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Time to Second-Guess Super PACs

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
If GOP outside groups had not helped Mitt Romney (above), he would have been badly outspent by President Barack Obama.

“I’d rather be us communicating with our donors than Karl Rove communicating with his,” Mollineau added, referring to the GOP operative behind the American Crossroads super PAC and its allied nonprofit, Crossroads GPS.

Now that the dust has settled, Republicans will be looking hard at how effectively their unrestricted money was spent. Obama’s superior ground operation is receiving credit for his swing state sweep on Election Day. He was considerably helped by his labor union allies, who spent plenty of money on ads but also concentrated heavily on get-out-the-vote and field operations.

Some Republicans argue that such activities would have been more effective than the tens of millions of dollars spent on GOP TV ads whose predictable grainy images and horror movie sound tracks began to make voters’ eyes glaze over. Super PACs pay higher ad rates than candidates and by law must operate at arm’s length from the politicians they back, meaning their ads typically don’t feature direct candidate messages.

Some GOP nonprofits did focus on field operations, including Americans for Prosperity, the multimillion-dollar conservative nonprofit backed by industrialists Charles and David Koch. But Republicans still spent too much on TV, said GOP organizer Ned Ryun, president and CEO of American Majority Action, a conservative nonprofit that spent virtually its entire $5 million budget on get-out-the-vote and ground activities.

“When looking at effectiveness and Return on Investment (ROI), TV is more of a bust than ever before,” Ryun wrote on the RedState website in August. “If donors want to invest to really impact elections, it’s time for a paradigm shift.”

Clarification

This story has been updated to clarify that American Bridge 21st Century spent about $335,400 on ads, and some $15 million between its super PAC and affiliated nonprofit.

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