Total spending by both parties was about $6 billion, The New York Times reported Thursday.
By Wednesday morning it was clear President Barack Obama had won a second term, Democrats had a slightly larger advantage in the Senate and Republicans would have a smaller majority in the House.
"Money is a necessary condition for electoral success," Bob Biersack of the Center for Responsive Politics told the Times. "But it's not sufficient, and it's never been."
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's biggest backers were in Boston Tuesday for what they hoped would be a victory party. The next morning, they were at Logan Airport, waiting for their private jets.
The group included Kenneth Langone of Home Depot and Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate believed to be the biggest contributor of the 2012 election. Most of the candidates Adelson backed lost, including Rabbi Shmuley Boteach who got a 3-1 shellacking in a heavily Democratic New Jersey congressional district.
"All I can say is the American people have spoken," Langone said.
The Romney and Obama campaigns raised about $1 billion each. But super PAC's raised a lot more from big contributors freed by the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling allowing virtually unlimited campaign finance fundraising.
Republican leaders like Karl Rove, whose two super PACs were among the biggest spenders, and former GOP Chairman Haley Barbour, who helped Rove raise money, suggested the fundraising kept the election closer than it otherwise would have been.
"I believe that some of that money actually kept Romney from getting beat down by the carpet-bombing he underwent from the Obama forces," Barbour said. "I did look at it more as us trying to keep our candidates from getting swamped, like what happened to [2008 Republican nominee John] McCain."
On a conference call with reporters Thursday, Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod joked if he had been among the big givers to Republican strategist Karl Rove's Crossroads PAC, "I'd be asking for a refund," The Washington Post reported.
Axelrod suggested the experience of 2012 may cause donors to be skeptical about the effectiveness of big dollar TV advertising in political campaigns and "there will be reluctance in the future, when Mr. Rove and others come knocking on the door."
"What was the impact of this unprecedented deluge of media?" he said. "How much influence did this actually have?
"The heartening news is that you can't buy the White House; you can't overwhelm the Congress with these Super PAC dollars," Axelrod said.
"If groups like Crossroads were not active this race would have been over a long time ago," Rove said Thursday.