The Billion-Dollar Batting Averages of 2010’s Shadow Spenders

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The real story of the 2010 midterm elections wasn’t the tea party, but instead the rise of deep-pocketed, secretive outside groups that spent nearly $300 million to influence last night’s (and this morning’s) results. These groups have anodyne names like American Crossroads or American Action Network or the Alliance for America’s Future, and more importantly, don’t have to disclose who’s pumping cash into their war chests. They’re mostly right-wing: conservative outside groups outspent lefty groups by a more than two-to-one margin, $187 million to $90 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But not all of the outside groups are new to politics. The US Chamber of Commerce, which has been intervening in congressional races for years, was one of the biggest independent spenders in this year’s election, throwing tens of millions of dollars at races from California to New Hampshire.

So how much bang did these shadowy groups, some of which don’t have to disclose their donors until well after Election Day (if at all), get for their buck?

Below, we take a look at the five biggest outside spenders, as measured by the Center for Responsive Politics, and whether their top ten spending efforts—either in favor of or against a particular candidate—paid off at the ballot box on Tuesday. (Successful opposition or support is bolded in each table.)

US Chamber of Commerce  
Total spending: $33 million
Candidate State Race Spending Result
Barbara Boxer (D) CA Senate $4.9 million against Boxer win
Michael Bennet (D) CO Senate $2 million against Bennet win
Charlie Crist (I) FL Senate $2 million against Crist loss
Alex Giannoulias (D) IL Senate $1.7 million against Giannoulias loss
Paul Hodes (D) NH Senate $1.7 million against Hodes loss
Joe Sestak (D) PA Senate $1.5 million against Sestak loss
Robin Carnahan (D) MO Senate $1.4 million against Carnahan loss
Jack Conway (D) KY Senate $1.3 million against Conway loss
Dino Rossi (R) WA Senate $997,000 for Rossi loss
Kelly Ayotte (R) NH Senate $997,000 for Ayotte win
Batting Average: .700      

 

American Action Network 
Total spending: $26 million
Gerry Connolly (D) VA House $1.8 million against Connolly win
Ed Perlmutter (D) CO House $1.5 million against Perlmutter win
Bryan Lentz (D) PA House $1.4 million against Lentz loss
Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) SD House $1.1 million against Sandlin loss
Mark Critz (D) PA House $1 million against Critz won
Charlie Wilson (D) OH House $1 million against Wilson loss
Chris Murphy (D) CT House $1 million against Murphy win
Martin Heinrich (D) NM House $1 million against Heinrich win
Russ Feingold (D) WI Senate $910,000 against Feingold loss
Paul Hodes (D) NH Senate $875,000 against Hodes loss
Batting average: .500      

 

American Crossroads
Total spending: $21.5 million
Michael Bennet (D) CO Senate $5.1 million against Bennet win
Robin Carnahan (D) MO Senate $2.3 million against Carnahan loss
Marco Rubio (R) FL Senate $1.6 million for Rubio win
Jack Conway (D) KY Senate $1.4 million against Conway loss
Harry Reid (D) NV Senate $1.2 million against Reid win
Alex Giannoulias (D) IL Senate $1.1 million against Giannoulias loss
Ken Buck (R) CO Senate $838,000 for Buck loss
Ami Bera (D) CA House $682,000 against Bera loss
Paul Hodes (D) NH Senate $658,000 against Hodes loss
Patty Murray (D) WA Senate $558,000 against Murray win
Batting average: .600      

 

Crossroads GPS
Total spending: $17.1 million
Alex Giannoulias (D) IL Senate $4.5 million against Giannoulias loss
Patty Murray (D) WA Senate $3.6 million against Murray win
Harry Reid (D) NV Senate $2.3 million against Reid win
Jack Conway (D) KY Senate $1.1 million against Conway loss
Joe Sestak (D) PA Senate $809,000 against Sestak loss
Robin Carnahan (D) MO Senate $714,000 against Carnahan loss
John Boccieri (D) OH House $447,000 against Boccieri win
Charlie Crist (I) FL Senate $354,000 against Crist loss
Marco Rubio (R) FL Senate $353,000 for Rubio win
Jim Costa (D) CA House $337,000 against Costa loss
Batting average: .800      

 

Service Employees’ International Union
Total spending: $15.7 million
Scott Murphy (D) NY House $942,000 for Murphy loss
James Renacci (R) OH House $502,000 against Renacci win
Bill Owens (D) NY House $491,000 for Owens win
Bobby Schilling (R) IL House $481,000 against Schilling win
Tim Walberg (R) MI House $416,000 against Walberg win
Dina Titus (D) NV House $354,000 for Titus loss
Michael Fitzpatrick (R) PA House $325,000 against Fitzpatrick win
Robert Hurt (R) VA House $318,000 against Hurt win
Sara Feigenholtz (D) IL House $274,000 for Feigenholtz win
Macdonald D’Alessandro (D) MA House $250,000 for D’Alessandro primary loss
 Batting average:   .200      

So there you have it. The US Chamber of Commerce and the Karl Rove-launched Crossroads GPS led the way, with .800 and .700 averages, respectively, in making the most of their (mostly) attack dollars. The labor group SEIU, meanwhile, finished last, albeit in an incredibly GOP-friendly election year. (Unlike the Chamber or many other outside groups, unions such as the SEIU do have to disclose most of their donors.) Most of these groups’ funds, as you can tell, were focused on US Senate races around the country. And while the aforementioned conservative groups had plenty of success knocking off Democrats east of the Mississippi, their cash had far less influence out west, where Democratic incumbents Harry Reid, Michael Bennet, Barbara Boxer, and (probably) Patty Murray swatted away their challengers to eke out narrow wins on Election Day. 

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Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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