Five reasons big money still matters after Election Day 2012

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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. If you need any further convincing, check out Stephen Colbert's latest move with his campaign money above and remember, there's more than a kernel of truth in every satire. 

1. Not all big bettors lost: There were 41 donors–individuals and organizations–who gave $1 million or more to the biggest super PACs supporting the president, Senate Democrats and House Republicans. There were 31 donors who contributed $1 million or more to the third biggest super PAC in 2012, Priorities USA Action Fund, which backed President Barack Obama. The Majority PAC, the fourth biggest super PAC which backed Senate Democratic campaigns, had a total of five million-plus donors. The Congressional Leadership Fund, which had ties to House Speaker John Boehner, was the 11th biggest super PAC; it had four donors who gave $1 million or more, including high profile donors like Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, the husband and wife team who pumped more than $50 million into outside groups. They contributed $5 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund.

2. There are no permanent losers in politics: An incumbent president wins a second term by an overwhelming Electoral College majority over a Massachusetts politician who, despite being aided by hundreds of millions in spending by outside groups, loses the election in a handful of hotly contested battleground states. The president proclaims his victory as a mandate…to privatize Social Security. That was 2004, when President George W. Bush prevailed over Democratic candidate John Kerry and dozens of outside groups like the Media Fund, and Americans Coming Together. In February 2005, the Center for Public Integrity reported that some of the biggest spenders in the 2004 campaign–both conservative and liberal–were gearing up to do battle over Bush's proposals to change Social Security. The same donors who saw John Kerry go down to defeat in Ohio, and Republicans pick up Senate and House seats in the bargain, came out on top in 2005 when Bush's Social Security proposals went down in flames. Super PACs and political nonprofits are already making the switch from backing and attacking politicians to backing and attacking policies.

3. There are permanent insiders in politics: Of the top 50 super PACs, which spent some $590 million trying to elect or defeat federal candidates, 36 were run by former party, campaign, congressional or executive branch insiders. Of the $591 million that those top 50 groups spent, insiders–including a former chair of the Republican National Committee, former aides to President Barack Obama, and former presidential and congressional campaign officials, some of whom have been involved in political campaigns going back to the 1960s–had their hands on some $563 million, or a staggering 95 percent of the total. The few "outsiders" controlling the spending of super PACs included former state party officials and federal and state lobbyists. Political insiders managing big money can get access to members of Congress.

4. 2014 anyone? It is now less than two years to Election Day 2014, when Democrats will be looking to retake the House of Representatives while the GOP will be looking at the Senate, where 20 Democrats face voters compared to just 13 Republicans. In the mid-term 2010 elections, outside money proved to be much more effective, and 2014 is a mid-term election.

5. 2016 anyone? The race to replace Obama–which will feature two contested primaries–has already started. Mitt Romney's Restore Our Future launched in 2010, and his major rivals for the Republican nomination found super PAC surrogates of their own. In addition to building their own campaign war chests, presidential candidates–some of whom will be sitting senators, House members and governors–will need their own super PACs and the big money behind them to compete in Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond. The individuals and organizations who wrote six and seven figure checks to super PACs will continue to be courted by the political insiders who run super PACs and the politicians who rely on them.