While record outside spending affected the election in
innumerable ways, the prizes most sought by the emerging class of
megadonors remained outside their grasp.
At the private air terminal at Logan Airport in Boston early Wednesday, men in unwrinkled suits sank into plush leather chairs as they waited to board Gulfstream jets, trading consolations over Mitt Romney's loss the day before.
"All I can say is the American people have spoken," said Kenneth G. Langone, the founder of Home Depot and one of Mr. Romney's top fund-raisers, plucking off his hat and settling into a couch.
The biggest single donor in political history, the casino billionaire Sheldon G. Adelson, mingled with other Romney backers at a post-election breakfast, fresh off a large gamble gone bad. Of the eight candidates he had supported with tens of millions of dollars in contributions to "super PACs," none were victorious on Tuesday.
And as calls came in Wednesday from some of the donors who had poured more than $300 million into the pair of big-spending outside groups founded in part by Karl Rove -- perhaps the leading political entrepreneur of the super PAC era -- he offered them a grim upside: Without us, the race would not have been as close as it was.
The most expensive election in U.S. history drew to a close this week with a price tag estimated at more than $6 billion, propelled by legal and regulatory decisions that allowed wealthy donors to pour record amounts of cash into races around the country.
But while outside spending affected the election in innumerable ways -- reshaping the Republican presidential nominating contest, clogging the airwaves with unprecedented amounts of negative advertising and shoring up embattled Republican incumbents in the House -- the prizes most sought by the emerging class of megadonors remained outside their grasp. President Barack Obama will return to the White House in January, and the Democrats have strengthened their lock on the Senate.
The election's most lavishly self-financed candidate fared no better. Linda E. McMahon, a Connecticut Republican who is a former professional wrestling executive, spent close to $100 million -- nearly all of it her own money -- on two races for the Senate, conceding defeat on Tuesday for the second time in three years.
"Money is a necessary condition for electoral success," said Bob Biersack, a senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending. "But it's not sufficient, and it's never been."
Even by the flush standards of a campaign in which the two presidential candidates raised $1 billion each, the scale of outside spending was staggering: more than $1 billion all told, about triple the amount in 2010.
Mr. Obama faced at least $386 million in negative advertising from super PACs and other outside spenders, more than double what the groups supporting him spent on the airwaves. Outside groups spent more than $37 million in Virginia's Senate race and $30 million in Ohio's, a majority to aid the Republican candidates.
The bulk of that outside money came from a relatively small group of wealthy donors, unleashed by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which allowed unlimited contributions to super PACs. Harold Simmons, a Texas industrialist, gave $26.9 million to super
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