Cash Poor

2012’s Super PAC Winners and Losers

They spent hundreds of millions to get their candidates elected. But what did that money get them? In some cases, shockingly little. Here’s a look at the best and least performing PACs this election.

Outside of a small cadre of political operatives and dark money donors, nobody knows for sure what happened inside the super PACs that helped fund Mitt Romney’s run for president and hundreds of Congressional races. What we do know is that a good portion of that money—hundreds of millions of dollars—didn’t achieve the desired effect. Romney lost, as did many of his conservative colleagues who ran for House and Senate seats. That’s raising questions about how far money can go when it comes to getting your guy into office.

To find out which super PACs wasted the most money on losing races, The Daily Beast first looked at the 20 biggest PACs by spending in the 2012 election cycle through November 10, using data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. These PACs alone spent about $527 million. We then dug in to see how much each PAC spent on each campaign—whether by supporting a candidate running for president or Congress, or by actively opposing a candidate—and which campaigns went in the PAC’s favor. The dollar amount under each donor’s photograph indicates the total that individual gave to super PACs during the 2012 election cycle.

No surprise, the conservative-leaning groups tended to be the biggest losers in our survey. But the sheer numbers are, in some cases, staggering.

The major Karl Rove-linked group, American Crossroads, spent about $104 million dollars supporting or opposing candidates in 19 races, with most of the money going toward bolstering Romney’s campaign. Just under 98 percent of those races ended up being a loss for the PAC, making it the biggest bust in our survey, in dollar figures.

Percentage-wise, other groups fared worse. Winning Our Future—which backed Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid and received $15 million (of the $17 million it spent) from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson—saw 100% of its spending go out the window.

Of all the major PACs that jumped into the 2012 election cycle fray, the one with the best record was Priorities USA Action—which spent $67.5 million opposing Mitt Romney. It’s the only major PAC that can claim a perfect record coming out of this election season.

A side-by-side comparison of the PACs and their winning percentages suggests that two factors tipped the scales in favor of liberal outside groups this year. Expensive presidential primary races sopped up large amounts of Republican money. Also, the tens of millions of dollars both sides funneled into supporting their candidate and opposing his rival in the presidential race meant that whichever side lost was due to receive a fat black eye in their losing column.

Will Rove and other PAC-masters regroup and re-strategize after their resounding thumping this year? A look at their record would suggest they have no other choice.

— With additional reporting by Caitlin Dickson