March 15, 2012
Who is funding the super PACs?

Sheldon Adelson gave Gingrich's super PAC $10 million

When Citizens United came down two years ago there was a lot of fear it would lead to a major influx of corporate donations in elections.  In his 2010 State of the Union address just after the decision came down, President Obama said he believed it would “open the floodgates for special interests - including foreign corporations - to spend without limit in our elections.”  John McCain had predicted the super PACs that resulted from the decision would “destroy the political process.”  Presumably both major party presidential candidates from the last presidential election worried the decision would lead to corporations controlling the messaging during the following presidential election.

But looking at the super PACs that have developed, wealthy individuals, not corporations, are the dominant donors.  Corporations, it turns out, are giving less than half of one percent of all contributions raised by the most active super PACs.  Below is a compilation of some of the biggest contributors.

Mitt Romney’s super PAC Restore Our Future received $1.25 million from Wall Street investor Julian Robertson, and two other wealth individuals gave $1 million.  Many other financial investors contributed six-figure donations.  Top  Jewish donors have donated more than 10% of the total $36 million raised by Restore Our Future.  Billionaire investor Ken Griffin donated $150,000 to Restore Our Future.  Frank Vandersloot’s company Melaleuca donated $1 million.  (Vandersloot is also co-chair of the Romney campaign.)

Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his family have twice donated $5 million to Newt Gingrich’s super PAC Winning Our Future.  (Adelson had said he could give $100 million to Gingrich or another Republican last month though that may have changed as he was recently sued for $375 million.)  Before the super PAC received money from Adelson it had only raised $2 million.  Three wealthy individuals, including Mrs. Adelson’s youngest daughter, have each donated $500,000 to the super PAC.

Rick Santorum’s super PAC, the Red, White and Blue Fund, received $1 million from energy executive William Dore and at least $331,000 from investor Foster Friess which was about 40% of its funding in 2011.  (It also returned a $50,000 donation from a foreign corporation that may have violated American election law.)

Ron Paul has done very well at receiving small donations but like the other candidates his super PAC, Endorse Liberty, relies on the extremely wealthy.  Billionaire PayPal founder Peter Thiel, who likes to keep a low profile, has donated the majority of Endorse Liberty’s funding: $2.6 million out of $3.4 million total.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action, has received a $2 million gift from Dreamworks executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and a widely-publicized $1 million gift from political comedian Bill Maher as well as five- and  six-figure donations from other wealthy individuals in entertainment and business including directors Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams and Chicago media tycoon Fred Eychaner.  The Service Employee International Union has also been a major donor, giving Priorities USA Action a $1 million donation.

March 10, 2012
On Comedians and Super PACs

Colbert

Earlier this year, Stephen Colbert’s super PAC, raised $1 million. The host of the satirical news show The Colbert Report has been using his show to explain super PACs to his national audience while criticizing this outcome of the Citizens United decision.  Last month, Dahlia Lithwick of Slate praised Colbert for taking on the Citizens United decision with his super PAC.  Jacob Sullum, over at Reason, says both Colbert and Lithwick are misguided.

Colbert isn’t the only comedian and political commentator making news with a super PAC and a million dollars. Bill Maher, the raunchy host of Real Time on HBO, donated $1 million to the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action.  Maher has criticized the result of Citizens United but called the donation “practical.”  Sarah Palin said on Thursday that accepting this money reflected poorly on Obama’s character. (Though Obama himself can’t be directly involved with the super PAC, he has signaled his support for its existence.)  Greta Van Susteren made a similar argument against the super PAC keeping the money.

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