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The 20 Biggest Donors of the 2012 Election (So Far)

The casino mogul betting $5 million on Newt Gingrich, Wall Streeters investing in Mitt Romney, Obama's Hollywood pal, and the other 1 percenters trying to sway the race.

| Tue Jan. 10, 2012 6:00 AM EST

The 2008 presidential election was the most expensive on record, with candidates, parties, and outside groups dropping $5.3 billion. This year's contest promises to break that record, due in part to the new rules of political fundraising: Donors can pour unlimited cash into outside-spending groups that can freely boost or attack the candidates of their choice. Which means that wealthy donors who have maxed out on their gifts to candidates or just want a lot more bang for their political buck can write massive checks to any of the new super-PACs that are popping up as proxies for politicians and parties.

Throughout the year, we'll be keeping tabs on these superdonors (many of them couples who double up or spread out their gifts). As primary season heats up, we've tallied the current top 20 political givers based on donation data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Here's a quick look at how they're giving, starting with their partisan tilt: 17 out of 20 are giving to Republican or conservative groups and candiates.

And half of the top 20 are major donors to the pro-Mitt Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future:

The full list:

1. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson (Las Vegas)

With a net worth of more than $21 billion, casino mogul Sheldon is listed by Forbes as the eighth-richest person in America. His recent $5 million donation to the pro-Newt Gingrich super-PAC Winning Our Future has secured his spot as the 2012 election cycle's most generous donor (for now). In keeping with Gingrich's scorched-earth primary strategy, Adelson's massive gift is funding a round of harsh attack ads against Mitt Romney. The chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands casino chain, Adelson previously contributed to conservative outside-spending groups, including the now-defunct Freedom's Watch and Gingrich's shuttered 527 group, American Solutions Winning the Future. In a 2008 Mother Jones article, a Nevada Republican operative described him as "a very aggressive, strong-minded, passionate person"; in another MoJo story, a union leader called the famously anti-labor Adelson "probably one of the most litigious people on the planet."
Total giving for 2012 race: $5,224,800
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $5,010,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $214,800

 

2. Bob and Doylene Perry (Houston)

Bob is the founder of Perry Homes, one of America's top homebuilders. He's worth a reported $650 million and is a longtime Republican power player, though "not a schmoozer at all." During the 2004 election, Perry gave nearly $4.5 million to the John Kerry-smearing group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. He has also bankrolled every member of the Texas Supreme Court, which ruled for him in a defective-home lawsuit. (He was ultimately ordered to pay $51 million.) In the 2012 election cycle, the Perrys have given $2.5 million to Karl Rove's American Crossroads super-PAC, $500,000 to the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future, and $250,000 to the Republican Governors Association.

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Total giving for 2012 race: $3,337,600
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $3,250,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $87,600

 

3. Jeffrey and Marilyn Katzenberg (Los Angeles)

The former head of Walt Disney's film division, Jeffrey is the CEO of DreamWorks Animation, the world's largest animation studio. A 2009 Fast Company profile noted his reputation for "relentless ambition and a hypercontrolling management style." In the 2012 election cycle, he has given $2 million to the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action. As in the last election, Jeffrey is a major bundler for the Obama campaign. He described soliciting money for Obama as "the single easiest fundraising phone call that I have ever made, ever."
Total giving for 2012 race: $2,173,100
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $2,000,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $173,100

 

4. Jerry and Margaret Perenchio (Los Angeles)

Jerry, 80, is the former CEO of the Spanish-language network Univision, which he sold for $13.7 billion in 2007. He is worth a reported $2.3 billion and is one of Malibu's biggest private landowners. He was previously a talent agent for Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, and other stars. His wife, Margaret, is a portrait artist who has painted celebrities including Salma Hayek. In the 2012 election cycle, the Perenchios have dished out $2 million to Rove's American Crossroads.
Total giving for 2012 race: $2,128,300
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $2,000,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $128,300

 

5. Robert and Terry Rowling (Highland Park, Texas)

Reportedly worth $4.7 billion, the 57-year-old Robert owns TRT Holdings, whose assets include the Tana Exploration oil company, a Mexican dollar-store chain, and Gold's Gym. He and his wife, Terry, live in the legendarily conservative Dallas suburb of Highland Park. He has given millions of dollars to state and national Republicans over the years; as a bundler to George W. Bush's 2004 campaign, he was named a "Bush Pioneer." In the 2012 election cycle, he has given $1 million to American Crossroads (a prior donation prompted protests from San Francisco branches of Gold's Gym).
Total giving for 2012 race: $1,101,600
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $1,000,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $101,600

 

6. Kenneth and Anne Griffin (Chicago)

A hedge fund power couple, Ken and Anne Griffin are, respectively, the founder and CEO of Citadel and the founder and managing partner of Aragon Global Management, one of the nation's largest hedge funds headed by a woman. Noted art aficionados, they own works by Monet, Degas, and Cezanne, and paid $80 million for a Jasper Johns painting. Reportedly worth $2.3 billion, Ken bundled money for both Obama and John McCain during the 2008 election. In the 2012 election cycle, the couple has given $500,000 to the Republican Governors Association, $300,000 to Rove's American Crossroads, and $150,000 to the Wisconsin Club for Growth. Bonus: Charles Koch named them as part of a list of elite donors who have pledged $1 million to his and his brother David's conservative fundraising machine.
Total giving for 2012 race: $1,089,000
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $950,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $139,000

 

7. John and Jenny Paulson (New York City)

With a net worth of $15.5 billion, John, a phenomenally successful hedge funds manager, is America's 17th-richest person. After riding out the market collapse, Paulson made $4.9 billion in 2010—Wall Street's biggest-ever single payday. Occupy Wall Street protested outside his 28,500-square foot Manhattan mansion in October 2011. The following month he issued a letter apologizing for Paulson Funds' poor recent performance, then personally bailed it out to the tune of $4 million. In the 2012 election cycle, Paulson has given $1 million to the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future. He and his wife Jenny have also given $9,600 to Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown.
Total giving for 2012 race: $1,075,600
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $1,005,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $70,600

 

8. Paul and Sandra Edgerley (Brookline, Massachusetts)

Since 1990, Paul has served as a managing director of Bain Capital, the private investment firm cofounded by Mitt Romney. Previously, he did consulting and managerial work alongside Romney at Bain & Company. Sandra also worked at Bain & Company before leaving to focus on philanthropic interests. The Edgerleys are longtime Republican boosters in Massachusetts. In the 2012 election cycle, the couple has donated $1 million to Restore Our Future.
Total giving for 2012 race: $1,015,000
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $1,000,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $15,000

 

9. Edward and Jill Conard (New York City)

Edward is a retired managing director at Bain Capital, and Jill is a former comedy writer who previously worked for David Letterman. They are prominent Romney supporters, as they were in 2008. In August, following complaints from election watchdogs, Edward revealed that he was behind a mysterious $1 million donation, given by a previously unheard-of company called W Spann, to the Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future.
Total giving for 2012 race: $1,005,000
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $1,000,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $5,000

 

10. Fred Eychaner (Chicago)

This reclusive media mogul is a major Democratic fundraiser. A former reporter, he runs the Newsweb Corporation, which publishes alternative and ethnic newspapers. In 2002, he made more than $420 million selling a TV station to Rupert Murdoch. A 2005 Chicago Tribune profile reported that he "drives a 1999 Ford Escort, flies coach, owns just three suits and sometimes stays at budget motels." In the 2012 election cycle, Eychaner has given $500,000 to the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action, $100,000 to the House Majority PAC, $100,000 to the Democratic Governors Association, and $50,000 to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.
Total giving for 2012 race: $791,800
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $750,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $41,800

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