Super PACs, the relatively new breed of political action committee that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, are shaping up to be the hottest political money story of the 2012 elections. Offspring of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, super PACs can't donate to or coordinate with political candidates. But anybody who's anybody in American politics, it seems, has an affiliated super PAC fighting on his or her behalf—Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann (two), Ron Paul, Rick Perry (six!), Ron Paul, Stephen Colbert, and more. There are also super PACs fighting for Democratic and Republicans in the House and Senate, and still others run by tea partiers and labor unions. All told, there are more than 100 super PACs in existence today.
Election Day 2012 may be 15 months away, but the number-crunchers at the Center for Responsive Politics have helpfully laid out everything you need to know about an already a cash-flush, crowded super PAC field. Conservative super PACs are so far leading the charge, having raised $17.6 million in the first half of this year; the bulk of that money—$12.2 million—went to Restore Our Future PAC, a pro-Romney outfit. Liberal super PACs raked in $7.6 million, with Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama group started by two former Obama White House aides, raising $3.2 million.
Other super PAC heavyweights include American Crossroads, the Karl Rove-inspired group that spent $21.5 million in the 2010 midterm elections, according to CRP. American Bridge 21st Century, a cutting-edge hub of opposition research conceived by Media Matters for America founder David Brock, ranked fourth in fundraising among all super PACs. The super PAC affiliated with the Communications Workers of America ranked ninth.
But there's one big takeaway from from the Center's analysis: the vast majority of the cash flowing into super PACs' coffers comes from a elite group donors including CEOs, Hollywood big wigs, corporations, and unions. The fears that the Citizens United decision would allow wealthy individuals and companies to exert more influence in American elections are quickly coming to fruition:
Liberal Super PACs
* Of the $7.6 million raised, more than eight of every ten dollars—or $6.24 million of it—came from just 23 donors.
* Of those 23 blue-chip donors, 45 percent came from the entertainment industry, including DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks
* Twenty-six percent of blue-chip donors were CEOs not in the entertainment industry
* Twenty-five percent of blue-chip donors were labor unions
Conservative Super PACs
* Of the $17.6 million pocketed, more than eight of every ten dollars came from just 35 donors
* Sixty-six percent of those blue-chip donors are CEOs
* Eighteen percent came from corporate treasuries, a company's main money pot
* Sixteen percent came from people who work at Bain Capital, which Romney founded three decades ago
Here are the fundraising totals for top 18 super PACs in the first half of 2011:
|Restore Our Future PAC||$12,231,700||C|
|Priorities USA Action||$3,161,535||L|
|American Bridge 21st Century||$1,562,775||L|
|Cooperative of American Physicians||$1,235,447||N/A|
|House Majority PAC||$985,000||L|
|Club for Growth Action||$440,693||C|
|Communication Workers of America||$295,000||L|
|Americans for Rick Perry||$193,000||C|
|America's Families First Action Fund||$160,374||L|
|Faith Family Freedom Fund||$124,870||C|
|America's President Committee||$124,343||C|
|America Votes Action Fund||$73,061||L|
|Texas Tea Party Patriots PAC||$56,755||C|
|Conservative Super PACs||$17,612,012|
|Liberal Super PACs||$7,612,459|
Source: Center for Responsive Politics