Diminishing Returns From Most Expensive Election in History


bjbjVwVw JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn now to
politics. The most expensive set of campaigns in history is in the books. Candidates, parties
and outside groups spent a record $6 billion on elections in 2012, up $700 million from
the previous record of $5.3 billion in 2008, driven by almost $1 billion in outside spending,
three times the amount shelled out four years ago. And of that, more than $300 million was
spent by groups not required by law to disclose their donors. For more on where all that money
went, what it bought, and what it means for future elections, we turn to two reporters
who’ve been tracking all those numbers, Matea Gold of The Los Angeles Times, and Eliza Newlin
Carney, who covers this for Roll Call newspaper. And we thank you both for being with us. Matea
Gold, let me start with you. Most expensive election in history. How did that manifest
itself? MATEA GOLD, The Los Angeles Times: Well, I think there’s no question money played
a remarkable and prominent role in this campaign in a way that we haven’t seen in recent years.
This was the first presidential campaign since a series of important federal government decisions,
including the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United in 2010 that really opened
the door to more outside spending. And that’s really what drove us to this record $6 billion
spending that you mentioned. And outside groups played this enormous role, both pummeling
the airwaves with ads from the presidential campaigns and in Senate and House races. I
think there’s no question they made the tenor of all the campaigns much more negative. And
they also really contributed to kind of an inflation in campaign spending and campaign
fund-raising. President Obama raised a record $1 billion largely because he was warning
his supporters urgently that we are going to be outspent by these outside groups. JUDY
WOODRUFF: Eliza Newlin Carney, how did you see the difference between money spending
this year and four years ago? ELIZA NEWLIN CARNEY, Roll Call: Yes, there’s no question
that the outside spending was the big takeaway from this election. As you said, it was more
than three times what had been spent four years ago, and most of that was spent by the
super PACs, which were created by Citizens United decision and by a lower court ruling
called SpeechNow, and also by these politically active tax-exempt groups, which also represented
the other most important trend here, which is the growth in undisclosed money, because
these groups call themselves social welfare groups, even though they’re very political
in their messages. And social welfare groups don’t have to say where their donors — who
their donors are or where their money comes from. So that’s a really big change. JUDY
WOODRUFF: So, Matea Gold, how did they — how do they operate differently from what we have
seen in the past? Many of them don’t have to disclose. Some do, but many don’t. What
else is different? MATEA GOLD: Right. Well, I think, as Eliza mentioned, the (c)(4) activity
is really new. We saw (c)(4)s playing in past elections, but Citizens United gave them a
legal right to really engage in independent political spending, and they really did so
with vigor. And so one of the things that is important to remember when we talk about
this $1 billion in outside spending, that’s just the spending that was reported. There
are probably hundreds of millions of dollars more that we don’t know about. JUDY WOODRUFF:
And what did the money go toward? We assume, Eliza, that a lot of it went to television
stations? ELIZA NEWLIN CARNEY: A great deal of it did go to television stations, but as
Matea said, there’s a lot that is a little bit ambiguous here. And I think there was
activity that went into get-out-the-vote activities and ground operations, some of which is not
immediately reported. The big spending by outside groups on campaign ads wasn’t always
fully effective. Some of the groups that really flooded the airwaves found that they didn’t
have the greatest return on their investment. But that was where a lot of money went. And
I think the groups that didn’t succeed this time as well as they would have hoped might
be looking at that a little more closely in the next campaign. JUDY WOODRUFF: And I want
to ask you both about that. But tell us a little bit more, Matea, about who these groups
are. Who were the big spenders in this money — in this election? MATEA GOLD: Well, the
biggest spenders were a pair of groups that were co-founded by Karl Rove, American Crossroads
and Crossroads GPS, its sister nonprofit, which doesn’t disclose its donors. We saw
a lot of big traditional Republican donors give to American Crossroads, which does. Americans
for Prosperity, which has had backing in the past from the Koch brothers, who are known
for being really patrons of conservative causes, they were really a huge force in this election.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And as you were pointing out, Eliza Newlin Carney, for many of them, that
money didn’t pay off. I mean, many of those, the candidates they were backing, from Mitt
Romney on, didn’t make it. ELIZA NEWLIN CARNEY: Yes. In fact, the success on the part of Americans
Crossroads was less than 2 percent. It was a little bit better for Crossroads GPS. It
was more like 14 percent. There were some groups, including those backing House runners,
that had a much higher rate of return, in the 60 percent range. But what you saw this
time around was the really big winners were actually the liberal groups, Planned Parenthood,
98 percent success rate. Now, of course, that’s because most of their money went for Obama,
I believe. Service Employees International Union, around an 80 percent return on its
investment, AFSCME, same thing. So, you had — and environmental groups as well did quite
well. So you had a much higher rate of return on the part of these liberal groups. And,
again, I think part of what they did was, they spent their money early. They really
targeted their money. And what we have always heard from political scientists is there’s
a point of diminishing return with big money. What you really need is a threshold minimum
to get your message out. And after that, more is not necessarily better. So, I think that’s
part of what this election illustrated. JUDY WOODRUFF: Two things, Matea. Will we know
eventually who — all the whos, who gave money in this election? MATEA GOLD: No. No, we won’t.
And that’s, I think, an incredibly important point. These (c)(4)s do not have to disclose
their donors, as Eliza mentioned. And, in fact, many of them don’t even have to report
basic tax information until next spring or a year later at the earliest. And they can
put some pretty rudimentary information in those tax filings, and we might never know
a lot of the forces that were behind some of the spending. JUDY WOODRUFF: So is the
— is there any backlash to that? And what are the lessons being talked about, the lessons
learned from this election? MATEA GOLD: Well, there are many efforts right now to pass legislation
to change this. There are a lot of questions about the rule the IRS is or is not playing
in cracking down on these groups, which, as Eliza mentioned, are putatively social welfare
organizations that seem to be really politically active. So, I think that there is going to
be increased scrutiny. Whether anything can happen and change, I think, is really going
to be up to Congress. JUDY WOODRUFF: Eliza, how do you see the future in the next election
and the next election for these groups? ELIZA NEWLIN CARNEY: Well, they’re going to continue
growing and they’re going to remain very active and they’re going to keep pushing the envelope
as much as they can. But I think there’s a sense of inevitability in the so-called reform
lobby that this is going to lead to scandal and corruption, and I think there’s a growing
sense on Capitol Hill that this system as it is currently constructed cannot continue
indefinitely. The president and Mitt Romney were not the only ones who spent a huge amount
of time fund-raising in this campaign. We ran a story in Roll Call about how House and
Senate conditions were spending an increasing amount of time fund-raising, instead of on
the campaign trail. So, I think there is more of a mood on Capitol Hill that is receptive
to change. The challenge will be defining what form that change takes. But I think disclosure
will be front and center for those who want to discuss changes. And I think you will see
not only a revival of the push for the so-called Disclose Act, but you will also see an attempt
to get better regulation enforcement by the Federal Election Commission and the Internal
Revenue Service. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, a lot to chew on here. And we will see how much
lessons were learned. Eliza Newlin Carney, Matea Gold, thank you both. MATEA GOLD: Thank
you. ELIZA NEWLIN CARNEY: Thank you. JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn now to politics Normal
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