Here are some Citizens United (photo: Psychonaught/wikimedia)

The 2012 election will likely end up the most expensive American election on record. Based on current data, the Center for Responsive Politics predicts roughly $5.8 billion will be spent on the presidential and congressional races this year, a 7 percent increase from 2008. The big reason this will be the most expensive election is the explosion in outside spending thanks, in large part, to the Citizens United ruling. Fundraising by the presidential candidates is actually down compared to this time four years ago, but much of that drop is made up for by the emergence of big spending super PACs. From OpenSecret.org:

The presidential race by itself will cost about $2.5 billion, the Center predicts, in funds laid out by the candidates, Democratic and Republican party committees and outside spending groups. The candidates have raised about $608 million, compared with more than $1.1 billion at this point in the 2008 cycle.

The big factor in 2012 is outside money. These elections — presidential and congressional — are the first in which new, post-Citizens United rules will have been operative for the entire two-year campaign cycle. While outside spending groups existed in previous presidential election cycles – Americans Coming Together, for example, on the liberal side, and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth for conservatives — that U.S. Supreme Court decision and other legal developments led to the proliferation of super PACs and the growth of other outside spending groups that don’t have to disclose their donors.

As a result, spending by outside groups will make up a far larger proportion of the total spent in the 2012 election than in previous cycles and will add up to, at a minimum, $750 million, the Center forecasts.

[...]

The degree to which these super PACs are powered by a relative few organizations and very wealthy donors is evident from the fact that the top 100 donors had given the groups $192.8 million out of the total $318 million they had raised by the end of June, or 60.5 percent.

We are definitely on track to having the best democracy money can buy.