Election 2012: top seven super PACs

Campaign 2012 marks the debut in American politics of super PACs, or "super political-action committees," empowered to raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, and individuals and spend it for or against candidates – and they are already having a dramatic impact.

In this election cycle so far, 900 reported super PACs have spent more than $318 million to influence presidential and congressional races, funding a blitz of advertising in the primary states, swing states, and nationwide. Notably, more than 70 percent of all super PAC ads have been negative.

News organizations, public interest groups, and bloggers have covered super PACs extensively, especially in a bid to identify donors and their interests. Groups such as The Sunlight Foundation, The Center for Public Integrity, and the Center for Responsive Politics are tracking super PAC spending down to the dollar. The top 1 percent of donors (105 people) have contributed 58 percent of all super PAC funding, mainly directed to help conservatives.

Decoder has compiled a report on the seven top super PACs – the organizations that have spent the most and still have the most money in the bank – the candidates they support, and the donors behind them. Here is the bigger picture on the new groups funding this election.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, (l.) accompanied by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 1, to discuss the disclosure of super PAC donors to the Republican presidential candidates.

1. Restore our Future

Kin Cheung/AP/File
Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson speaks at a news conference on his new project 'EuroVegas,' on April 12. Adelson, one of the wealthiest men in the world, has donated $10 million to the pro-Mitt Romney Super PAC, Restore our Future.

Restore our Future, which supports Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, is the largest, most well-funded super PAC of the 2012 election cycle. It has spent spent $86.6 million and raised $96.7 million, according to Federal Election Commission filings as of Oct. 4, leaving it with at least $10 million available for the last weeks of the campaign. 

The Center for Public Integrity reports that the PAC was founded by Carl Forti, the political director for Mr. Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, and Charles Spies, Romney’s chief financial officer and counsel in 2008.

Restore our Future has spent $14,015,165 in support of Romney so far. The organization has spent $28,484,247 against President Obama, and a combined $39,991,995 against Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum in the GOP primaries.

The vast majority of contributions to Restore our Future come from the financial, insurance, and real estate sectors. But the biggest individual donors are casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, Texas homebuilder Bob PerryBain Capital, and energy billionaire William Koch. Mr. Adelson, who ranks No. 12 on the Forbes 400 list of the richest people in America, has donated $10 million to Restore our Future through two of his companies, the Adelson Drug Clinic and the Las Vegas Sands. He has donated at least $41.2 million to pro-Republican super PACs in the 2012 campaign cycle.

Sourcing this Report:

Several sources were used to compile this report. 

The figures for total expenditures, total money raised, and totals spent in support or opposition of specific candidates were taken from Open Secrets. Open Secrets is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that tracks money in US politics and its effect on elections and public policy. The website, which was launched in 1996, is project of The Center for Responsive Politics, which was founded in 1983 by US Sens. Frank Church (D-Idaho) and Hugh Scott (R-Pa.), in order to track money in politics, public policy, and elections. 

All figures were taken from the 2012 election cycle, and were based on data released by the FEC, and last updated Oct. 4. For Open Secrets' full report on spending by all 900 super PACs click here.

Advertising figures and specific markets targeted were taken from the Washington Post's Mad Money feature, which tracks the cumulative and weekly spending on television advertising by candidate and by the groups supporting them. The Post also calculated the percentage of ads that have been negative vs. positive. Their data was last updated Oct. 3.

The Center for Public Integrity, and the New York Times were used for background research on top donors and organizers of each super PAC. 

Other sites used include the official webpages for each super PAC, the Sunlight Foundation Reporting GroupNBC News, as well as some local news sources like the Dallas Morning News and the Denver Post.

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