The media and political talking heads spent a lot of time thinking about and discussing the potential effects the Citizens United decision would make on this year’s elections. Now that the votes are in and the victors announced, we can finally determine how big of an impact the one billion dollars in independent money had on Election Day results.
It didn’t seem to make much of one.
More than two-thirds of the one billion dollars spent throughout the election cycle went toward losing candidates. Groups who supported Republican Senate candidates pumped $100 million into seven races, and the Republican candidate lost in each of them. In House races, 24 Democrats and eight Republicans won their elections despite being outspent by their opponents.
Even though “dark money” didn’t play as large a role in winning elections as some originally thought, the Citizens United decision did make the 2012 election cycle different from any past year. Over one million television commercials – the majority of which were overtly negative – aired throughout the year, and candidates were forced to spend an unprecedented amount of time fundraising just to keep up with their opponents.
President Obama, who once again relied on his “small-donor army” and raised more than a billion dollars in campaign contributions, held twice as many fundraisers as rallies during his campaign, and Romney’s camp was still in fundraising mode in late October, mere weeks away from Election Day.
So even if it seems as though money didn’t make a difference, it’s never mattered more in the minds of candidates and campaign teams.
Leader of Super PACs and other nonprofits have proven they have no problem finding wealthy donors and convincing them to write large checks to support certain candidates or issues. But now, since it’s clear that their spending wasn’t enough to win an election, they’ll need to rethink their strategies.
In 2008, President Obama outdid his opponent in the world of social media. His presence on sites such as Twitter and Facebook was more prominent that that of John McCain, and the Internet is one of the primary reasons he was able to surpass $1 billion in campaign contributions.
This year, his campaign found a way to innovate campaign finance once again. Weeks before the election, pro-Obama messaging – complete with a “Paid for by the Obama Victory Fund” disclaimer – encouraged visitors of video websites such as Hulu and YouTube to vote on Election Day.
It’ll be interesting to see if third-party groups follow President Obama onto YouTube and Hulu, hoping that they can make a bigger impact in the next Election cycle.