November's elections were accompanied by much agonizing (again) over the amount of money in politics. This was the most expensive mid-term election ever. But did donors get value for the money they spent? Or more precisely, which donors got what they paid for - candidates that won - and which donors ended up backing losers?

We looked at the data - and compiled a list of 100 most effective and least effective donors in America. To make sure we were able to discern meaningful trends, we only looked at donors who gave to more than 10 candidates, and $10,000 in total, this cycle. With a small number of exceptions (more on that later) the donors in the top 100 and bottom 100 of effectiveness are not household names or public figures. So we grouped them into categories. Here's what we found:

The most effective political donors in America are:

  • Centrist donors, rather than strongly liberal or conservative donors;
  • C-suite executives and other corporate executives, and
  • Include Steve Ballmer and Paul Allen, both formerly senior executives at Microsoft.

The least effective political donors in America are:

  • Overwhelmingly conservative: conservative donors are much less effective at picking winners than liberal donors;
  • Retired people, and
  • Include former TV host Jerry Springer and Linda McMahon, the wrestling magnate and former Republican candidate.

Some notes on the data

The rankings are based on the top 100 and bottom 100 of all donors to federal candidates, calculated by the ratio of money donated to candidates who won or lost.

The visualizations use the Crowdpac scoring system and liberal/conservative scale, where 0 is in the middle; 10L is the most liberal and 10C the most conservative.

The size of the circles shows how large a percentage of the top 100 most effective or least effective donors fall into each category.

We applied some cut-offs to exclude random one-off contributions and so we could see some meaningful patterns. We only included:

1. Donors who made at least 10 donations this cycle

2. Donors who gave at least $10k this cycle

3. Donors who gave to at least 25 candidates since 2004

4. Donors who have given over $50k since 2004

Sign up