It's sometimes said that you can stimulate the economy by burying a bunch of money, then paying people to go dig it up. It may not be all that productive or useful in the long run, but it'll get the job done. You might think that's what the conservative billionaires who funded the outside campaigns to defeat Barack Obama and other Democrats in 2012 were up to when they poured millions upon millions of dollars into an ultimately futile campaign. And now we're finally getting an idea of just how much money there was.
First, there's this report from the Center for Public Integrity:
Americans for Prosperity — the main political arm of billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch — spent a staggering $122 million last year as it unsuccessfully attempted to defeat President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of documents filed in Colorado.
That's more than the total amount the group had previously spent from its formation in 2004 through 2011. During its previous eight years of existence, Americans for Prosperity spent a combined $72 million, a review of Internal Revenue Service records indicates.
According to its 2011 tax return, AFP's mission is to "Educate U.S. citizens about the impact of sound economic policy on the nation's economy and social structure, and mobilize citizens to be involved in fiscal and regulatory economic matters." They spent a piddling $17.7 million that year, but I guess there just isn't as much educating about the impact of sound economic policy to be done in an odd-numbered year. But wait—that's not all:
WASHINGTON—Two Karl Rove-backed Republican campaign groups raised more than $325 million during the 2012 election cycle, a draft tax return shows, a record haul for an outside political group that for the first time eclipses the fundraising efforts of a national political party.
That total means American Crossroads and its nonprofit sibling, Crossroads GPS, together outraised the Democratic National Committee, which took in $316 million during the 2012 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign spending.
And what did they get for all that money? Well, a lot of televisions stations and political consultants got paid, and that money then probably went to buy new cars and boats and home additions, and then that money was taken by car and boat dealers and carpenters and spent on new television sets, and on and on through the economy in a glorious chain of capitalistic interconnectedness from which we all benefit. What they didn't get, however, was a new president.
We can't say for sure that the billionaires' money was just wasted; after all, few things are more overdetermined than a presidential election, and it's possible that Obama and Democrats would have won even bigger in 2012 had it not been spent. But one thing you can say is that they sure didn't fail because they didn't spend enough money.
So kudos to you, gentlemen. If nothing else, you did your part to boost GDP.