quarter 2011 campaign fund-raising period ends Friday. Campaign finance reports from that quarter will offer a clearer picture of how much help the super PACs will be able to offer their candidates.
The super PACs that favor certain candidates have already begun spending on television advertising. Keeping Conservatives United, a super PAC supporting Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, assailed Perry's record in Texas.
Candidates will continue to do their own fund-raising. A presidential campaign can raise at most $5,000 total from an individual donor - $2,500 each for the primary and general elections. Super PACs can solicit and spend unlimited funds. Some super PACs also have affiliated groups whose donors are allowed to remain anonymous.
One of those is Priorities USA Action, a super PAC formed by former Obama White House aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney to promote the president's reelection. A sister group, Priorities USA, allows anonymous contributions even though the president has publicly criticized them.
Obama raised $750 million for his 2008 campaign and is looking to exceed that total for his reelection effort, raising the question of why he would even need a super PAC working on his behalf. And the Perry and Romney campaigns are expected to far outpace all other GOP competitors in fund-raising, with their aligned super PACs only helping to cement that advantage.
Super PACs made their debut after a Supreme Court decision that removed restrictions on corporate and union spending in elections.