Each presidential campaign raised more than $800 million, a staggering sum. Obama had shattered records four years ago when his fundraising apparatus pulled in $750 million. That amount raised by the presidential candidates is dwarfed by amounts being spent collectively on congressional campaigns.
"The general election story here will turn out to be the key role that super PACs have played in contested Senate races and some congressional races," said Trevor Potter, a former chair of the Federal Election Commission and an advocate of campaign-finance reform. "The amount of money is massive."
Proponents of tougher limits on money in politics said they worry about the potential for corruption, but they aren't optimistic about changes to the system. The Disclose Act in Congress, which would have forced campaigns to identify donors who gave more than $10,000, failed in the Senate.
The relaxed spending rules aren't upsetting everyone, including advocates who said unlimited contributions amount to political speech protected by the First Amendment. Some said rules requiring campaigns to identify donors violate a person's right to anonymous speech.
Whatever the case, the new rules have effectively allowed some donors to remain anonymous, such as in the case of a super PAC helping conservative candidates. FreedomWorks for America reported more than $5.2 million in donations during the first half of October — about 90 percent of the group's fundraising haul — from an apparent shell company in Knoxville, Tenn.