By Megan R. Wilson - 11/13/12 10:00 AM EST
Election Day has come and gone, but the super-PAC era is just beginning.
The heads of the outside spending groups that pumped more than $1 billion into the 2012 election are already making plans for 2014.
Some of the groups that formed in support of a single candidate, meanwhile, are planning to retool and soldier on. Super-PACs Priorities USA Action, which supported President Obama, and Winning Our Future, which supported Newt Gingrich, said they would continue to exist.
“[The group is] figuring the best way to use our knowledge and resources,” said Bill Burton, the senior strategist at Priorities USA Action, which raised $63.9 million through mid-October and spent $46.2 million helping the president.
Gregg Phillips, the president of Winning Our Future, said the group had its first planning meeting for the 2014 elections last week.
“Conservatives have an enormous opportunity [in 2014]. There is a possibility of having 2010, version two,” Phillips said, referring to the wave election that reclaimed a Republican majority in the House.
Winning Our Future raised more than $23 million in a five-month span and spent $17 million on independent expenditures, according to Federal Election Commission data.
But in order for outside groups to continue their spending spree, they will have to convince wealthy donors that their money is being put to good use.
Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the groups affiliated with GOP strategist Karl Rove, spent more than $175 million trying to influence the outcome of races across the country in the 2012 cycle, only to see the vast majority of their candidates — including Mitt Romney — fall on Election Day.
Rove held a conference call with his donors last week to assure them that their money did not go to waste, and argues it helped keep candidates competitive in races where they otherwise would not have been.
“We’ve got to carefully examine, as we did after 2010, an after-action report looking at everything with fresh eyes and questioning and figuring out what worked and what didn’t work,” Rove said in an interview with The Washington Post.
One Republican operative who requested anonymity said it’s an open question whether the big checks will continue to roll in to outside groups.
“The proof in the pudding will only be revealed when those donors are asked to pony up again next cycle,” the operative said.
Outside groups on the liberal end of the spectrum might have an easier time making the pitch to prospective donors after seeing gains for Democrats in the House and Senate.
The Democratic House Majority PAC spent $30 million on House races through mid-October and saw its favored candidates win in exactly half of them, according to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation. The group is “taking a long breath” with the election over, but plans to charge ahead into the next campaign.
“As long as these are the rules of the road, House Majority PAC will continue to ensure that the outside spending disparity [between Republicans and Democrats] is diminished as much as possible,” said House Majority PAC spokesman Andy Stone.
One super-PAC with an uncertain future is Restore Our Future, which spent millions of dollars trying to help Romney win the White House.
“We are evaluating the election results and [deciding] whether there is any role for us going forward,” said Charlie Spies, Restore Our Future’s co-founder. The group had $24.2 million on hand as of mid-October, but Spies said almost all of that money was spent in the homestretch of the campaign.
“We spent as much as we could to try and positively impact the election,” Spies said. “We viewed our role as trying to level the playing field between the Obama campaign and its allies’ overwhelming spending ability.”
As a whole, the Democratic-leaning outside groups did not raise as much as conservatives during the 2012 cycle, partly due to unease among liberals about the new era of unlimited donations.
“I still don’t think super-PACs should exist, but as long as Republicans are going to do this, Democrats need a response,” said Burton of Priorities USA Action.
With the next election two years away, some outside groups, including Crossroads and the Tea Party-aligned Freedomworks for America, plan to assert themselves during the lame-duck session of Congress.
A spokesman for Crossroads and Crossroads GPS said the groups “will be engaged” as lawmakers begin negotiations on the tax increases and spending cuts that are part of the “fiscal cliff.”
Freedomworks for America, which has a super-PAC and a nonprofit arm, plans to mobilize its supporters by encouraging them to call members of Congress and attend town halls.
“We may not be raising money for our PAC, but we will be doing all the work for our PAC to be effective,” said Russ Walker, the executive director of the Freedomworks super-PAC.