It's Not Easy Being a Super PAC

It's official: politicians are better at spending rich people's money than rich people are at spending their own money on politics. 

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It's official: politicians are better at spending rich people's money than rich people are at spending their own money on politics. The ads aired by super PACs don't "appear to have significantly influenced voter opinion in key states in the presidential contest or in top congressional races," The Wall Street Journal's Neil King Jr. reports Monday. "The wide range of messages from the PACs may have confused voters, and viewers may be skeptical of ads backed by little-known groups that are unconnected to a candidate," King says, plus viewers can skip ads easier.  Tracking all the dumb spending in the race so far, BuzzFeed's Ben Smith and Ruby Cramer write, "At times, the messages haven’t just been scattered, but have actually been flatly contradictory." The American Future Fund was trying to tie President Obama to Wall Street while Mitt Romney was saying Obama was hostile to business.

Despite concern earlier this year that super PACs would allow a handful of mega-rich donors to have an enormous influence on the campaign, it turns out these rich guys are not very good at buying elections. Let's take a look at their track record so far:

  • Restore Our Future and Americans for Prosperity have spent $18 million trying to make Pennsylvania and Michigan competitive for Romney. Obama leads Romney in both states by an average of 8 percentage points.
  • Conservative super PACs spent $23 million to make North Carolina impossible for Obama to win again, King reports. Romney is leading that stage by an average of 1.8 percentage points.
  • The Democratic side has been much better coordinated with their candidate's campaign, despite their super PACs spending far less money. (The top three conservative groups have spent three times what the pro-Obama group Priorities USA has so far, King writes.) Priorities USA's Bill Burton tells BuzzFeed the group has "made a real impact in this race" by attacking Mitt Romney's Bain Capital career. But Obama's ads have made the same attacks, sometimes featuring the same former workers from factories Bain closed.
  • In Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown still leads challenger Josh Mandel by an average of 7.2 percentage points, despite $18 million in super PAC ads attacking Brown.
  • In Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson leads challenger Rep. Connie Mack by an average of 6.6 percentage points, despite $10 million in conservative super PAC ads attacking Nelson.

If the G.O.P. super PACs are disogranized, it's not for a lack of trying. Politico's Mike Allen, who profiles Sheldon Adelson, explains how even though they cannot directly coordinate with the Romney campaign, they have been trying to coordinate with each other. (Adelson spent $10 million on Newt Gingrich in the Republican presidential primary after it was clear Gingrich had lost.) Allen reports:

"If word got back to him that a group wasn’t cooperating, he’d cut them off," said a top official at one of the groups, who deals personally with Adelson. "It’s to maximize the dollars. You don’t want repetition. You don’t people doubling up. He doesn’t want to feel like his money is wasted."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.