WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican-leaning independent groups were supposed to be a key to victory for Mitt Romney. But they ended up being among the big losers of the presidential race, spending an eye-popping $380 million on ads to oust President Barack Obama only to come up woefully short.
Unleashed by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which allowed wealthy individuals and corporations to spend freely to influence elections, these super political action committees and other groups played a big role in GOP victories in 2010 — only to fall down badly two years later in their first national electoral test. Republican losses from the top of the ticket on down are forcing the groups' leaders to re-examine their strategy and determine how best to spend their donors' money going forward.
Among those feeling the sting of defeat:
—American Crossroads and its nonprofit arm, Crossroads GPS. Together, the two groups spent $180 million on ads to oust Obama.
The Crossroads organization, cofounded by former President George W. Bush's longtime political counselor Karl Rove, also spent $76 million on ads to help Republicans running in competitive Senate seats, but the GOP lost five of seven of those races. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $33 million on ads for losing Republican Senate candidates.
—Restore Our Future, a super PAC founded by former Romney advisers specifically to boost him, spent $91 million on commercials. Americans for Prosperity and American Future Fund, two nonprofits founded by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, together spent about $66 million on presidential campaign ads.
—Several smaller groups rounded out the total, including the Republican Jewish Committee, the Ending Spending Action Fund, and Thomas Petterfy, a Hungarian-American billionaire who spent $2.8 million on ads he starred in himself.
Several other enormously wealthy donors also saw their investments in outside groups apparently go down the drain.
—Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, were the top contributors to Republican-leaning groups. The couple gave at least $53 million to organizations supporting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich during the GOP nominating period and later to groups trying to help Romney, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending.
—Texas-based leveraged buyout specialist Harold Simmons and his wife, Annette, contributed $24 million; Texas builder Bob Perry gave $21 million, and TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts gave nearly $13 million.
Carl Forti, a senior strategist for the Crossroads groups and Restore Our Future, said the ads run by outside groups helped mitigate Obama's fundraising advantage and kept Romney in the game.
"I don't buy the premise that it didn't bear fruit. We did what we needed to do to critique Obama's record," said Forti. "If we hadn't spent on TV, the race wouldn't have been as close as it was. We spent out of necessity."