Capitol Gains: Which Groups Saw The Best Bang for Their Political Buck?

A record amount of money was spent in the 2012 election cycle.

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson and former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove spent big, and lost, in 2012.
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Determining the biggest winners and losers of the 2012 elections is ordinarily a subjective task, determined by a number of intangibles like the importance of a particular seat or the embarrassments suffered by a number of different candidates. But when determining the winners and losers using dollars, a more definitive answer begins to appear.

The biggest outside players in this year's election mostly failed in their election objectives, and Republican groups took a beating, according to a new analysis by the Sunlight Foundation.

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A calculation of outside groups' returns on investment — the percentage of a group's total election spending that went towards its desired result — found that two-thirds of the money they spent backed losing candidates.

This failed spending was split along party lines: while the five biggest conservative groups involved in multiple races wasted 75 percent of their cash, the five biggest liberal groups all spent more than 60 percent of their cash wisely.

The analysis looked at groups not associated with one particular candidate (which includes all-but-official super PACs like those run by the surrogates of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney).

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The return-on-investment percentages are calculated by adding the money a group spent supporting a candidate who won or opposing a candidate who lost, then dividing that number by the total amount the group spent in the general election (primary spending is not counted).

Using that formula, here are the biggest winners and losers, monetarily, of the 2012 campaign:


American Crossroads: Spent $103.6 million during the general election, only $1.3 million of which went towards its desired outcome — opposing two losing candidates.

ROI: 1.29%

U.S. Chamber of Commerce: The third-biggest conservative spender dropped $31.9 million total, but less than $3 million was spent successfully.

ROI: 6.9%

Crossroads GPS: The other half of the Crossroads duo was slightly more successful. It spent $70.7 million total, $10.2 million of it opposing seven candidates who lost.

ROI: 14.4%

Congressional Republicans: The Republican Party's House and Senate fundraising committees both invested significantly worse than their Democratic counterparts.

ROI: 24% (National Republican Senatorial Committee) and 31.9% (National Republican Congressional Committee)


Planned Parenthood: The pro-choice organization had two outside spending groups active in the election, a super PAC (Planned Parenthood Votes) and a non-profit (Planned Parenthood Action Fund). Together they spent more than $11 million, with almost all of it going towards candidates who won or against candidates who lost.

ROI: 98.5% (super PAC) and 98.1% (non-profit)

Majority PAC: The Democratic Party's official Senate super PAC spent $37.5 million during the election, about $30 million of it successfully.

ROI: 87.9%

Service Employees International Union: The SEIU, the biggest union spender in the general election, spent $15.2 million through its super PAC in a variety of races.

ROI: 85.4%

Congressional Democrats: The Democratic Party's official fundraising committees didn't have as high success rates as some of their like-minded peers, but both the House and Senate wings easily outperformed their Republican counterparts.

ROI: 79.7% (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) and 61.4% (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee)

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Seth Cline is a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at