WASHINGTON — Republican Karl Rove’s much-discussed “Crossroads” committees, which were seen as game-changers in the 2012 presidential campaign, turned out to be such a failure that some have wondered whether the entire field of super PACs will wither away amidst an exodus of disenchanted donors.
But analysts and those who run the committees said in interviews that, for a number of reasons, the opposite could be true. With lessons learned from this year’s campaign, the amount of unlimited and sometimes undisclosed contributions could actually increase as backers of both parties rearm for the 2014 midterm elections.
“We very well could see more money raised,” said Bill Allison of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which has analyzed the spending by super political action committees and related nonprofit groups. “Given that 2014 is a midterm with a lower turnout, a lot of these groups may have much better impact on the money spent on the House and Senate than they did on the presidential.”
Indeed, a lesson from the election is that super PACs seem miscast in their role of trying to influence the outcome of a general presidential election in which both the Republican and Democratic candidates already have hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on their behalf by their campaigns and parties. Ads funded by super PACs may have simply been lost in the barrage of commercials.
By contrast, the evidence is that super PACs and related groups can deeply influence hotly contested primaries and campaigns in which a candidate is relatively underfunded.
A super PAC called Restore Our Future was not able to fulfill its mission of getting Mitt Romney elected as president, but it played a major role in helping him win the Republican nomination. At least two of Romney’s competitors — former US House speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and former US senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania — were able to stay in the race longer because of support from super PACs.
In the same way, backers believe super PACs have been more effective in primaries and general election races for the US House and Senate as well as for state legislatures. Challengers in such races often have limited resources, in part due to limitations on campaign contributions.
Super PACs are allowed to collect unlimited donations as long as they don’t directly coordinate with a campaign. A separate category of nonprofit groups, which don’t have to disclose donors, also play a major role.
Still, the experience of this year’s Election Day has proven unsettling for some groups and their backers.
With many of the financial reports now in, a clearer picture is available of just how poorly Republicans spent their money this year compared with Democrats. Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC spent $105 million to elect Republicans, but his success rate was calculated to be just 1.29 percent by the Sunlight Foundation. An affiliated nonprofit group, Crossroads GPS, which does not have to disclose donor names, spent $71 million, the foundation said.
Overall, super PACs affiliated with Republicans spent $408 million compared with $195 million by similar Democratic committees, but Democrats were far more successful, starting with President Obama’s victory. That has led to grumbling among big donors, a number of whom gave $1 million or more, that super PACs failed to live up to expectations. Some donors may either quit participating or demand more control over strategy.
Sheldon Adelson, who together with his wife, Miriam, contributed more than $53 million for the election, mostly to super PACs, has told friends that he is “disappointed but not discouraged” by the defeats of several preferred candidates. He plans to continue his generous political spending, according to an associate who requested anonymity to discuss the casino magnate’s personal financial plans. The Las Vegas Sands founder almost single-handedly propped up a super PAC backing Gingrich during the Republican primary, then shifted his support to Romney after Gingrich suspended his campaign.
At the Rove-led groups, talks are underway about the possibility of backing Republican candidates in the primaries who have a better chance of winning a general election contest.
Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for the Rove groups, said that he knew of no donors who have vowed to stop their contributions.
An aide said Rove was unavailable for comment.
Collegio said the group had learned valuable lessons and will look for Republicans who can win general elections, not just promote conservative credentials to win primaries.Continued...