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Elections 2012: Sunlight Foundation Follows the Money

Outside spenders' return on investment

Tuesday's elections produced some big winners -- and some really big losers -- whose names never appeared on any ballot. After outside groups spent more than $1.3 billion in independent expenditures to influence the outcome of the election, we now get to see just what all that money bought them -- or didn't.

ROI chart


A revealing glance at the freshmen of the 113th Congress

In stark contrast to the current crop of House freshmen, which we reported on extensively earlier this year, the soon-to-be newly sworn in members of the 113th Congress is considerably more balanced politically; however, analysts warn that it will likely be the most divided class yet.


Big donors to Obama super PAC have lobbying priorities of their own

Priorities USA Action Fund, the third biggest super PAC in the 2012 elections, had 31 donors--individuals and organizations--who contributed $1 million or more to support President Barack Obama's reelection effort. At least 15 of them have business before the federal government, either directly, or through companies they own large stakes in, either from their own efforts or through inheritance.


Five reasons big money still matters

While many of the big donors and big spending outside groups they financed came up short on Election Day, that's no reason to think that the donors who wrote seven figure checks to super PACs or gave anonymous millions to the shadowy nonprofits who don't disclose their donors will have little impact after Election Day. Win or lose, there's still only two important things in politics, as the 19th century's own Karl Rove, a Republican fundraiser named Mark Hanna, once said: "Money, and I can't remember the second." Here are five reasons why big money will have an outsized footprint in 2013, and beyond.


Senate scorecard: Who won, and whom they owe

As with the presidential race, conservative outside groups who dropped the most money on heated Senate contests didn't get a great return on their investments. But that doesn't mean the new or returning senators that emerged victorious weren't also backed by big money. These groups, dominated by labor, will be asking for something in return for their support.


To the victors go the spoils: What top donors want

With the election over, a Congress full of lame ducks -- along with next year's class of soon-to-be sworn-in lawmakers, ready for freshmen orientation -- returns to Washington next week. Lobbyists and special interests that opened their wallets for candidates are poised to call in chits in a tense environment dominated by the budget impasse that threatens to impose sweeping automatic cuts to defense and social programs if Congress doesn't act.


More than two-thirds of outside spending backed losing candidates

Republican-leaning outside groups got trounced in Tuesday's election results, with the biggest spenders getting little return for their investment. Labor unions had a much better track record, with some directing 75 percent of their money--or more--to winning causes.


Four House races where outside money may have pushed the needle

Outside spending can have its biggest impact in smaller races. And in a number of contests for congressional seats where there was a significant money advantage for one side, independent expenditures seemed to help push the needle.

Here are four members of the 113th Congress whose chances of winning increased after receiving a significant boost from outside nonprofits and super PACs attacking their opponents or praising them.


House freshmen faring well as incumbents

A vast majority of the freshmen swept into office two years ago on an anti-incumbency tide managed to survive their first reelection as incumbents, and while some appear to have been helped by last-minute infusions of cash from outside spenders, in many cases, independent expenditures don't appear to have made much of a difference.


Obama campaign falls short of billion dollar goal--by $1.8 million

While the final reports to the Federal Election Commission have yet to be filed, it's not too early to conclude that the campaign fundraising of President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Gov. Mitt Romney and their respective parties have been nothing short of staggering. In the tally of the most recent numbers, Obama came out on top, $998.2 million to $834.5 million, an advantage of $163.7 million. Obama is just short--by $1.8 million--of the goal his campaign set, then quickly disavowed, of raising $1 billion, a figure he may well reach when final reports come in to the FEC.


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  • What We are Reading
    • Editorial: "A Landslide Loss for Big Money" New York Times
    • With Millions Spent, GOP 'Investors' Saw Little Return Election Night NPR's "Morning Edition"
    • Editorial: "A campaign awash in cash" Washington Post
    • A cache of mysterious documents found in a Colorado meth house show the group behind the Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United case may have been breaking the law. PBS
    • Tracking campaign ads in the 2012 elections is no easy feat. From every source, a different number. Columbia Journalism Review
    • Editorial: "The $6 billion presidential contest" USA Today