WASHINGTON — Brother, can you spare $1 million?
The significant "super" political action committees in this year's presidential campaign on Tuesday revealed the names of their wealthy donors, a detailed accounting that underscored how millionaires and billionaires are influencing the presidential election behind the scenes.
The group supporting Mitt Romney, who swept Florida's primary on Tuesday, identified bankers, investors and prominent businessmen who together contributed more than $30 million last year. The group's three most generous donors gave $1 million each, or 400 times the amount they could legally give directly to Romney. All were hedge fund managers.
The pro-Romney group Restore Our Future spent much of the money it raised on ads supporting the former Massachusetts governor or fiercely attacking his rivals. The generosity among Romney's wealthiest supporters is double-edged, since he can expect renewed criticisms from Newt Gingrich and others about his connections to financial elites on Wall Street, Park Avenue, Fifth Avenue and elsewhere.
The top $1 million contributions came from Robert Mercer, co-executive of Renaissance Technologies, one of the world's largest hedge funds; Julian H. Robertson Jr., the retired head of Tiger Management Corp., another top hedge fund; and Paul Singer, head of the New York-based Elliot Management Corp. Singer is a major Republican party campaign bundler, and his firm has specialized in the controversial practice of buying up sovereign debt of Third World and economically distressed nations.
A Restore Our Future official declined to discuss the new financial reports, filed with the federal government late Tuesday.
To be sure, the Romney-leaning super PAC isn't alone in its high-dollar contributions to support candidates. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife collectively gave $10 million this month to the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future super PAC, making the couple by far the key backers to a group that had only raised $2 million through the end of December.
Adelson's donation seemed to be reaping rewards already. Gingrich's speech in Florida late Tuesday included a renewed promise by the candidate that, if elected, he would relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem — a move Adelson has long supported.
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, including Harold Simmons, a Dallas businessman with ties to former Republican candidate Rick Perry.
Restore Our Future has been among the most prominent groups this election cycle. It spent more than $14 million in key primary states on ads that largely supported Romney and hammered Gingrich. The ads were deemed so effective against Gingrich that they contributed to his downfall at the Iowa caucuses.
The group's largest donors, however, aren't immediately apparent on their filings to the Federal Election Commission. Once million-dollar gift came in four installments from Melaleuca Inc., a vitamin and health products company headed by Frank VanderSloot, a Mormon businessman who has donated to both Republican and Democratic politicians. VanderSloot's website features a photo of him posing with Gingrich and his wife, Callista.
At least $750,000 came from Bill Koch, a sibling of the two prominent Koch brothers who have undergirded the finances for many GOP, conservative and pro-business causes in recent years. Koch gave a $250,000 donation, and Oxbow Carbon LLC, the global energy firm he heads, gave $750,000 more.
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.
The super PACs 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.
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