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Super PACs: FEC report sheds light on powerful influence of a few big donors (+video)

A strikingly few wealthy donors were the main 2011 contributors to super PACs, which analysts see as the main force behind a flood of negative campaign ads.

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Winning Our Future, a super PAC supporting Mr. Gingrich, raised $2.08 million through 2011, nearly half from the daughter and son-in-law of Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. In January, after the FEC’s reporting window, Mr. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, gave Winning Our Future two $5 million checks – and the capacity to fight on in South Carolina and Florida’s high-cost media markets.

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Other nuggets mined from the FEC report:

• The Red White and Blue Fund, backing former Sen. Rick Santorum, raised $764,000 in 2011, backed mainly by mutual fund manager Foster Friess ($331,000).

• Make US Great Again, a super PAC supporting Texas Gov. Rick Perry, raised $5.3 million, mainly from energy company executives. After giving $1 million to Governor Perry’s super PAC, Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons gave $500,000 to Winning Our Future, supporting Gingrich. Perry suspended his campaign on Jan. 19, after dismal showings in the polls and early primaries.

• Our Destiny PAC, a super PAC supporting former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who withdrew from the race on Jan. 16, had received 70 percent of its funding from the candidate’s father, Jon Huntsman Sr., executive chairman of the Huntsman Corporation ($1.9 million). Our Destiny PAC spent $2.5 million on Mr. Huntsman’s behalf.

• GOP hopeful Ron Paul is backed by three super PACs – Endorse Liberty Inc., Santa Rita Super PAC, and Revolution PAC – which have spent $3.7 million supporting his campaign. Venture capitalist Peter Thiel, a founder of PayPal, is the leading donor at $900,000.

• Super PACs supporting President Obama, together, raised $3.1 million in the second half of 2011. By contrast, super PACs attacking the president, such as American Crossroads and FreedomWorks for America, report raising $20.3 million over the same period.

In a straight race for individual campaign contributions, limited by law to $2,500 per donor per election, Mr. Obama vastly outpaces the GOP field. The Obama campaign reports raising nearly $130 million in 2011, compared with $56.9 million raised by the Romney campaign, the top GOP fundraiser.

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