Did the Tea Party's Biggest Campaign Donors Tax Themselves?

Foster Friess Last week, Foster Friess (right), one of the biggest private contributors to the the Republican party, complained to The Los Angeles Times that super PACs -- the political organizations that are allowed to accept unlimited political donations -- are too secretive about how they spend their money. "You have no idea of the financial structuring of a lot of these outside groups in terms of how much went to the actual delivery of a message," he told The Times, "versus how many dollars were taken off as fees to the people running them."

While impressive, Friess' $5 million in donations pale beside the political contributions of many Republican donors. The 2012 presidential election was one of the most expensive in American history, with just over $1.6 billion in direct spending by the candidates and up to three times that amount contributed by various PACs. A large part of this money came from donors like Friess, many of whom were especially interested in maintaining -- or increasing -- tax cuts for the rich.

Had Romney won, this investment would have paid off mightily. For example, Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas billionaire who pledged to spend $100 million on the Republican candidate, would have saved an estimated $2.3 billion under Romney's tax plan.

But while things may not have worked out for many of these wealthy contributors, they may have worked out for the economy. After all, campaigns are labor-intensive affairs, resulting in boosts to short-term job creation, small-scale manufacturing, and other economic activities. In other words, the huge amounts of money that Friess and his fellow contributors passed along did exactly what government spending is supposed to do: They created jobs and stimulated the economy.

In light of that, it's worth asking what percentage of their incomes some of the top money men contributed to the campaign -- and how it compares with the tax rate that they could expect to pay if the Bush tax cuts expire. We've created a gallery of the top six Republican contributors, looking at the best estimates of their income and their political donations in the last year. Take a peek:

Did the Tea Party's Biggest Campaign Donors Tax Themselves?
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Did the Tea Party's Biggest Campaign Donors Tax Themselves?

Chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, Sheldon Adelson earned an estimated $432.8 million in 2011. Over the course of the last election cycle, he directly contributed $53 million to various political campaigns, in addition to which his companies also gave generously. The Las Vegas Sands, Adelson's hotel, coughed up $20.5 million and the Adelson Clinic kicked in $17.6 million. All told, Adelson donated or was related to the donation of at least $91.1 million.

Taken from this angle, Adelson's contributions totaled over 21% of his yearly income -- a big increase on the amount that he would have stood to pay if the Bush tax cuts expire. On the other hand, if Romney's proposed lower capital gains, dividend and inheritance taxes had been enacted, the Vegas magnate's potential winnings might have dwarfed his investment.

Charles and David Koch (pictured) are the co-owners of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held company in America. In the last election, the pair spent $2.2 million through their company, $411,000 directly, and as much as $36.7 million through Americans for Prosperity, their PAC. In the same period, according to Forbes, their shared net worth increased from $44 billion in 2011 to $62 billion in 2012, an $18 billion jump.

Taken from this angle, the Kochs' $39.3 million in political contributions was about 0.02% of their yearly income -- a fraction of the amount that they would pay if the 15% capital gains and dividend taxes reverted to their 20% pre-Bush rates.

Simmons, a billionaire banker, has been highly generous to the Republican party. In the last cycle, he directly donated $23.8 million, and contributed another $19.2 million through his company, Contran. Then again, while his $43 million in contributions are staggering, they are only 0.3% of the $1.4 billion that Forbes estimates he made between 2011 and 2012. For that matter, they represent just a fraction of the increased taxes that Simmons will pay if the capital gains and dividend taxes go up.

Perry owns Perry Homes, the 23rd largest homebuilder in America. In the last election cycle, he directly donated $21.4 million to various Republican candidates, and contributed another $16.2 million through his company, for a total of $37.6 million in donations that he either directly gave or supervised. While Perry's personal income in 2011 is not available, his company's revenue was reportedly $381 million, which means he donated 9.8% of his company's total earnings -- more than twice what he might expect to pay if the top tax rate reverts to pre-Bush levels.

The founder and former director of TD Ameritrade, Ricketts'$12.8 million in campaign contributions in 2011 and 2012 largely went to two organizations: Mitt Romney's Super PAC and the Ending Spending Fund, a conservative group that is pushing for deep cuts in the federal budget. Largely retired, the 69-year-old Ricketts' salary and bonuses in 2011 came to $220,828 -- 1.7% of his donations. Needless to say, Ricketts paid far more than he would have paid in taxes -- but then again, given that Romney promised to abolish the estate tax, perhaps Ricketts was simply thinking ahead about ways to help his descendants.

The famed venture capitalist, co-founder of Paypal, and early investor in Facebook, Peter Thiel has made a name for himself with a collection of counter-intuitive bets and well-funded initiatives. In the last election cycle, he personally donated $4.7 million to a handful of conservative groups, including Ron Paul's super PAC. His company, Clarium Capital, donated a further $3.8 million.

At the same time, according to Forbes, Thiel's net worth dropped by roughly $100 million, which means that his political donations far exceeded any direct benefit that he would have gotten if Ron Paul had been elected. Then again, the low-regulation business environment that Paul proposed might have been very attractive to Thiel.


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