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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. First this hour, the impact of superPAC money on the presidential election. As the Republican candidates rise and fall and rise again, one constant has remained. Mitt Romney and the superPAC that backs him has vastly outspent his rivals. And most of the TV ads supporting Romney have been paid for not by his campaign, but by that superPAC. NPR's Brian Naylor tells us more.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: If you add up the numbers, the bottom line looks like this. Romney and Restore Our Future, the superPAC backing him, outspent Newt Gingrich and the superPAC backing him by more than more than 5-to-1 in advance of last Tuesday's primaries in Alabama and Mississippi. They outspent Rick Santorum and his superPAC by more than 15-to-1. That's based on filings to the Federal Election Commission, and data compiled by Kantar CMAG and reported by The Washington Post.

Much of that money is going to ads like this one released today by the Romney campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: Who can turn around the economy and defeat Barack Obama? Not Rick Santorum.

NAYLOR: Now, this ad is actually a bit of an outlier in that it's paid for by the Romney campaign itself. In Alabama, the Romney campaign spent just a fraction of what Restore Our Future did on TV, and in Mississippi, the Romney campaign spent no money on TV ads, while the superPAC bought $1.3 million of TV time. In effect, the Romney campaign has let Restore Our Future become its TV advertising arm.

Donald Tobin is a campaign finance law expert at Ohio State.

DONALD TOBIN: It's a very interesting development in how campaigns, I think, are going to be run in the future. And I think the likely outcome of what we're seeing is that the quote, "independent," superPACs are really going to become the major mechanism of delivering TV advertising.

NAYLOR: Tobin says by allowing the superPAC to handle and pay for the TV ad buys, the campaign itself can focus on other things, such as paying for staff and travel, office and organizing expenses. And it's not just Romney who's allowing the superPACs to handle the ad buys. Newt Gingrich's campaign spent about a 10th of what the superPAC backing him, Winning Our Future, did on ad buys, such as this radio spot that ran in Alabama.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: Alabama knows how to win back America. It's called voting for Newt Gingrich. Paid for by Winning Our Future, not authorized by...

NAYLOR: And the Santorum campaign spent no money at all on TV in Alabama or Mississippi, while the Red White and Blue Fund, the superPAC that backs him, spent some $220,000 in those states on ads. Here's the most recent.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: Meet the real Mitt Romney, supported the Wall Street bailout, putting America trillions in debt, raised job-killing taxes and fees by 700 million leaving Massachusetts over a billion in debt.

NAYLOR: The superPACs have advantages over campaign organizations. Primarily they can accept unlimited donations, allowing a few wealthy backers to give large sums, something tailor-made for TV campaigns. And despite being hugely outspent in Alabama and Mississippi, Santorum actually won those states, while Romney finished third in both places. Ohio State's Donald Tobin thinks there an obvious lesson there, that piling on the most TV ads doesn't guarantee victory.

TOBIN: One of the things that I think political scientists are going to look at is, is there a saturation point where, you know, there's just a law of diminishing returns and you've reached everybody and they know your message and so shouting louder and longer doesn't necessarily help?

NAYLOR: Still, that's not slowing Restore Our Future. The superPAC has already spent more than $2 million on ads in Illinois in support of Romney, against just over $300,000 spent by the superPAC backing Santorum. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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