Obama and Romney cookie trays beckon shoppers at the Oakmont Bakery on November 6, 2012 in Oakmont, Penn. Now that the election is over, political donors are already looking to other places to put their money and influence. - 

It has been two weeks since the election, and the big number we're going to focus on is: $6 billion. That's how much money was spent on the 2012 campaign... And a lot of that money came from big donors.

So what do those donors have planned now that the election is over?

Well, plenty of people have already opened their calendars, and flipped to November, 2014, and November, 2016. "We are now essentially in one big election cycle," says Adam Lioz, a campaign finance expert with a think-tank called Demos.

Big donors will keep cutting checks, and according to Lioz, they see donations to politicians and super PACs as investments. "You know, elections are a means to an end, right? Elections are the most-prominent way in which we seek to influence public policy."

But he is also quick to note that in between those elections, there are other ways to influence public policy. Between now and the next election, donors will focus on specific issues like Medicare and the federal deficit.

Spending money on those issues give donors all kinds of influence.

"You know, people don't give money just to elect candidates. That's sort of Stage One. They give it to get things," says Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation, a group that's in favor of more government transparency.

By "things," we're talking an amendment or maybe a piece of legislation. They can also spend money on lobbying.

"They can marshal their forces in their company and get rules and regulations written just the way they want them," Miller points out. She suspects that's just what many big donors will do.

In politics, investors generally get a pretty good return on their investments. Even if their candidate loses, all that spending will influence the winner indirectly. Miller says big donors may take a short pause, but they're sure to play a big role in what'll be a busy legislative session.


Follow David Gura at @davidgura