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Money can't buy happiness, or an election

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson poured $53 million into the 2012 elections via controversial super PACs to back these candidates. All lost. From left to right, Mitt Romney, Connie Mack, George Allen, Allen West, Joe Kyrillos, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, David Dewhurst and Newt Gingrich. West is demanding a recount, however, claiming 'disturbing irregularities at the polls.'

Money can't buy happiness, nor can it buy an election, apparently.

The top donors to super PACs in 2012 did not fare well — casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the No. 1 super PAC contributor with more than $53 million in giving, backed eight losers at this writing.

Adelson was top backer of the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future super PAC, with $20 million in donations. Romney lost to President Barack Obama. In addition, Adelson's contributions to super PACs backing U.S. Senate candidates in Florida, Virginia and New Jersey were also for naught.

He was not the only conservative billionaire who had a bad night.

Contran Corp. CEO Harold Simmons, (No. 2), homebuilder Bob Perry (No. 3) and TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, (No.4), also bet on Romney. Collectively, the trio gave $13.4 million to Restore Our Future, and Ricketts' super PAC, Ending Spending Action Fund, spent an additional $9.9 million helping Romney's failed bid.


Fred Eychaner, founder of Chicago-based alternative-newspaper publisher Newsweb Corp., was the only one of the top five donors to super PACs to back a winner -- President Barack Obama.

The super donor winner of the night was Newsweb Corp. CEO Fred Eychaner (No. 5). Eychaner gave $3.5 million to pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action through the most recent filing period, which ended Oct. 17, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Decision 2012 on NBCNews.com: Senate election results

Decision 2012 on NBCNews.com: House election results

In Florida, Republican Rep. Connie Mack lost his challenge to the popular Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who won with 55 percent of the vote. Adelson gave $2 million to the pro-Mack super PAC Freedom PAC, and Simmons and Perry gave a combined $255,000 to the group.

The hotly contested Senate race in Virginia attracted $2.5 million from Adelson and Perry, both giving to Independence Virginia, the super PAC supporting former Republican Sen. George Allen. His opponent, Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine, won the seat with 52 percent of the vote.

Campaign spending by super PACs in this election cycle topped $1 billion – nearly four times the amount spent by such groups in 2008. Looking back now, how much impact did that money have on the race? Former White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton and former RNC Chairman Michael Steele discuss.

Adelson also invested in the re-election of Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., in Florida's 18th District, who narrowly lost to Democratic newcomer Patrick Murphy. On Wednesday, however, West's campaign called for a recount, citing "disturbing irregularities reported at polls."

See which industries funneled the most money into presidential race

The casino billionaire's $1 million to Patriot Prosperity, a New Jersey-specific super PAC supporting the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Joe Kyrillos, and the Republican candidate for U.S. House in the state's 9th District, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, did not pay off.

Shawn Thew / EPA

Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., pumped $53 million into the election, but apparently backed only one minor winner by helping defeat a Michigan ballot initiative.

During the primary season, Adelson's $16.5 million in contributions to the super PAC Winning Our Future was not enough guide former House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich to a Republican presidential nomination, though it is credited with keeping him in the race longer than expected. Nor were Adelson's contributions enough to help Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst win the GOP primary for Texas Senate earlier this year, a cause to which gave at least a quarter-million dollars.

Karl Rove's election nightmare: Super PAC's spending was nearly for naught

Adelson did score one point with his $2 million contribution that helped sink a Michigan ballot initiative seeking to enshrine collective bargaining in the state's Constitution. Adelson runs the only non-union casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.

 Win-Loss Rundown:

(Giving to candidate-specific super PACs in the federal election)

Sheldon Adelson, Republican, $53.7 million*

  • Mitt Romney — loss
  • Connie Mack (Florida Senate) — loss
  • George Allen (Virginia Senate) — loss
  • Allen West (House, Florida’s 18th) — too close to call, but leaning toward loss
  • Joe Kyrillos (New Jersey Senate) — loss
  • Shmuley Boteach (House, New Jersey’s 9th) — loss
  • Newt Gingrich (GOP presidential primary) — loss
  • David Dewhurst (GOP primary, Texas Senate) — loss

© Flor Cordero / Reuters

Billionaire Harold Simmons was the second-biggest donor to super PACs in the presidential race, with $26.9 million in contributions.

Harold Simmons, Republican, $26.9 million*

  • Mitt Romney — loss
  • Connie Mack (Florida Senate) — loss
  • Rick Santorum (GOP presidential primary) — loss
  • Newt Gingrich (GOP presidential primary) — loss
  • Rick Perry (GOP presidential primary) — loss
  • David Dewhurst (GOP primary, Texas Senate) — loss
  • Orrin Hatch (GOP primary, Utah Senate) — win

Bob Perry, Republican, $21.5 million*

  • Mitt Romney — loss
  • George Allen (Virginia Senate) — loss
  • Connie Mack (Florida Senate) — loss
  • Rick Perry (GOP presidential primary) — loss
  • David Dewhurst (GOP primary, Texas Senate) — loss

Joe Ricketts, Republican, $12.9 million*

  • Mitt Romney — loss

Fred Eychaner, Democrat, $12 million*

  • Barack Obama — win

Tuesday marked the first presidential election under the new campaign finance regime installed following the 2010 Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision. The ruling paved the way for super PACs and nonprofits, allowing them to accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and unions, which could be spent on advertising backing or opposing candidates.

Full election coverage on NBC Politics

*As of Oct. 17, 2012 for the 2011-2012 election cycle. Source: Center for Responsive Politics and Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission records. Totals include contributions from individuals, family members and corporations that are controlled by the individual super donor.

The Center for Public Integrity is a non-profit independent investigative news outlet. For more of its stories visit publicintegrity.org.

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