CREW Announces 2012 Money in Politics Awards
With the 2012 election in the books, all that’s left to do now is tally the final receipts from the most expensive campaign in history for clues about how the unprecedented spending affected the results. Although campaigns won’t report final numbers for a few more weeks, based on our analysis of outside spending groups, a few clear winners and losers emerged.
“Super PACs and 501(c) groups were out in full force ahead of the 2012 election, but as CREW’s analysis shows, their bottomless spending was not enough to carry the day,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “While massive amounts of dark money certainly benefitted particular candidates, in most cases the spending wasn’t enough to guarantee a decisive victory against a prepared opponent. Citizens United may have made it easier for millionaires to try to buy the election, but was not enough to ensure success.”
In all, outside groups spent more than $1 billion on federal elections for the president, the House, and the Senate. Additionally, the parties spent more than $250 million in independent expenditures on these races. In many races, spending by super PACs and 501(c) groups easily topped spending by the candidates themselves, and sometimes spending by both candidates combined.
With that in mind, here are CREW’s 2012 post-election awards:
Herding Cats Award: Republican Party
Republicans outspent Democrats by almost $500 million, but lacked the coordination to make that spending effective. Even though outside groups coordinated with each other, candidate-controlled spending appears to have been more effective.
The contentious Republican primary kept GOP candidates dodging friendly fire instead of focusing funds on winning the general election. In Indiana’s Republican primary for the Senate between Sen. Richard Lugar and Richard Mourdock, conservative outside groups squared off against one another as American Action Network supported the incumbent, while Club for Growth and Freedom Works poured money into the Mourdock campaign. Mourdock was able to unseat the incumbent senator, but ultimately was unable to defeat his Democratic opponent.
Mudslinging Award: Wisconsin Senate Race
The U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin between Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin and former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson redefined the depths to which candidates and outside groups will stoop in order to win. In the month before voters went to the polls, 99 percent of all television ads broadcast in the Wisconsin Senate race were negative.
Bang for Your Buck Award: Planned Parenthood
According to the Sunlight Foundation, Planned Parenthood had the greatest return on investment of any outside group in this year’s races. Of the nearly $12 million the organization spent, almost 98.7% went into races where the candidate it supported won.
Shadow Party Award: Crossroads GPS
In the 2012 election, Karl Rove’s shady 501(c)(4) group, Crossroads GPS, spent tens of millions of dollars in total trying to influence voters in highly contested Senate races in Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio, Nevada, North Dakota, and Montana. Although Rove has no official position within the GOP, Crossroads’ strong hold on Republican politics and donors’ pocketbooks threatens to overtake the party.
Daddy Warbucks Award: Sheldon Adelson
Sixty-two percent of contributions to super PACs came from just one percent of donors, but Sheldon Adelson took this to a whole new level. The casino magnate and his wife were the biggest contributors to super PACs, donating more than $53 million to various groups. Along with almost singlehandedly propping up Newt Gingrich’s failed presidential run, Adelson spent millions to settle a long-running feud with Nevada Democratic Senate candidate Shelley Berkley. It’s impossible to known how much additional he and his family contributed to “dark money” groups, but he reportedly gave $35 million to Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS.
Top Shelf Award: Virginia Senate Race
Roughly $81 million was spent by the two candidates, their parties, and outside groups in the race for Virginia’s open Senate seat — the most expensive Senate race in the country. Comparatively, the 2006 race for the same seat cost under $40 million. A consultant working for Republican George Allen stated the race “never would have been competitive without outside money.”
Meg Whitman Award: Linda McMahon, Connecticut Senate Race
Connecticut Republican Linda McMahon gave her campaign about $47 million from her own pocket, but still failed in her quest for the U.S. Senate. By contrast, Democrat Chris Murphy raised close to $9.3 million in his successful bid. While money can buy a lot of things, it can’t always buy a Senate seat.
Money Pit Award: Montana Senate Race
The amount of spending per vote in the hard-fought race between Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg and incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester may have been the highest in the country. The candidates, outside groups, and parties spent a total of $43.8 million on the race, resulting in a cost of over $90 per vote cast.