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October 22, 2014

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Donors have little to show after the cash flow into election

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Charles Dharapak / AP

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney arrives to give his concession speech at his election night rally in Boston, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012.

At the private air terminal at Logan Airport in Boston early Wednesday, men in unwrinkled suits sank into plush leather chairs as they waited to board Gulfstream jets, trading consolations over Mitt Romney’s loss the day before.

“All I can say is the American people have spoken,” said Kenneth Langone, the founder of the Home Depot and one of Romney’s top fundraisers, briskly plucking off his hat and settling into a couch.

The biggest single donor in political history, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, mingled with other Romney backers at a postelection breakfast, fresh off a large gamble gone bad: Of the eight candidates he supported with tens of millions of dollars in contributions to super PACs, none was victorious Tuesday.

And as calls came in Wednesday from some of the donors who had poured more than $300 million into the pair of big-spending outside groups founded in part by Karl Rove — perhaps the leading political entrepreneur of the super PAC era — he offered them a grim upside: Without us, the race would not have been as close as it was.

The most expensive election in U.S. history drew to a close this week with a price tag estimated at more than $6 billion, propelled by legal and regulatory decisions that allowed wealthy donors to pour record amounts of cash into races around the country.

But while outside spending affected the election in innumerable ways — reshaping the Republican presidential nominating contest, clogging the airwaves with unprecedented amounts of negative advertising and shoring up embattled Republican incumbents in the House — the prizes most sought by the emerging class of megadonors remained outside their grasp. President Barack Obama will remain in the White House, and the Democrats will strengthen their lock on the Senate.

The election’s most lavishly self-financed candidate fared no better. Linda McMahon, a Connecticut Republican who is a former professional wrestling executive, spent close to $100 million — nearly all of it her own money — on two races for the Senate, conceding defeat Tuesday for the second time in three years.

“Money is a necessary condition for electoral success,” said Bob Biersack, a senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending. “But it’s not sufficient, and it’s never been.”

Even by the flush standards of a campaign in which the two presidential candidates raised $1 billion each, the scale of outside spending was staggering: More than $1 billion all told, about triple the amount in 2010.

Obama faced at least $386 million in negative advertising from super PACs and other outside spenders, more than double what the groups supporting him spent on the airwaves. Outside groups spent more than $37 million in Virginia’s Senate race and $30 million in Ohio’s, a majority to aid the Republican candidates.

The bulk of that outside money came from a relatively small group of wealthy donors, unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allowed unlimited contributions to super PACs. Harold Simmons, a Texas industrialist, gave $26.9 million to super PACs backing Romney and Republican candidates for the Senate. Joe Ricketts, owner of the Chicago Cubs, spent close to $13 million to bankroll a super PAC attacking Obama over federal spending.

Click to enlarge photo

Las Vegas Sands CEO and Chairman Sheldon Adelson, shown in this April 26, 2012, file photo, is backing a Republican group trying to persuade Jewish voters in battleground states to support presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Bob Perry, a Texas homebuilder, poured more than $21 million into super PACs active in the presidential race and the Senate battles in Florida and Virginia, where Democrats prevailed. A donor network marshaled by Charles and David Koch, billionaire industrialists and conservative philanthropists, reportedly sought to raise $400 million for tax-exempt groups that are not required to disclose their spending.

Adelson’s giving to super PACs and other outside groups came to more than $60 million, although in public Adelson did not seem overly concerned about the paltry returns on his investment.

“Paying bills,” Adelson said Tuesday night when asked by a Norwegian reporter how he thought his donations had been spent. “That’s how you spend money. Either that or become a Jewish husband — you spend a lot of money.”

Flush with cash, Republican-leaning groups outspent Democratic ones by an even greater margin than in 2010. But rather than produce a major partisan imbalance, the money merely evened the playing field in many races.

In several competitive Senate races, high spending by outside groups was offset to a large extent with stronger fundraising by Democratic candidates, assisted at the margins by Democratic super PACs.

For much of the fall, Obama and Democratic groups broadcast at least as many ads, and sometimes more, in swing states than Romney and his allied groups, in part because Obama was able to secure lower ad rates by paying for most of the advertising himself. Romney relied far more on outside groups, which must pay higher rates.

Haley Barbour, a former Mississippi governor who helped Rove raise money for American Crossroads and its sister group, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, said that without a blitz of coordinated anti-Obama advertising in the summer, the campaign would not have been as competitive.

“I believe that some of that money actually kept Romney from getting beat down by the carpet-bombing he underwent from the Obama forces,” Barbour said. “I did look at it more as us trying to keep our candidates from getting swamped, like what happened to McCain.”

Some advocates for tighter campaign financing regulations argued that who won or lost was beside the point. The danger, they argued, is that in the post-Citizens United world, candidates and officeholders on both sides of the aisle are far more beholden to the wealthy individuals who can finance large-scale independent spending.

“Unlimited contributions and secret money in American politics have resulted in the past in scandal and the corruption of government decisions,” said Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21, a watchdog group. “This will happen again in the future.”

But Wednesday, at least, the nation’s megadonors returned home with lighter wallets and few victories.

As the morning wore on at Logan Airport, more guests from Romney’s election-night party at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center trickled in, lugging garment bags and forming a small line at the security checkpoint.

“It’s going to be a long flight home, isn’t it?” said one person, who asked not to be identified.

Investor Julian Robertson, who held fundraisers for Romney and gave more than $2 million to a pro-Romney super PAC, arrived with several companions. Robertson spotted an acquaintance: Emil W. Henry Jr., an economic adviser and a fundraiser for Romney, to whom Robertson had offered a ride on his charter.

“Aww, group hug,” Henry said.

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  1. Wow...

    Just...wow.

    On the one hand, it warms the cockles of my heart to know how much money was wasted by these democracy-threatening PAC groups on the 2012 elections.

    On the other hand, it is sick, sick, SICK that individuals would find it not only appropriate, but indeed a NECESSARY PART OF DOING BUSINESS to contribute gross amounts of COLD, HARD CASH to getting their 'buddies' elected.

    It is twisted, people.

  2. Would be interesting to know how much Karl Rove put in his pocket at the end of all of this..

  3. Couldn't happen to a more deserving group.

  4. Karl Rove got it wrong.
    Dick Morris got it wrong.
    Foxnews got it wrong.

    The message and the numbers were wrong from the start. The biggest disseminator of wrong information is,...Foxnews.

    Foxnews and company continue to feed the lie to their viewers each day, each week and monthly using selected polls. Even the Republican candidates actually believed they would win the White House. Now, Foxnews and company are blaming the Sandy storm for their lost and saying the Obama campaign suppressed the vote. Actually, Karl Rove said it, and everyone on Foxnews repeats it, and this becomes their new reality. Sick isn't it!

    Big donors like Sheldon Alderson and the Koch Brothers now know they were "had" by Karl Rove and others who supplies numbers saying the race was close, but the race was never close.

    The featured polling used on Foxnews and others, Gallup and Rasmussen, both ranked 24th out of 28 of the major polls.

    Living in a bubble has the consequences of losing 303 to 206 in Electoral Votes. The Florida vote count is not included the announced vote total. Florida is lending heavily for the President and soon will announce the final votes.

    The Nation proved that Big Money donor cannot create their reality of election events on the Nation level. Maybe the big donors can buy state and local elections, but not the Presidency of the United States. As least not this election.

  5. Enjoyed the article.

    After the dust has settled, it is without a doubt that Mr. Karl Rove is a shyster. In the coming months, I predict his every rising stardom will come crashing down and disintegrate. His success rate was one percent for every $103 million dollars spent. The funny thing is he is running around doing his typical Bush-era thing of claiming the exact opposite of what actually happened. And this will only lead to more failure.

    Anyways, the people have indeed spoken. The people. Not the villainaires. The people. Corporations are now verified to NOT be people. People are people. The vote is way way stronger than any money thrown in politics. I can't be bought. You can't be bought. We can't be bought. Our vote is sacrosanct. This election proved it.

    The hilarious thing about the Tea/Republican Party is they are already moving not to double down on the rhetoric, but I see every effort by the ultra-right wing media to triple down, trying to maintain they are indeed the voice of the Tea/Republican Party.

    This will end up in more failure. We are watching them destroy themselves.

    But, I have decided the best thing to do regarding Tea/Republicans is only one course of action...

    I am going to have to stock up on an unlimited amount of popcorn.

    I'm going to need it.

    They will provide for entertainment enjoyment for at least the next two years. If not an entire generation or two.

  6. It sure sucks being these people. This is just what turned the election to Obama, voters finally seeing through the fake front that was Mitt Romney. Please keep in mind millions to Billionaires is like hundred of dollars to us common folks. Too bad this article did not dig deeper into the other tactics these people used. I use to work for Koch Industries not by choice but they bought the CO. I worked for. I was only 5 years away from retirement so I had to stay. One tactic they used was they wanted us to sign a paper which stated if any employee ran for any public office they had to get permission from Koch. I believe the Constitution states this different and it gives me the right to do so. That is what I told my employer when I refused to sign it. Second this year Koch sent a letter to all of it's Georgia Pacific employees telling them if Obama is re-elected their will be layoffs and closures. Gee I wonder if that changed any votes. Worst of all a bunch of other Billionaires did the same thing. Just think of the good 1/2 of this money spent on the election would do if applied in a correct way. This country needs to limit how much money can be donated for political campaigns no matter where it comes from. Political season has become a cash cow in this country especially for the TV stations. So as the defeated Billionaires go off to make more Billions and sulk I am sure they are going to meet up soon with the Grinch and plan out their next plan to control all of us.

  7. Imagine the boost it could have given to our local economy if Mr. Adelson had given 1/3 of that total spent in bonuses to his employees? Or used it to give health and dental coverage to his legions of part-time workers? Or donated it to local shelters for the homeless or abused? Or donated it to the Red Cross?

  8. I personally would like to Thank Mr. Adelson for pumping Millions of dollars into the economy.

    Mr. Adelson has done this in the past, just not on such a grand scale and each time who ever he backs loses so he ends up receiving nothing in return but it does put Millions of his dollars in play. Good for him. He is willing to put HIS MONEY where his mouth is even when he always loses. ;-)

  9. I don't see a constitutional amendment that overturns citizens united anytime soon. In the mean time we should tax these contributions in some way. Since corporations are people, making the contributions subject to the gift tax makes sense.

  10. High end tax breaks are used to swing elections - only broadcasting and media experienced higher incomes.

  11. VegasEngineer: "I don't see a constitutional amendment that overturns citizens united anytime soon. In the mean time we should tax these contributions in some way. Since corporations are people, making the contributions subject to the gift tax makes sense."

    I agree that the contributions should be treated as gifts and taxed as such.

    As far as a constitutional amendment; there are other ways.
    If Democrats can hold onto the Executive branch for the next 20 years the SCOTUS will likely lean left and overturn the prior decision. Also in the Citizens United case the SCOTUS made clear there can be NO collusion with candidates or political parties. I believe there is evidence of collusion and some bright US Attorneys are working on the cases. I recall a major slip by Karl Rove stating he was in contact with key Romney campaign officials. One conviction can have a very chilling effect.

  12. I know this will never be read by those it really impacts however I believe its appropriate for the moment

    Its a quote that a famous man once made to me and it goes like this

    "When experience meets money,The one with the experience gets the money and the one with the money gets the experience.

    Good luck to those monied individuals who have been smart and lucky in making a fortune. They also have the right to squander it on a fools errand. Like a bucket of water they have the power to stick their hands in and make waves however after they are gone the water in the bucket becomes calm once again.