- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 1, 2012

In the battle of unlimited-money political groups that will play a major role in the 2012 general election, Republican groups have stockpiled far more cash than their Democratic rivals, and a tiny group of people is set to have a dramatic influence on the electoral process.

Twenty people have given more than $20 million to a handful of super PACs in the past six months, and 46 companies and unions gave another $18 million.

The new groups have allowed liberal mainstays such as George Soros and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to re-elect Democrats. But dramatically more has gone to Republican groups that will be their counterpart during the general election.

American Crossroads, the political vessel of former President George W. Bush aide Karl Rove, raised $51 million last year with the goal of supporting Republicans. Crossroads’ chairman is former Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan.

Meanwhile, Priorities USA, helmed by Bill Burton, former aide to President Obama, said it raised less than $7 million, largely in the first half of the year. A similar group, American Bridge, raised a comparable amount.

The largest donor revealed by year-end campaign finance reports Tuesday, the first since super PACs began spending $40 million on the presidential election, was Harold Simmons, who with his company Contran gave $8.5 million to Crossroads. But not all of the donations from wealthy Republicans have been aimed at Democrats.

Mr. Simmons also gave $500,000 in December to the Newt Gingrich-supporting Winning Our Future, and his company doled out $1 million to the pro-Rick Perry PAC Make Us Great Again.

Eleven wealthy persons cut checks for $1 million or more to the pro-Mitt Romney group Restore Our Future, which has battled viciously with the Gingrich group.

Four of the top donors to the Romney super PAC are New York-based hedge-fund managers Robert Mercer of Renaissance Technologies; Julian Robertson of Tiger Managements; Paul Singer of Elliott Management; and John Paulson, founder of Paulson and Co., who became a billionaire by short-selling subprime mortgages in 2007.

William Koch, who inherited a fortune from his father’s oil refinery business, donated $1 million to the Romney super PAC, mostly through his energy company Oxbow Energy.

In some cases, donors funding super PACs have been the same people who for years gave unlimited “soft money” to the national parties before it was outlawed.

Bernard L. Schwartz, former chairman and chief executive officer of Loral Space & Communications Ltd., was the Democratic Party’s largest single donor in the 1996 elections. Between February 1999 and June 2000, Mr. Schwartz gave Democratic Party committees more than $600,000, and another $77,000 went to individual candidates, including $45,000 to the New York senatorial race of then first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Now, with $210,000, Mr. Schwartz is the sole funder of Economic Innovations Action Fund, an inactive super PAC so far. In 1998, he was recommended as the focus of an independent counsel investigation to determine if missile-related technology transfers his firm made with the White House’s assistance were related to the $1.5 million in donations he gave Democrats in 1996. He was exonerated by the Justice Department.

Dean White, an executive at billboard and building company Whiteco Industries, contributed more than $270,000 to Republican candidates and causes over the past several years, according to Federal Election Commission records. But those years of giving were trumped easily with the stroke of a pen, when Indiana-based Whiteco Industries contributed $1 million to American Crossroads.

Ultimately, however, the newfound ability of corporations to give to political causes has not had the dramatic effect feared by some, with most donations coming from individuals, and much of the remainder from unions.

Millions also were disclosed only as being given to the political group by a related nonprofit - which does not, in turn, have to say where it got its money.

Conservative Freedomworks said half of $3 million in donations were actually services provided for no cost by its nonprofit arm. Liberal American Bridge said the source of $200,000 of its money was its own nonprofit.

The $200,000 donated to Priorities USA Action was listed as being a transfer from its nonprofit arm, so the origin of those funds, which will be used to fight for Mr. Obama’s re-election, is unknown. And most of the total announced by American Crossroads was raised by its nonprofit arm rather than the super PAC account, meaning after a six-month wait, the biggest donors will remain secret.

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