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Rich and famous funnel millions to 'super PACs'

August 01, 2011|By Melanie Mason
(Scott Olsen/Getty Images )

With no contribution limits standing in their way, Hollywood bigwigs and finance executives shelled out top dollar to outside political groups that are looking to make a big impact in the coming election cycle.

In the first half of the year, 91 “super PACs”—committees that can raise unlimited money from individuals, corporations and labor unions, but must work independently from candidates and political parties—raised $26 million, the Sunlight Foundation notes. But the vast majority of that total was raised by a just a handful of groups, whose filings reveal some noteworthy names.

Restore Our Future’s $12.2 million haul constituted nearly half of all donations taken in by super PACs in the first six months of the year. The group, which supports former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, only spent around $22,000, leaving nearly all of its contributions as available cash on hand.

The group got ample support from the business and finance sector, including $1 million from hedge fund manager John Paulson, and $500,000 apiece from Paul Edgerley, a managing director at Bain Capital (the private equity firm co-founded by Romney), and his wife, Sandra. The group also received $500,000 from J.W. Marriott, chairman of the hotel chain, and his brother Richard Marriott gave an additional $500,000. Romney was named after their father, J. Willard Marriott Sr., and  he sat on the board of directors of the hotel chain until earlier this year.

Priorities USA Action, founded by former Obama White House aides earlier this spring, raised $3.1 million, with a major lift coming from Hollywood heavyweights. The single largest donor to the group was Dreamworks Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, who gave $2 million to the group in late May. Katzenberg has long been a prolific donor to Democratic politicians and causes; he’s already raised more than $500,000 for Obama’s re-election effort. Producer/director J.J. Abrams, of “Lost” and “Super 8” fame, and his wife Kathleen McGrath each kicked in $50,000 to the Democratic super PAC.

Other major contributors included labor union SEIU, which gave $500,000, and Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner, who also donated half a million dollars. Priorities USA has spent around $700,000 thus far on ads and has around $1.8 million in cash on hand.

American Crossroads has $3.2 million cash on hand, more than any other super PAC except Restore Our Future. But while the group spent around $700,000 in May for the special election in New York’s 26th congressional district, the group’s leaders say they plan to stay out of the presidential primaries  .

Of course, the super PAC filings paint an incomplete picture of the money landscape for outside groups. Both Priorities USA Action and American Crossroads have related groups that were established as nonprofit 501(c)4 entities—which means they do not need to disclose their donors.

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