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Mann: Money talks in Republican presidential primaries

By Jonathan Mann, CNN
updated 12:29 PM EST, Wed February 1, 2012
Republican Mitt Romney cemented his frontrunner status with his victory in the Florida presidential primary on Tuesday.
Republican Mitt Romney cemented his frontrunner status with his victory in the Florida presidential primary on Tuesday.
  • Republican Mitt Romney cements frontrunner status with victory in Florida presidential primary
  • Romney gets 46% of vote, compared to 32% for Newt Gingrich and 13% for Rick Santorum
  • Romney and his supporters collected nearly $90 million for his campaign by end of 2011, report says

(CNN) -- Mitt Romney moved another big step closer to the Republican nomination for the U.S. presidency this week: a very competent candidate with a stunning amount of cash and a court ruling that will keep the funds flowing.

"Napoleon said god is on the side of big battalions. Voters are usually on the side of big money," said CNN political analyst Paul Begala.

Romney got the support of 46 percent of Republican voters in the Florida primary election, the latest of the state-by-state votes leading to the contest against Barack Obama in November. Former lawmaker Newt Gingrich came in second with 32 percent. Two other candidates in the race were far behind.

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Romney is a polished public speaker who ran for president four years ago and has spent the time since carefully preparing to do it again.

He's also a multi-millionaire who seems to be a magnet for money. One report by Reuters news agency suggests he and his supporters collected nearly $90 million for his campaign by the end of 2011, with the campaign barely under way. By comparison, the Gingrich camp raised just under $15 million.

The U.S. is one of many democracies that have tried to keep money from buying elections. But this is the first presidential election to be affected by a relatively new ruling by the country's Supreme Court.

The court ruled in 2010 that organizations known as Super Political Action Committees, or Super-PACs, have a right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections as long as they stay independent of the candidates.

Hundreds of Super PACs have quickly sprung up, baking both Republicans and Democrats. In Florida, they reportedly spent even more than the presidential candidates did.

"When you have that much money washing around campaigns, there will be scandals," said Senator John McCain, who defeated Romney four years ago for the Republican presidential nomination but is backing him this time.

Federal officials predict that this year's elections to the White House, Congress and state offices could involve $11 billion in spending.

Even without any big scandals so far, that's an awful lot of uncontrolled cash.

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