WASHINGTON (AP) — The most significant “super” political committees in this year’s presidential campaign revealed the names of their wealthy donors Tuesday. The casino mogul who with his wife contributed $10 million to Newt Gingrich’s group gave five times more than the group collected from all other sources.
The new financial reports, which offered a detailed accounting of money collected and spent by super PACs, underscored how millionaires and billionaires are influencing the presidential election behind the scenes.
The group supporting Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future, said it collected $17.9 million in contributions since July, most of which it spent on advertisements supporting Romney or attacking Gingrich. The top four donors to the group were hedge fund managers. The pro-Romney group waited to file its report until hours after Romney was projected the winner in Florida’s important GOP primary, just ahead of the midnight deadline.
Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, who collectively gave $10 million this month to the pro-Gingrich group, Winning Our Future, were not listed in the latest filings because the reporting period covered 2011. But the group’s reports showed only $2 million in donations, making the Adelsons by far the paramount backers in Gingrich’s Republican candidacy.
Adelson, a staunch advocate for Israel, was rewarded in Gingrich’s speech in Florida late Tuesday with a renewed promise by the candidate that, if elected, he would relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Adelson has long supported such a move.
American Crossroads, the Republican group backed by former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove, said it raised $51 million along with its nonprofit arm last year. Most of its $11 million in contributions over the past three months came from roughly a dozen wealthy donors.
While most recent public attention has focused on super PACs spending major sums for negative TV ads assailing Romney and Gingrich, Tuesday’s figures are a sign of even greater spending to come in the general election battle between the Republican nominee and Democratic President Barack Obama.
The super PACs’ war chests underscore the extraordinary impact the groups will have on this year’s race. In GOP primaries so far, groups working for or against presidential candidates have spent roughly $25 million on TV ads — about half the nearly $53 million spent on advertising so far to influence voters in the early weeks of the race.
Crossroads’ financial reports identify wealthy donors who had given contributions reaching as high as seven figures by the end of 2011. Among the largest contributors was Dallas businessman Harold Simmons, who gave the group $5 million in November and whose holding company, Contran Corp., donated an additional $2 million.
Simmons is a major donor to GOP and conservative causes who pumped as much as $4 million into the “swift boat” campaign that helped sink Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry in 2004. Simmons, an early supporter of Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential run, also was a fundraising “bundler” putting donations together for Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Winning Our Future and other such groups are the products of a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that removed restrictions on corporate and union spending in federal elections. The super PACs can’t directly coordinate with the candidates they support, but many are staffed with former campaign workers who have an intimate knowledge of a favored candidate’s strategy.
Since this summer, the groups have spent tens of millions of dollars on ads in key GOP primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. The PACs have also unleashed millions on expenses typically reserved for campaigns, including direct mailings, phone calls and get-out-the-vote efforts.
Indeed, outside spending by individuals isn’t new. Liberal-leaning billionaire George Soros gave more than $20 million to help groups supportive of Kerry — these groups were known as “527″ organizations — and his 2004 White House bid. But the high court’s Citizens United ruling essentially gave a green light to individuals who want to pump unlimited sums into outside groups that would in turn support candidates.
The Obama campaign on Tuesday disclosed a list of 61 people who raised at least half a million dollars for the president’s re-election efforts. Among them were movie producers Jeffrey Katzenberg and Harvey Weinstein and embattled former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, whose $70,000 in contributions from himself and his wife were refunded by the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
A handful of other financial filings began trickling in to the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday afternoon, including those from the Gingrich campaign. It said the former House speaker raised $10 million during the fourth quarter, in addition to $5 million this month. Those totals are separate from super PAC money being spent on his behalf by outside groups.
Perry, the Texas governor who was an early star in the Republican primaries, raised an anemic $2.9 million this past quarter, compared with $17.2 million within the first two months of his entering the race last summer. The Jon Huntsman-leaning Our Destiny super PAC raised about $2.8 million — with more than $1.8 million coming from the former candidate’s father, Jon Huntsman Sr.
Endorse Liberty, a group supportive of libertarian-leaning Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, said it raised $3.9 million for online advertising in key primary states.
Associated Press writers Stephen Braun and Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.
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