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.

Overall, of the 1.07 billion spent on the general elections by some 629 outside groups, just 32 percent yielded the desired results, an analysis based on the results and independent expenditure reports filed with the Federal Election Committees shows. We looked at candidates that groups supported and opposed to determine their desired candidates in specific races, and calculated what percentage of the money they spent led to their desired outcome. Spending on primary races was not included in this analysis. 

The results achieved by mammoth spenders like American Crossroads, a super PAC, and Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit "dark money" group that doesn't disclose its donors, gave its founders, veteran Republican strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, a long election night. American Crossroads was on the losing side in eight races; with just over one percent of the money it spent backing a winning candidate. Crossroads GPS fared a little better; 13 percent of their spending backed winning candidates. Together, the Crossroads pair spent more than $170 million this election. Among their more costly losses in Congress were the Florida race between incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican challenger Connie Mack. American Crossroads spent $4 million to unseat Nelson, who won handily. They also spent $1.3 million in the Wisconsin Senate race to try to elect former Gov. Tommy Thompson; Rep. Tammy Baldwin won the seat with a 51 percent vote.

Not all outside spending was in vain. A pair of super PACs created by Democrats to counter American Crossroads in Senate and House races saw more than 40 races go their way. Majority PAC–the fourth biggest spender among super PACs, won big in 13 Senate races, a 69 percent return for their money. The House Majority PAC, the fifth biggest spender, played a hand in 29 races that went their way. The group upped its spending in the last few weeks, doling out $18 million–or 60 percent of their total independent expenditures–in the last few weeks before the election. But the biggest winners for Democrats were labor groups, especially the two Service Employees International Union groups that have spent about $30 million for electioneering purposes. The two affiliated SEIU groups saw about 70 percent of their money backing candidates who won. 

Some groups backed a single candidate, often in vain. Among those putting all their eggs in one candidate's basket was the Independence Virginia PAC, a super PAC that spent $4 million trying to return Republican George Allen to the Senate. The group had casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and known Texas donor Bob Perry of Perry Homes among its list of bankrollers. And the Committee to Elect an Effective Valley Congressman, formed by backers of Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., saw his Democratic rival, Rep. Brad Sherman, win the seat, despite the $1.3 million they'd invested. 

In Pennsylvania, Democrat Mark Critz lost his seat to GOP candidate Keith Rothfus, in the House race which saw the most outside money spent. Critz, the former chief of staff of Rep. John Murtha who won election to his boss' old seat after the earmark king died in February 2010 had been a top target for conservatives. Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist's nonprofit, and the YG Action Fund, the super PAC with ties to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, both spent money on the race.

In Massachusetts, Democrat Elizabeth Warren defeated Republican incumbent Scott Brown. While it was a closely contested race, outside groups did not play a big role, in part because both candidates asked them to stay out. Despite the candidates' wishes, outside groups quickly dropped more than $5 million in October and the first week of November. Big rollers helping Warren win were the Rethink PAC and the League of Conservation Voters. A Brown backer, America 360, a late spender that concentrated only on Massachusetts, found itself on the losing side.

Among dark money groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Future Fund, both of which backed Republicans, fared poorly. The Chamber was among the groups with the worst return on investment–while their favored candidates won in four of six races, they spent the vast majority of their money on the two races that didn't go their way, getting a low 5 percent return in investment. Another dark money group, the business roundtable which has a lot of clout as a major lobbyists, they’ve spent more than $32 million while not disclosing their donors to the Federal Election Commission. The American Future Fund, a group linked David and Charles Koch, the billionaire owners of Koch Industries and megadonors to libertarian and conservative causes, spent a total of $23 million on a slew of races with only three going their way.

Organizational spending and return on investment:

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Outside groups and outcome of each race:

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