(USA TODAY) - Total spending on the presidential and congressional races this year is on pace to reach a record $5.8 billion, according to a new analysis.
The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics estimates the total cost of the 2012 elections will jump 7% from $5.4 billion four years ago and could "come close" this year to reaching $6 billion.
One factor that could change the bottom line: Spending by super PACs and other outside groups that don't have to reveal their donors, which have multiplied in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling.
"Although a lot of money still remains to be raised and spent, the data already show that we're on track to break the extraordinary, record-setting sums spent in 2008," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.
"More important than the total spent, the real difference this cycle is how great a portion of that money will come from purportedly independent, often secretive groups," Krumholz said.
The center estimates the race for the White House will cost $2.5 billion. USA TODAY's Fredreka Schouten reported recently that the presidential battle has already crossed the $1 billion mark, based on spending by the candidates, political parties and two super PACs tied to President Obama and Mitt Romney.
The center's estimates on the total cost of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections are based on spending by candidates, political parties, tax-exempt groups, super PACs and other outside groups, plus what will be spent on the political conventions.