Plenty spent, but it's not easy to buy an election
A deluge of cash from third-party donors made the 2012 elections the most expensive in history, consuming more than $6 billion.
This was the first presidential election since the Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision, which lifted restrictions on a wide range of contributions, including by corporations, unions and other organizations. Part of that allowed unlimited spending from third parties, as long as they are not officially connected to the campaign benefitting from the activity.
Donors did not waste the opportunity.
But even wealthy candidates who funded their own campaigns failed to translate cash into votes.
Tom Smith, the Republican challenger who lost by nearly 400,000 votes to incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, spent about $17 million of his own money, or about $7 for each of his 2,430,995 votes. In Connecticut, wrestling impresario Linda McMahon spent nearly $100 million of her own money on two Senate bids and lost both.
Outside donors fared just as poorly. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelman invested more than $60 million in organizations supporting eight candidates, all of whom lost.
More than $386 million went to third-party ads attacking President Obama. Joe Rickets, owner of the Chicago Cubs, put up $13 million; Harold Simmons, a Texas billionaire, $26.9 million.
Big donors were left to argue a negative - that their money kept Mitt Romney's loss from being worse. But a presidential election is not by degrees. A winner by 1 percent gets 100 percent of the presidency.
Reformers plan to seek legislative changes to campaign financing, and rightly so. The question isn't simply who wins or loses, but how vast amounts of money distort the system.
But in terms of results, it appears that it's not so easy to buy an election.