The Wealthy Donors Behind the Presidential Race

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Sheldon AdelsonOct 21 - Individual donors to U.S. presidential candidates can contribute up to $2,500 for the state-by-state party nominating contests and another $2,500 for the general election. But independent groups called Super PACs have no limits on what they can raise from individuals, corporations or labor unions.

Here is a look at wealthy individuals who have contributed at least $1 million to the major "super" political action committees as disclosed to the Federal Election Commission.

RESTORE OUR FUTURE

Total raised as of Sept. 30: $110.5 million

(Supports Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney)

* Bob Perry - Houston builder who was a major donor to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that helped undermine 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry by attacking his Vietnam War record. Total donations: $10 million

* Sheldon Adelson - billionaire Las Vegas casino magnate who built the Venetian hotel and casino. Donation: $5 million

* Miriam Adelson - Sheldon's wife. Donation: $5 million

* Bill Koch - brother of conservative financiers David and Charles Koch. He runs Oxbow Carbon, a Florida-based firm that is also a donor and shares its address with another contributor, Huron Carbon. Total donations, including through firms: $4 million

* Steven Lund - runs Nu Skin, a Utah skin care and cosmetics company whose former executives have been linked to two other firms that share an address in Provo, Utah, and donated to the Super PAC: F8 LLC and Eli Publishing. Lund's wife Kalleen is also a donor. Total donations from the Lunds and firms: $3 million

* Julian Robertson - hedge fund industry legend at Tiger Management. Total donations: $1.3 million

* Crow Holdings - Dallas-based investment firm managing the wealth of the family of the late Dallas real estate mogul Trammell Crow, whose sons Harlan and Trammell S. Crow are also donors. Total Crow Holdings and Crow donations: $1.3 million

* Harold Simmons - billionaire Dallas banker and CEO of Contran Corp who has contributed to PACs supporting Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. Donations: $1.3 million

* Frank VanderSloot - Idaho businessman who runs the nutritional and cosmetics company Melaleuca. The firm and its subsidiaries have also donated. Total donations: $1.1 million

* The Villages of Lake Sumter - a community in Florida run by billionaire Gary Morse, who is also a donor alongside his wife Renee and their several children. Along with the Morse family, thirteen companies controlled wholly or partially by Morse that share an address in The Villages have also contributed. Total donations of all: $1.7 million.

* Kenneth Griffin - Chicago-based hedge fund manager and CEO of Citadel LLC. Total donations: $1.1 million

* Bob Parsons - billionaire founder of web hosting giant Go Daddy. Donation: $1 million

* Jim Davis - chairman of New Balance Athletic Shoes Inc. Donations: $1 million

* Stanley Herzog - CEO of Missouri-based Herzon Contracting Corp. Donation: $1 million

* Bruce Kovner - billonaire hedge fund manager at Caxton Alternative Management. Donation: $1 million

* Rocco Ortenzio - Pennsylvania healthcare executive and founder of Select Medical Corp. Total donations: $1 million

* John Childs - founder of private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates LP in Florida. Donation: $1 million

* Edward Conard - a New York investor and former executive at Bain Capital, a private equity firm co-founded by Romney. Donation: $1 million

* John Kleinheinz - Texas hedge fund manager for Kleinheinz Capital Partners Inc. Donation: $1 million

* J.W. Marriott Jr. - chairman and CEO of Marriott International, brother of Richard. Total donations: $1 million

* Richard Marriott - chairman of Host Marriott International. Total donations: $1 million

* Robert McNair - owner of the Houston Texans football team. Donation: $1 million.

* Robert Mercer - New York hedge fund manager at Renaissance Technologies. Donation: $1 million

* John Paulson - a prominent New York hedge fund manager at Paulson and Co. Donation: $1 million

* Rooney Holdings Inc - private investment firm formed in 1980s to acquire the Manhattan Construction Co. and has since expanded into many areas. Total donations: $1 million

* Paul Singer - hedge fund manager who helped fund efforts to legalize gay marriage in New York. Donation: $1 million

* Paul and Sandra Edgerly - Paul Edgerly of Brookline, Massachusetts, is an executive at Bain. The Edgerlys each have given $500,000. Total donations: $1 million

* Steven Webster - private equity executive at Avista Capital in Houston. Total donations: $1 million

* Robert Brockman - executive at Reynolds and Reynolds, a Dayton, Ohio-based car dealership support company that shares a P.O. Box with CRC Information Systems Inc, Fairbanks Properties LLC and Waterbury Properties LLC, which split the donation three ways. Total donations: $1 million

* Miguel Fernandez - chairman of MBF Healthcare Partners, a private equity firm. MBF Family Investments also donated to the Super PAC. Total donations: $1 million

* Renco Group Inc. - owned by New York billionaire Ira Rennert, another frequent contributor to Republicans this year. Donation: $1 million

* OdysseyRe Holdings Corp - reinsurance underwriting company in Stamford, Connecticut that is a U.S. subsidiary of Toronto-based Fairfax Financial. Donation: $1 million

PRIORITIES USA ACTION

Total raised as of Sept. 30: $50.1 million

(Supports Democratic President Barack Obama)

* James Simons - billionaire hedge fund manager, founder of Renaissance Technologies Corp. Donation: $3.5 million

* Fred Eychaner - founder of Newsweb Corp. Donation: $3.5 million

* Jeff Katzenberg - chief executive of DreamWorks Animation. Donation: $3 million

* Steve Mostyn - Houston attorney. Donation: $2 million

* Irwin Mark Jacobs - former CEO of Qualcomm Inc. Donation: $2 million

* Jon Stryker - billionaire activist and heir to the medical supply company fortune of his grandfather. Donation: $2 million

* Anne Cox Chambers - billionaire daughter of James M. Cox, founder of Cox Enterprises. Total donations: $1.5 million

* National Air Traffic Controllers Association - union representing more than 16,000 workers. Donation: $1.3 million

* S. Daniel Abraham - billionaire creator of Slim-Fast brand, chairman of S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. Donation: $1.2 million

* Barbara Stiefel - retiree in Coral Gables, Florida. Donation: $1.1 million

* United Auto Workers - Donations through various funds: $1.1 million

* Kareem Ahmed - chief executive at Landmark Medical Management in California. Donation: $1 million

* David Boies, Jr - New York lawyer. Donation: $1 million

* Morgan Freeman - Hollywood actor. Donation: $1 million

* Amy Goldman - writer and heiress to the New York real estate fortune of Sol Goldman. Donation: $1 million

* Franklin Haney - owner and CEO of FLH Company, a Washington-based real estate company. Donation: $1 million

* Bill Maher - stand-up comedian. Donation: $1 million

* Mel Heifetz - real estate developer and gay activist. Donation: $1 million

* Michael Snow - Minnesota lawyer. Donation: $1 million.

* Steven Spielberg - film director. Donation: $1 million.

* Ann Wyckoff - Seattle philanthropist. $1 million.

* Service Employees International Union Committee on Political Education - union representing more than 2 million workers. Donation: $1 million.

* United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry - union representing some 340,000 workers. Total donations: $1 million

AMERICAN CROSSROADS

Total raised as of Sept. 30: $68 million

(Supports Republican candidates for federal offices)

* Harold Simmons - Total donations together with Contran Corp: $15.5 million

* Bob Perry - Total donations: $6.5 million

* Robert Rowling - an Irving, Texas, businessman and a conservative and active Republican donor. His company, TRT Holdings Inc, which runs Omni Hotel and Gold's Gym chains, is also a donor. Total donations: $4 million

* Joe Craft - billionaire coal executive from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and CEO of Alliance Holdings, which is also a donor. Total donations: $2.1 million

* Jerry Perenchio Living Trust - a trust of billionaire television tycoon A. Jerrold Perenchio, who is a former chairman of Spanish-language broadcaster Univision. Donation: $2 million

* Crow Holdings - Dallas-based real estate investment firm. Total donations: $1.5 million

* Weaver Holdings and Weaver Popcorn - Indiana-based company specializing in popcorn. Total contributions: $1.9 million

* Stephens Inc - a Little Rock, Arkansas, broker dealer. Total donations: $1.3 million

* Armstrong Group - telecommunications conglomerate in Pennsylvania. Donation: $1.3 million

* JWC III Revocable Trust - Donatoin: $1.3 million

* Robert Brockman - executive at Ohio-based Reynolds and Reynolds. Similarly to Restore Our Future, three firms sharing a P.O. Box - CRC Information Systems Inc, Fairbanks Properties LLC and Waterbury Properties LLC - split the donation three ways. Total donations: $1 million

* Whiteco Industries - Indiana-based company involved in advertising, construction, entertainment and hotels. Donation: $1 million

* The Mercury Trust - entity linked to California private equity firm of Saul Fox. Donation: $1 million

* Clayton Williams Energy Inc - Midland, Texas-based drilling company. Donation: $1 million

* Jay Bergman - of PETCO Petroleum Corporation. Donation: $1 million

* Kenneth Griffin - Citadel Investment Group chief executive. Total donations: $1 million

* Wayne Hughes - Founder of Public Storage. Total donations: $1 million

* John Childs - Chairman and CEO of Boston-based JW Childs Associates. Total donations: $1 million

* Philip Geier - New York executive. Total donations: $1 million

* Irving Moskowitz - a Florida bingo magnate who runs a charity in California and is known for his support of Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem. Donation: $1 million

* Robert Mercer - co-CEO of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies. Donation: $1 million (Reporting by Patrick Temple-West, Alexander Cohen and Alina Selyukh; editing by Todd Eastham)



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The Wealthy Donors Behind the Presidential Race

Historically speaking, American elections have always been about money. In 1758, George Washington spent £39 to buy "A hogshead and a barrel of punch, thirty-five gallons of wine, forty-three gallons of strong cider alcohol" to help convince voters to support his bid for a seat in Virginia's House of Burgesses. A little over a hundred years later, things had gotten far worse, as Mark Twain noted when he proclaimed "I think I can say, and say with pride, that we have some legislatures that bring higher prices than any in the world."

But the most crooked presidential contest -- and the one that began the push for campaign finance reform -- happened in 1896. On one side, Democrat William Jennings Bryan was pushing for a move from a gold-based to a silver-based currency, a switch that could have been good for common voters, but which terrified bankers, financiers and other big money interests. On the other side, Republican William McKinley was close friends with Mark Hanna, a political fixer with a pocket full of big money connections.

Pictured: 1897 illustration shows President William McKinley, standing, leading a toast to a dejected William Jennings Bryan sitting in a chair labeled "Guest of Honor"; seated around the table are, among others, "Teddy" Roosevelt, Mark "Hanna," and Benjamin B. "Odell," Jr.

Faced with the possibility of a frighteningly populist economic policy, big business was eager to get in bed with McKinley, and Hanna was exactly the man to maximize the situation. Putting the squeeze on banks, Hanna told them to kick in a quarter of a percent of their total assets. As for other corporations, he suggested that they donate based on their "stake in the general prosperity of the country."

Hanna's scare tactics worked: All told, he raised between $3.4 and $7 million for McKinley -- the equivalent of up to $3 billion in today's money. But, even with the ability to outspend Bryan by a factor of twelve to one, McKinley won only 51% of the general vote. Still, it was enough to give him the presidency -- and ensure that the gold standard stayed intact.

A few years later, President Theodore Roosevelt was criticized for his fundraising practices. In response, he pushed Congress to outlaw corporate contributions to political campaigns. The Tillman Act, which passed in 1907, did exactly that, but was riddled with loopholes. Over the next few decades, new restrictions on fundraising were met with ever-more-complex tools for circumventing the law. For example, in 1943, Congress made it illegal for unions to directly contribute to political campaigns. In response, the Congress of International Organizations (also known as the CIO, as in AFL-CIO) created the first political action committee, or PAC. Rather than give union funds directly to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's campaign, the CIO simply talked its members into doing so.

By the early 1970's, the various loopholes had, in some ways, turned campaign financing into a huge joke. Richard Nixon made it clear just how far things had progressed when he told an aide that "anybody who wants to be an ambassador must at least give $250,000." He went on to note that big checks were officially going to trump political allegiance: "The contributors have got to be, I mean, a big thing, and I'm not gonna do it for political friends and all that crap." To his credit, however, Nixon offered a money-back guarantee: When it became clear that the Senate wasn't going to confirm the ambassadorial nomination of one of his biggest contributors, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, the president agreed to return his money.

It wasn't long before there was a backlash: in the early 1970's, Congress passed a series of laws that forced candidates to disclose the names of their donors, placed limits on contributions, and established the Federal Election Commission to oversee campaign finances. Even so, it wasn't long before political contributors found new ways to pour money into elections. In 2000, Sam (photo above) and Charles Wyly, a pair of Texas billionaires, tested out a new type of political group -- a "527" organization -- that was tax exempt, and could be used for "issue advocacy" -- pushing position on specific issues -- as long as they didn't endorse individual candidates. The pair backed candidate George W. Bush, and their 527 group, "Republicans for Clean Air," spent $2.5 million to attack Sen. John McCain's environmental record.

Within four years, 527s had become a major force in political campaigning, and the Wylys continued their involvement, contributing to "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," a 527 that attacked Democratic candidate John Kerry's war record. In addition to bringing national attention to the excesses of 527s, they introduced a new verb -- "swiftboating" -- to describe the process of using false accusations to take down a candidate.

But the impact of the Wylys and the Swift Boaters were soon eclipsed by a Supreme Court decision that fundamentally changed the nature of political campaigns -- and arguably set the campaign finance reform clock back by a century. The 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision made it legal for corporations to donate an effectively unlimited amount of money to independent political action committees. These new groups -- called super PACs -- quickly became the most powerful tool in the political arsenal.

In the process, they have also created a strange double standard. Because there are still strict rules limiting direct political contributions to a candidate, super PACs have to be completely independent from official campaigns: They can't take orders from -- or, in any official way, communicate with -- the candidates that they are supporting. However, because there are no limits on super PAC contributions, these independent groups are often far better funded than the official campaigns they are supposed to be "supporting."

Many critics -- including Stephen Colbert -- have suggested that this theoretical separation will lead to underhanded collusion, as candidates seek to direct their super PACs. However, there is also a chance that the opposite will happen, as the superior economic power of super PACs gives them immense power to dictate a candidate's political agenda. As The New Yorker's Nancy Meyer recently pointed out, Mitt Romney's super PAC, "Restore Our Future" has spent $17 million on attack ads, while his official campaign spent $11 million. Noting the discrepancy between the two groups, she wrote that "The Super PAC is technically fighting a proxy battle on behalf of Romney, but in practice it has become the head warrior."

With that in mind, it's probably a good idea to take a good long look at the big money contributors who are funding super PACs. After all, while the policies proposals of Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, Paul and Obama are compelling, it may end up that people like Frank VanderSloot, Sheldon Adelson, Foster Friess, Peter Thiel and George Soros will be pulling the strings.

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