“We have lost six Senate seats in the last two cycles not because of bad message but we had substandard candidates,” Collegio said. While Collegio didn’t name which candidates were substandard, he said Crossroads this year spent money on behalf of Richard Mourdock of Indiana, who said during a debate that a pregnancy caused by rape is “something that God intended to happen.” Mourdock upset Senator Richard Lugar in the GOP primary but was defeated in the general election by Democrat Joe Donnelly.
Rove unsuccessfully called on another controversial candidate, Todd Akin of Missouri, to drop out of the race after he said women’s bodies have a way of preventing conception after “legitimate rape.” Akin stayed in the race and lost.
Rick Tyler, who ran a super PAC for Gingrich in the Republican primary and later tried to help elect Akin to the Senate, believes the problem is that Rove’s groups control too much of the Republican money.
Rove’s groups “were completely, utterly, and disastrously ineffective,” Tyler said. Tyler said he is already talking with potential donors about a super PAC that will focus on finding candidates committed to conservative principles. Rove “is the last person who should be influential in primaries. I’m already in discussion with people who I think would provide an alternative to the Rove model,” he said.
Democratic donors, slower than Republicans to enter the world of super PACs, are increasingly willing to contribute, according to Rodell Mollineau, president of American Bridge 21st Century, a super PAC that raised $11.4 million for Democratic candidates.
“We’re already looking at the 2014 map, and we’re also looking at some gubernatorial races,” Mollineau said. He added that the key to success is to spend early and selectively.
Some Republican-oriented super PACs that stayed out of the presidential race said they fared well. Club for Growth Action, the super PAC arm of the conservative Club for Growth, raised more than $17 million to promote Republican House and Senate candidates who support low taxes and limited government. Nine of the group’s 12 candidates won their races.
Club for Growth Action was influential in Ted Cruz’s successful bid to replace retiring Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, pouring $5 million into negative ads targeting David Dewhurst, the state’s lieutenant governor and the early front-runner in the Republican primary.
“We’re proud to have played a major role in helping Ted Cruz get his message out,” said Barney Keller, a spokesman for Club for Growth Action.
The super PAC also had a high-profile failure in backing Mourdock in the Indiana race. The committee spent almost $1 million in negative ads against Mourdock’s more moderate primary opponent, Lugar, and then $2 million against Mourdock’s Democratic opponent in the general election.
Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21, which is critical of the influence of money in politics, said super PACs will grow unless they are stopped by Congress or a Supreme Court ruling.
“The idea that anyone is going away because of the results of 2012 is just a fantasy,” Wertheimer said in regard to super PACs. As a result, he said, “We are going to see growth, we are going to see corruption, and we are going to see scandal out of super PAC money.”
Still, the veteran of many efforts to change the campaign finance system held out hope that the “arms race” to put greater dollars into the committees will stop once politicians realize they could be the next target.
“I think super PACs are going to be of great concern to public officials,” he said. “They are like political drones in that they can just dive into your race and just wipe you out with much larger amounts of money than you and your opponent have.”