Republicans Aren’t So Good With Money After All

Ind grp cost per vote propublica

Weigel takes stock of the GOP’s ineffective outside-money operation:

In the grand sweep of American politics, never has so much money been spent for so little gain. Up to $40 million of outside money was poured into Ohio to beat Brown. American Crossroads spent nearly $105 million on its campaigns nationally. Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC, spent nearly $143 million. Just those two groups, combined, spent more than the 2000 Rove-led presidential campaign of George W. Bush. The difference: These guys lost. Both Restore Our Future and American Crossroads shoveled money into swing states and bluer “reach” states, trying to soften them up for Mitt Romney. “In the month of August,” said Restore Our Future’s Charlie Spies to reporter Andrew Kroll, “we were one of the key things keeping Mitt Romney afloat.” It spent $21 million that month, in an attempt—don’t say “coordinated”!—to keep Romney competitive while the candidate held back and raised money. It did keep the race close. But Romney lost all but one swing state, North Carolina.

Karl Rove’s groups were among the worst performers:

Using available data, the Sunlight Foundation said of the $103.5 million American Crossroads spent in the general election, 1.29% of it ended in the desired result. None of the candidates American Crossroads supported won, and most of the candidates it opposed were victorious. Crossroads GPS, which does not have to disclose its donors, spent $70 million during the general election with 14.4% of it having the result it wanted, according to Sunlight Foundation’s analysis. None of the candidates GPS supported won.

Rebecca Berg has some feedback for Rove from one of Todd Akin’s campaign advisors:

“You can’t just run ads and do robocalls, and count that as contacting voters,” [advisor Rick] Tyler said. He pointed to the result of the presidential contest Tuesday. Because of the magnitude of funding Rove and Crossroads committed to win races that Republicans ultimately lost, Tyler added, the super PAC deserved more blame for Tuesday’s outcomes than did the Republican Party itself. “Rove spends more for Republican candidates than the NRSC and the NRCC. He’s running things,” Tyler said. He added, “Rove is definitely a problem.” Of the money invested by Crossroads versus the return, Tyler added, “It’s either malpractice or it’s corrupt.”

Weigel has some thoughts on the non-ad spending as well:

Some of the big money went to organizing. I hung out multiple times with volunteers for American Majority, Americans for Prosperity, and FreedomWorks, all of which got sizable donations in order to turn out votes. Tea Partiers signed up, taking literature from home to home, trying to repeat the magic of 2010. It did not work. It wasn’t just that the ads were lame, it was that the organizing was monumentally less effective than OFA’s four-year campaign.

Not everybody struck out with outside spending:

Planned Parenthood’s two political funds—both with much less money than the aforementioned conservative groups—both had success rates of more than 97 percent. The League of Conservation Voters notched up a 78 percent score. And labor groups got some serious bang for their bucks: The SEIU’s two outside spending groups, for instance, had “desired results” in 74 percent and 85 percent of the races in which they invested.

But Jamelle Bouie argues that the GOP’s outside-spending operation shouldn’t be underestimated:

If you expand [the definition of “effective”] to include “electoral influence,” it’s not at all clear that spending was wasted. For starters, the mere act of spending tens (or hundreds) of millions of dollars on an election has an effect on the policy views of the candidates the groups are trying to elect, and the issues they’re discussing. For example, the New Republic’s Alec MacGillis has noted that Mitt Romney’s pivot to the center — his “Etch A Sketch” moment — was delayed by the fact that he had to raise money from GOP mega donors who wanted him to commit to hardline conservative positions. A world where Romney won is one where there would have been a huge return on investment in policy terms; just because their favored candidates lost doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a worthwhile way to spend money.

Eric Posner also warns liberals about becoming complacent:

Some Democrats did lose, and super PAC money may have made a difference. More insidiously, if Republicans have wealthier backers than Democrats (as they do), and spending for candidates improves their chances of winning (as it does), then the influx of money will shift Democrats to the right, so they can reduce the incentive of wealthy donors to give to Republicans or get some of the money for themselves. If you think President Obama went easy on the banks in the last couple of years, you might point to Citizens United as the explanation.

Sargent adds:

I’m hoping for good research on the efficacy of all this spending — and on whether the enormity of it ended up producing a diminishing returns effect. Given just how much was spent — in return for so little of an impact — it does seem possible that wealthy donors may be somewhat more reluctant to hand over checks to these operations in the future. That would be a fitting outcome, given the loud chest thumping we heard from these groups early on about how their financial firepower would allow them to nuke Obama and Dems into toxic sludge in all these battlegrounds.

I don’t know if Tuesday’s outcome will dramatically reduce Super PAC spending on our elections in the future — a legislative solution may be the only thing that will work. But it was good to see that the Great Super PAC Attack of 2012 — the first time this has been tried on this scale in a presidential race — ended up being a big fizzle.

(Image created from ProPublica’s independent group expenditures analysis)