With Mitt Romney’s decisive Illinois victory on Tuesday and a number of endorsements from top party leaders, this cycle’s exhausting Republican primary appears all but settled. This primary has been unconventional by past standards, unusually long and characterized by coverage of candidates who never really stood a chance at winning the election. In past GOP primaries, contests were between one or two well-respected, high-profile figures, and voters anointed the nominee early on.
A bizarrely weak field certainly bears some responsibility for the current state of things. Another important factor is the role that the landmark Supreme Court case Citizens United (2008) played this election cycle. Citizens United gave way to Super PACs, which allow people to donate unlimited amounts of money under the protection of the First Amendment, meaning some very wealthy people have had an enormous amount of influence this campaign cycle.
A few weeks ago in an edition of the New York Times’ The Conversation, a weekly feature in which Times columnists David Brooks and Gail Collins discuss relevant issues, Collins mentioned that one thing she has learned from this primary is how many “loopy billionaires” this country has. As Collins points out, “How could somebody who had enough judgment to make more than $20 billion come to feel that what this country really needs is President Newt Gingrich?”
Although there is no way to grasp fully the motivations of campaign mega-donors, its worth looking at some of top “loopy billionaires” supporting presidential candidate-affiliated Super PACs.
Supporting Newt Gingrich’s run is Sheldon Adelson, the CEO of Sands Corp Casinos, ranked by Forbes as the world 14th wealthiest man with a net worth of nearly $25 billion. Adelson and his wife donated $11 million to Gingrich’s Super PAC, Winning Our Future, and threatened to donate $100 million more. Adelson is also an ardent supporter of Israel, having donated $100 million to Birthright, the organization that takes young Jews on free trips to Israel, and $25 million to Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem Holocaust Museum. When asked why he was supporting Gingrich and opposing Obama, the international casino mogul replied that he was worried “of the socialist-style economy we’ve been experiencing for almost four years.”
Things haven’t been too bad for Adelson, who made more money than any other American during Barack Obama’s presidency–more than Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates.
Another notable donor this election is Foster Friess, a Bible-thumping Wisconsin investor and top Rick Santorum supporter who likes to say, “God is the chairman of my board.” Friess is credited with keeping the Santorum campaign alive through a $331,000 donation to the Santorum-aligned Super PAC, the Red, White and Blue Fund.
Foster Friess became a public relations nightmare for the Santorum campaign in February after commenting on President Obama’s conflict with religious groups over the administration’s contraception mandate. Speaking with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Friess stated, “Back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.” After considerable backlash Friess later apologized, and Rick Santorum condemned the comment as a “bad off-color joke.”
The Santorum campaign was so horrified by Friess’ comments that it accepted a $600,000 donation just days later.
Mitt Romney’s proximity to wealth as a founder at Bain Capital is surely the reason why his campaign collects far more donations from billionaires than any other presidential candidate’s. The Romney-affiliated Super PAC, Restore Our Future, received donations from 16 billionaires and 12 donations of $1 million dollars or more. Louis Bacon, a hedge fund manager and founder of Moore Capital Management, proved influential, as have employees and executives at Bain Capital. Bacon donated $500,000 to Restore Our Future and Bain Capital has donated a total of $2,726,500.
William Koch of the infamous Koch brothers, Tea Party financiers, has donated a total $1 million to the organization. So far the remaining Koch brothers have not lined up support behind one candidate.
Peter Thiel, an ardent libertarian and PayPal Founder worth $1.5 billion has thrown his support behind Representative Ron Paul. Thiel has so far donated $2.6 million dollars to the pro-Paul Endorse Liberty Super PAC. Theil, along with fellow PayPal founders, is responsible for Endorse Liberty’s strong presence on the web.
Not wanting to be outmatched, President Obama recently reneged on a promise not to affiliate himself with Super PACs and began courting donations to affiliated organizations. Since then, a number of prominent people in entertainment have lined up to donate. Bill Maher of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher recently donated $1 million dollars to Priorities USA, the pro-Obama Super PAC, despite denying party affiliation throughout his career.
Jefferey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, wins the Obama donation contest with a $2 million contribution to the campaign last May. Students may recognize the name from the Marilyn and Jeffrey Katzenberg Center. The couple donated the study lounge to the College of General Studies building in 2006 because they claim that the CGS program gave their children “a love of education.”
If that’s not “loopy,” I don’t know what is.
CBS News List of Top Super PAC Donors: Link