Super-PAC filings unmask mega donors

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Super-PAC filings unmask mega donors
Tue, 02-21-2012 - 12:51pm
Super-PAC filings unmask mega donors

One pro-Romney group raised more cash than the candidate's campaign in January; another breathed new life into Gingrich's rocky candidacy.


The New York Times

Weeks of intense campaigning have left the leading Republican presidential candidates increasingly dependent on super PACs spending millions of dollars on their behalf, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission on Monday.

Mitt Romney's campaign spent close to $19 million in January, almost three times as much as the $6.5 million he raised. He ultimately won two states — New Hampshire and Florida — and ended the month with less than $8 million in cash on hand.

Newt Gingrich raised nearly as much, $5.6 million, and spent close to $6 million.

Rick Santorum, who gained grass-roots donations after being declared the victor in Iowa, raised $4.5 million, as did Texas Rep. Ron Paul — amounts that still leave Romney in the lead but no longer in a fundraising class by himself.

Meanwhile, the super PAC backing Romney, Restore Our Future, raised $6.6 million in January and spent close to $14 million, much of it on ads that battered Gingrich in Iowa and Florida. A pro-Gingrich super PAC raised much more that month — almost $11 million — and spent most of it on attack ads against Romney in South Carolina, where Gingrich won, and in Florida, where Romney prevailed.

The spending showed the breadth of the influence of super PACs as the campaign hits a critical and perhaps decisive period, with outside groups poised to pick up a growing share of political spending during the costly primary battle that lies ahead.

Bolstered by Romney's extraordinarily high burn rate, the campaigns spent about $5 million more in January than the super PACs behind them. Overall, however, super PACs behind the four leading GOP contenders raised $22.1 million in January, slightly more than the candidates, and ended the month with $19.4 million in cash on hand, about $5 million more than the candidates had.

Most of that money came in six- and seven-figure checks from a few dozen individuals or corporations — billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, mutual-fund investor Foster Friess and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, among others — who have exploited recent court rulings and changes in campaign-finance rules to exert unprecedented influence over the presidential nomination process.

Restore Our Future, the super PAC backing Romney, entered February with $16.3 million in cash on hand, money that already has underwritten an early run of attack ads against Santorum, whose victories in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri this month have made him Romney's chief target.

Romney could become even more dependent on Restore Our Future money: While he has raised far more than other candidates, he has spent heavily without taking a clear lead.

Moreover, Romney is "maxing out" his donors — taking the maximum $2,500 contribution allowed by federal law for the primary — faster than any of the leading candidates of either party during the past two races.

Through December, Romney had raised $2,500 from more than 14,000 donors, representing 44 percent of all his contributors. Only 5 percent of Paul's donors, 14 percent of Gingrich's donors and 30 percent of Santorum's donors had maxed out.

While Restore Our Future took in some donations as small as $5, close to $5 million raised by the super PAC came from 25 individuals and corporations that each gave $100,000 to $500,000. Three individuals gave $500,000 apiece: Joseph Craft, an Oklahoma mining exec; Bruce Kovner, a billionaire hedge-fund founder from New York; and David Lisonbee, founder of a Utah vitamin-supplements company.

The group also received donations from past donors: Texas billionaire Harold Simmons; members of the Marriott and Walton families, founders of the Marriott hotel and Wal-Mart chains; and Julian Robertson Jr., a retired hedge-fund manager. Simmons also gave $5 million in January to American Crossroads, a GOP super PAC co-founded by Karl Rove, a single check that constituted virtually all the group's fundraising for the month.

Winning Our Future, the pro-Gingrich super PAC, raised nearly all its cash from three people: Adelson; his wife, Miriam Adelson; and Simmons. (Because he also gave to Restore Our Future, Simmons' money in some sense was working against itself in January.) The Adelsons contributed $5 million each, and he reportedly is weighing putting yet more money into the group.

Restore Our Future also received money from several corporations, some not easily connected to a specific executive or business.

The super PAC backing Santorum, the Red White and Blue Fund, raised about $2 million in January, $670,000 of it from Friess, a wealthy Wyoming investor and top Santorum backer, and William Dore, a retired Texas businessman who gave $1 million. Friess has indicated he is likely to contribute more money if Santorum needs the help.

Information from The Washington Post

is included in this report.