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Super PACs: A good return on investment?

Much of the estimated $6 billion in campaign spending this election came from Super PACs who raised millions and then funneled that money into races. Did it pay off?

This election, there was ad after ad after ad, and many of those were not paid for by the campaigns themselves.

The “Citizens United” Supreme Court case gave rise to super PACs. Those groups raised millions of dollars, and then funneled that money into political races.

Pro-Republican super PACs had hoped to propel the GOP to a majority in the Senate, but that didn’t happen. According to Tony Fratto, who was an adviser to President George W. Bush, money can only do so much.

"In nearly every case where a Republican Senate candidate lost, it is hard to say that it was a great candidate or that candidate ran a terrific campaign,” he says.

But even if super PACs didn’t get everything they wanted, Heather McGhee, a vice president at Demos, a Washington-based think tank, says they did get something.

“Today, the phones start ringing,” she says, “And there are people in Washington who have to take the calls of millionaires and in some cases billionaires who purchased exactly what they wanted, which is influence and access over the next two to four years."

That is, until the next campaign, which Howard Dean, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, predicts will be even more expensive.

“In 2016, this is going to be mayhem,” Dean says, adding it will get harder and harder for younger candidates to get their message out there if they are competing with super PACs.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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