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Posted on Sun. Dec. 02, 2012 - 12:01 am EDT

Majority of money spent on losing candidates

Big spenders

Seven independent groups spent at least $1 million each to try to influence the U.S. Senate election in Indiana. The top two supported Democrat Joe Donnelly, the winner. The remainder supported Republican Richard Mourdock.

Majority PAC…$4.41 million

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee…$4.12 million

National Republican Senatorial Committee…$3.82 million

Crossroads GPS…$3.33 million

Club for Growth Action…$2.18 million

FreedomWorks for America…$2.12 million

American Crossroads…$1.39 million

Source: Sunlight Foundation

A day after the Nov. 6 election, the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation found that two-thirds of the $1.3 billion spent by independent groups on political campaigns had gone for losing causes.

In most cases, those groups had supported Republican candidates or opposed Democrats.

The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes transparency in government, has crunched the numbers further to determine a “return on investment” from the general election. Foundation reporter Lindsay Young said Thursday the ROI is “the percentage of money in that election that went toward the desired results.”

Throw out the presidential race, and Republican-leaning groups fared a bit better.

For example, the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads spent $104 million on the general election and had a 1.29 percent return on investment – it supported no winning candidates but opposed two losing candidates. Yet for Senate races only, the organization had a 10.76 percent ROI.

Its sister PAC, Crossroads GPS, spent $70.7 million overall and recorded a 14.4 percent ROI. It got 37 percent for House races.

On the other side of the spectrum, Majority PAC, whose goal is to elect Democrats to the U.S. Senate, spent about $34.4 million and enjoyed a nearly 88 percent ROI. That’s because Democrats won 12 of 14 Senate races in which Majority PAC invested.

Independent groups include so-called super PACS, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money as long as they don’t coordinate with candidates’ campaigns. The bulk of what is called “outside” money goes for TV advertisements attacking candidates whom the groups oppose.

As the fourth most expensive Senate contest out of 33 in the nation, Indiana’s race helped sway the ROI calculations.

Five prominent independent groups combined to spend more than $12.8 million to help Republican candidate Richard Mourdock: American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, FreedomWorks for America and Club for Growth Action.

None of those groups had an ROI above 38 percent and three were below 25 percent, in part because Mourdock lost to Democrat Joe Donnelly.

Majority PAC and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent a combined $8.4 million to boost Donnelly. The DSCC had a nearly 80 percent return on investment, according to the Sunlight Foundation analysis.

Club for Growth Action spent $2 million against Donnelly, the most devoted to a single candidate by the fiscally conservative group. Its ROI was 37.7 percent on $5.2 million.

Club for Growth Action was selective in its targets and spent twice as much money on Republican primary-election races as it did on general-election matches.

A spokesman said Club for Growth Action will not alter its strategy based on this year’s election results.

“Our PAC always seeks first to identify principled candidates who push a pro-growth agenda in Congress, primarily in heavily Republican seats,” Barney Keller said. “Then, we make a judgment about whether or not our help can be a determining factor in the race and if there is a major difference in the candidates. For example, if we believe that every Republican in a primary would be excellent on our issues, we will just sit it out.”

Club for Growth Action – which urges tax reductions, federal spending cuts and deregulation – spent almost $950,000 in Indiana’s Republican primary election against six-term Sen. Richard Lugar, whom Mourdock defeated. And the PAC spent more than $700,000 in this election cycle in support of Mourdock.

Some critics contend that Republicans would have stronger Senate candidates if party officials took sides in contested primaries. But Keller said, “We believe the method of party bosses picking the Republican nominee has repeatedly failed in the past.”

Club for Growth is headed by Chris Chocola, a former congressman for Indiana’s 2nd District. Chocola was unseated by Donnelly in the 2006 election.

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