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Best donors and dollars graphics

There’s no question that this was the most expensive election cycle in American history. According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets online database, the $6 billion spent nearly doubled what was laid out in 2000. And, we Americans already had the most expensive political process around. Some of this exponential growth is due to the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United. But pundits and experts, like those on our November 16, 2012 panel, disagree on whether this influx of money has been good or bad for the democratic process.  Time MagazineA great online primer to the history of campaign finance and to Citizens United is collected in a “What you need to read” post on FRONTLINE’s “Big Sky, Big Money” site. We’ve gathered some of the Web’s best visual renderings for you. But don’t forget you can always do your own deep research at

It’s about more than just the sheer dollars spent. Open Secrets and others have tracked the subtleties. According to ProPublica, outside groups supporting Barack Obama spent $1.78 per vote — $1.39 of that attacking Mitt Romney. The corresponding number for Mitt Romney was $6.23 per vote — $5.49 spent attacking Obama. Then there’s where the money came from and where it goes — whether from wealthy individuals, Political Action Committees, unions, the parties or small donors.

Open Secrets How Money MatteredThe New York Times has a nice rendering of sources and payouts from PACs and donors and interest groups, along with a nice timeline illustrating the heating up of the race for contributions. But TIME magazine’s elaborate collection covers more ground.  You can see the candidate totals in red and blue at the top — but also check out the money spent on campaign staff, TV ads in Ohio, and the Massachusetts Senate race between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown. The Economist dove deep into the spending in swing states. Their map shows the number of campaign stops made by each candidate as well as the amount spent in television advertising. Safe states often didn’t get a visit by either candidate.

Open Secrets How Money MatteredWhat was the outcome of all this spending? As many have noted, the state of American politics remains pretty much the same. The President was re-elected, the Senate remains in Democratic hands and the House in Republican. But The Center for Responsive Politics’s granular examination points out the bottom line of American campaign finance: The candidate with the most money usually wins.

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