The new role that the super-rich play in electoral politics began to emerge with greater clarity Tuesday as recently formed "super PACs" publicly reported their donors and expenses for 2011.
Restore Our Future, the super PAC backing Mitt Romney's candidacy, raised $30 million during 2011, thanks in part to separate $1-million donations from three New York-based hedge fund executives: Paul Singer, Robert Mercer and Julian Robertson. Two privately held corporations each gave $1 million to Romney as well.
A committee backing Newt Gingrich kept the former House speaker's candidacy alive and on the airwaves in December, thanks to donations from relatives of gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson.
Tuesday's filings did not include the $10 million that Adelson and his wife gave to a Gingrich-allied super PAC in January, but they did reveal that the entrepreneur's stepchildren separately gave a total of $1 million to the fund, known as Winning Our Future. That group also received a $500,000 check from Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, whose company also gave $1 million to a super PAC backing Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
The details that emerged late Tuesday night in reports to the Federal Election Commission — the first substantial financial disclosures made by the super PACs this cycle — underscored the outsized influence wealthy individuals are having on the 2012 race.
The reports also spotlighted the lopsided fundraising race between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to this new breed of political organizations. Although President Obama is far outstripping his potential challengers when it comes to fundraising, GOP super PACs are pulling in more money than their Democratic counterparts.
Simmons is now chasing Adelson as the biggest billionaire donor of the season. Tuesday's filings also showed that he gave $7 million to American Crossroads, a super PAC founded in part by Republican strategist Karl Rove.
Though formed only two years ago, the Crossroads group has become a dominant force within the Republican Party, swooping into battleground races with remarkable success in 2010, often outspending candidates and parties.
American Crossroads disclosed that it received $18.4 million, with $5 million coming from Simmons personally and an additional $2 million from his privately held holding company, Contran Corp. An additional $500,000 was reported from Crow Holdings, run by Dallas real estate baron Harlan Crow. Kenny Troutt, a billionaire communications executive based in Dallas, also gave half a million dollars.
A coal industry management firm, Alliance Management Holdings, gave $425,000 and Richard Baxter Gilliam, the founder of a Virginia-based coal mining company, contributed $250,000.
The end-of-the-year tally for American Crossroads included $100,000 from Sam Zell, whose properties include Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times. Zell gave an additional $50,000 to the super PAC backing Romney.
The filings did not cover funds raised by the nonprofit affiliate of American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS. The GPS organization is a 501(c)(4) "social welfare" organization that does not have to disclose its donors.
Pro-Democratic super PACs such as Priorities USA Action, which was formed by two former White House aides to back President Obama's reelection effort, also have tax-exempt arms that can keep their donors secret.
Fundraising for Priorities USA Action lagged in the second half of the year, but it ended 2011 with a total of $4.4 million raised and $1.5 million in cash on hand. The labor union SEIU gave the group $1 million over the course of the year.
The group did not bring in any seven-figure checks for individuals in the latter half of the year, as it had last May when Dreamworks Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg gave $2 million. But it did collect $100,000 from Katzenberg's former business partner, director Steven Spielberg. Its nonprofit arm, Priorities USA, raised an additional $2.3 million.
House Majority PAC, which backs Democratic congressional candidates, pulled in a little more than $3 million in 2011, nearly all from organized labor such as the Teamsters and the United Food & Commercial Workers.
Majority PAC, which supports Democratic Senate candidates, raised $2.5 million last year. Among its biggest donors in the last half of 2011 were New York hedge fund manager James Simons, who gave $500,000; DRIVE, the PAC of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which gave $200,000; Diamond Resorts Chief Executive Stephen Cloobeck, who gave $100,000; and philanthropist George Soros, who also gave $100,000. Several companies donated to the group, including Rent-A-Center Inc., which gave $5,000, and AT&T's federal PAC, which also gave $5,000.
American Bridge 21st Century, a pro-Democratic opposition research organization, pulled in $3.7 million. The largest share in the last half of the year came from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which gave $475,000, and AFL-CIO Workers' Voices PAC, which donated $100,000. The group's nonprofit arm, which does not have to disclose its donors, raised an additional $2.7 million.