The Big Money Lost Big

Sometimes good things happen. And no matter what you may think of the election’s results, we can all be grateful that billionaires’ cash failed miserably to sway the results.

The SuperPACs unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United and other district court opinions– organizations such as Karl Rove’s Crossroads operations, the Koch Brothers’ American Prosperity group and the Priorities USA pro-Obama SuperPAC—spent an estimated $1 billion this year.

Billionaires such as Texas home builder Bob Perry, financier Harold Simmons, hedge fund managers Ken Griffin and Julian Robertson, and of course casino magnate Sheldon Adelson contributed millions to Republican SuperPACs.

On the Democratic side, entertainment luminaries Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, Qualcomm mogul Irwin Jacobs, and hedge fund math genius James Simons all wrote seven-figure checks to their own SuperPACs.

The Democrats at least won, and they raised and spent a lot less. Republicans retook the House of Representatives, but they lost two seats in the Senate and of course these big donors have to live with their  hated Barack Obama as president for the next four years.

In a world where return on investment is everything, theirs was abysmal—Rove’s operations spent $100 million and got a 1% ROI, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

And Sheldon Adelson, who set a record for giving $70 million in this election cycle, saw only one victor among all the candidates he supported: Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller.

Remember, by backing sure losers like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum in the primaries, billionaires like Adelson kept Mitt Romney from sewing up the nomination early and forced him to adopt extreme positions on immigration, abortion, and taxes. That helped him win the primaries but destroyed him in the general election. So, they really have themselves to blame. But that’s not how they see it.

Karl Rove at George W. Bush Institute Conference in New York in April. Photo: Howard R. Gold/The Independent Agenda.

“The billionaire donors I hear are livid,” one Republican operative told The Huffington Post. “There is some holy hell to pay. Karl Rove has a lot of explaining to do…”

Rove’s explanation: “If groups like Crossroads were not active, this race would have been over a long time ago.”

Hmm. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Like, say, Obama supporters who said that without the stimulus the economy would have been much worse? How’s that one playing with the billionaires, Karl?

Wall Street also came out a huge loser. This year, the big financial firms switched their allegiance en masse from  Obama to Romney. Goldman Sachs employees, for example, have given only $136,000 to President Obama in 2012 after having contributed $1 million in 2008, and they’ve donated $900,000 to the Romney campaign and another $900,000 to a superPAC that supported the Republican candidate.

And what will they get for it? Even tighter regulation, as many rules in the Dodd-Frank law remain to be written, and Elizabeth Warren, their public enemy number one, in the Senate.

Altogether, both the Romney and Obama campaigns and their respective party committees spent an ungodly $1.5 billion on their own through mid-October—more than $10.00 for each registered voter.

But at least the campaigns raised that money from a wide variety of donors, with specified limits. The tidal wave of billionaires’ money Citizens United foisted upon us wasn’t decisive; in fact it was manifestly ineffective. It’s good to know that in America a handful of people still can’t buy an election.

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