Journalism in the Public Interest

Super Donors: Our Reading Guide to the Top 10 Super PAC Givers

A Las Vegas casino owner, Jon Huntsman Sr., Jeffrey Katzenberg and more than one hedge-fund magnate all made the list of biggest contributors through Jan. 31.

Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have given $10 million to pro-Gingrich group Winning our Future (Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)

The coming election cycle will likely be the most expensive in history. Thanks to Citizens United and other recent court decisions, individuals, corporations and unions can make unlimited donations to so-called super PACs that support a candidate. The money is flowing in. So, exactly who is donating, and what do they want?

Here’s our guide to the top 10 super PAC contributors through Jan. 31, the latest date for which donors have been required to disclose. Unless otherwise noted, all estimates of net worth are from Forbes. (See our PAC Tracker for an interactive breakdown of all the money going to super PACs and others.)

Harold Simmons

Amount donated: $11.2 million (Contran, a company owned by Simmons, has donated $3 million.)

To whom: $10 million to American Crossroads, the Republican super PAC affiliated with Karl Rove; $1 million to Winning Our Future, the super PAC supporting Gingrich; $100,000 to Restoring Prosperity Fund, the super PAC supporting Rick Perry; and $100,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney

Net worth: $9.3 billion

Residence: Dallas

How he made his fortune: Buying and selling companies.

Background: Dubbed “Dallas’ most evil genius” by D Magazine, Simmons made waves in the Longhorn State a decade ago when his company, Waste Control Specialists, won permission to build a $500 million, low-level radioactive waste disposal site in West Texas. At the time, Simmons was Gov. Rick Perry's second-largest donor, having given $100,000 to Perry’s campaign 10 days after Perry signed legislation allowing WCS to accept low-level radioactive waste from outside Texas. Much of the waste WCS was cleaning up came from another Simmons company that had repeatedly been cited for environmental violations. A Simmons spokesman said at the time that concerns about the project were exaggerated.

On a personal note, Simmons has been sued by two of his daughters. In 1997, the daughters alleged that he had used trusts set up for them for his own purposes. They also claimed that Simmons had pressured them to make hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the funds. Two other daughters sided with Simmons, whom The New York Times called a “corporate version of King Lear.” The legal battle ended a year later when Simmons agreed to give his daughters $50 million each if they would relinquish claims to the rest of his fortune. Simmons denied all wrongdoing.

Sheldon and Miriam Adelson

Amount donated: $10 million (Adelson also reportedly contributed another $10 million in February, which doesn’t have to be disclosed until later this month.)    

To whom: Winning Our Future, a super PAC that backs Newt Gingrich

Net worth: $21.5 billion

Residence: Las Vegas

How he made his fortune: Owns casinos and resorts.

Background: The Adelsons met on a blind date in 1989 and married two years later in Israel. The couple’s honeymoon to Venice inspired Sheldon Adelson to demolish his Las Vegas Sands casino in 1996 and replace it with The Venetian. 

The Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission have been investigating the Sands casinos on the Chinese territory of Macau for alleged bribery of foreign officials. Adelson said it is “not a serious case.”

Miriam Adelson is an Israeli physician specializing in drug addiction. (She and her husband fund a drug-treatment clinic in Las Vegas.) The Adelsons have contributed to Israeli foundations such as Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. Asked in January what Adelson will get out of his donations, Gingrich told an interviewer, “Well, he knows I’m very pro-Israel.”  A 2008 New Yorker profile also offers an in-depth look at Adelson and his positions on Israel.

Bob Perry

Amount donated: $3.5 million

To whom: $2.5 million to American Crossroads, the Karl Rove super PAC, and $1 million to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney

Net worth: Not available

Residence: Houston

How he made his fortune: Perry Homes, a homebuilding company

Background: The media-shy Perry (no relation to Rick) has been described as a “reclusive character” and rarely speaks with reporters. But while Perry may not talk, his money does. Perry, a longtime supporter of the Republican cause, was a major funder of the Swift Boat advertisements that in 2004 attacked Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. John Kerry. Perry also gave $7 million to American Crossroads in 2010.

Perry, who owns one of the nation’s largest homebuilding companies, was a major backer of the 2003 creation of the Texas Residential Construction Commission. One month  after Perry gave $100,000 to Rick Perry’s re-election campaign, the governor appointed an executive at Bob Perry’s company to the commission’s board of directors. The body, meant to regulate the state’s homebuilding industry, was criticized as a tool of the industry because it circumvented the courts in disputes between homebuyers and homebuilders.

The commission was abolished in 2009 by the state legislature after a government watchdog concluded that “it is clear that the agency functions as a builder protection agency.”

Peter Thiel

Amount donated: $2.6 million

To whom: Endorse Liberty, a super PAC supporting Ron Paul

Net worth: $1.5 billion

Residence: San Francisco

How he made his fortune: Helped found PayPal, early investor in Facebook.

Background: The director of both a hedge fund and a venture-capital firm, Thiel has made much of his fortune investing in Internet startups. Thiel earned $55 million in 2002 alone when he and a friend decided to sell PayPal, which they had co-founded, to eBay. In 2004, Thiel gave  $500,000 to Facebook, its first outside investment. He now owns 7 percent of the company and has a seat on the board.

As The New Yorker recently detailed, Thiel is kind of a pessimistic futurist who thinks the U.S. has fallen behind. “What happened to the future?” a page on his hedge fund’s website asks. Perry is also a libertarian and strong supporter of both unfettered capitalism and gay rights. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Thiel hopes to build a libertarian movement in the United States and sees his contribution to Paul as the first step.

Jon Huntsman Sr.

Amount donated: $2.2 million

To whom: Our Destiny PAC, a super PAC supporting his son, Jon Huntsman

Net worth: $1 billion

Residence: Salt Lake City

How he made his fortune: Huntsman Corp., a chemical company

Background: Now most famous for being the father of a former presidential candidate, Huntsman Sr. is a self-made man who founded a huge corporation that markets and manufactures chemicals. The son of a rural schoolteacher, Huntsman actually expressed sympathy with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Instead of supporting more taxes for the rich, however, Huntsman believes the rich should be induced to donate their money to charity.

Huntsman is one of 19 billionaires who have given away at least $1 billion each. Huntsman has pledged to give away nearly his entire fortune. A profile of Huntsman in Forbes magazine reported that when he learned he had prostate cancer, he made three donations on the way to the hospital, giving $1 million each to a homeless shelter and a soup kitchen and $500,000 to the clinic that found his tumor. Huntsman is a four-time cancer survivor — he also has had oral cancer and skin cancer twice – and funds the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, which Jon Huntsman Jr. will chair now that his presidential bid is over.

A. Jerry Perenchio

Amount donated: $2 million, through his living trust

To whom: American Crossroads, the super PAC affiliated with Karl Rove

Net worth: $2.3 billion

Residence: Bel Air, Calif.

How he made his fortune: Former chairman and CEO of Hispanic TV network Univision

Background: The Los Angeles Times profiled Perenchio in 2006 as he was considering selling Univision, America’s largest Spanish-language network. The grandson of Italian immigrants, Perenchio grew up working in vineyards in Fresno, Calif. He got his start as a talent agent, orchestrating the legendary 1971 boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, according to The Times. Perenchio is also credited with launching Elton John’s U.S. career. Later, Perenchio moved into the movie business and still owns the rights to “Blade Runner” and “Driving Miss Daisy.”

Perenchio is Malibu’s largest landowner, and his Beverly Hills estate borders that of Nancy Reagan. An alumnus of UCLA, Perenchio has donated more than $50 million to the university and other Los Angeles-area organizations such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Perenchio was also a big supporter of Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid. He raised $172,000 for McCain that year.

Jeffrey Katzenberg

Amount donated: $2 million

To whom: Priorities USA Action, the super PAC supporting President Obama

Net worth: $1 billion in 2005

Residence: Beverly Hills, Calif.

How he made his fortune: Film producer and CEO of DreamWorks Animation, former chairman of Disney's film division

Background: This New York University dropout was chairman of Walt Disney Studios when it produced such hits such as "Beauty and the Beast," "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin" and "The Lion King." 

While at Disney, Katzenberg had a reputation for being hyper-controlling, telling employees “if you don’t come to work on Saturdays, don’t bother to come in on Sunday.” Katzenberg left the Magic Kingdom in 1994 after an unsuccessful bid to become company president. Upon leaving, Katzenberg sued the company for $250 million, saying he did not receive a fair share of profits. The suit was settled in 1997.

After leaving Disney, he teamed with David Geffen and Steven Spielberg to start DreamWorks SKG, with which he produced some of the biggest animated films of the last decade, including "Madagascar" and the "Shrek" series.

Katzenberg supported Obama in 2008, raising more than $1.7 million and calling his effort “the single easiest fundraising phone call that I have ever made, ever.”

Julian Robertson

Amount donated: $1.25 million

To whom: Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney

Net worth: $2.4 billion

Residence: New York City

How he made his fortune: Hedge funds

Background: Robertson has been celebrated as the “godfather of the hedge-fund industry.” Robertson founded Tiger Management in 1980. Named at the suggestion of one of his three young sons, it was known for its attention to detail — it once sent a commodity analyst to Bahia, Brazil, to estimate the number of coffee bushes being cultivated before betting that the commodity’s price would decline.

The firm lost big in 1998 after Robertson bet against the Internet. But he maintained his philanthropy. In September that year, he gave $25 million to New York City’s Lincoln Center, a month after he announced his fund had lost $600 million. Today, Robertson continues his giving at Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Robertson has given small amounts to Republicans running for Senate, most recently donating $7,500 to Scott Brown, R-Mass. His foundation has contributed to medical research, including $10.2 million to Duke for stem-cell research.

Foster Friess

Amount donated: $1.15 million

To whom: $1 million to the Red White and Blue Fund, a super PAC supporting Rick Santorum; $100,000 to FreedomWorks for America, a super PAC opposing economic regulations; and $50,000 to Leaders for Families, a super PAC supporting Santorum

Net worth: $500 million, according to The Wall Street Journal

Residence: Jackson, Wyo.

How he made his fortune: Founder of Friess Associates

Background: Friess made headlines in February when, in an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, he entered the debate over health-care coverage for contraceptives.

“This contraceptive thing, my gosh, it’s so inexpensive,” he said.  “Back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn't that costly." He later apologized, writing on his website that the remark was meant as a joke, which “bombed.”

Friess has been an unwavering supporter of Rick Santorum. At the end of January, when it looked as if Santorum might drop out of the race, Friess pledged his commitment to the candidate in an interview with CBS News. That same day, Friess appeared on Bloomberg TV, saying that if he had his way, Santorum would be president, with Mitt Romney “in charge of the entire economy.”  He also suggested turning over “the keys of Air Force One to Herman Cain and let him fly around the world selling America.”

Robert Mercer

Amount donated: $1.1 million

To whom: $1 million to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, and $100,000 to Club for Growth Action, a super PAC that advocates limited government

Net worth: Not available 

Residence: Long Island, N.Y.

How he made his fortune: co-CEO of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies

Background: This head of a $15 billion hedge fund made headlines in 2009 when he sued the builder of a model railroad installed in Mercer’s Long Island mansion. Mercer claimed he had been overcharged by almost $2 million. The model, which was completed in time for his daughter’s wedding, is half the size of a basketball court. The suit has yet to be decided.   

Before becoming a hedge fund manager, Mercer worked at IBM on voice-recognition and translation programs. In October 2010, he donated $200,000 to Concerned Taxpayers of America, a super PAC that spent the money on ads attacking Democratic congressman Peter DeFazio in Oregon. Mercer was one of only two donors to the super PAC. The editorial board of The Oregonian used the donation as an example of the dangers of campaign finance, writing that “there’s something wrong with a campaign finance system that gives a couple of obscure millionaires the ability to so strongly influence a congressional race in a district they probably have never seen.”

Robert Rowling

Amount donated: $1.1 million

To whom: $1 million to American Crossroads, the Republican super PAC associated with Karl Rove, and $100,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney

Net worth: $4.7 billion

Residence: Dallas

How he made his fortune: Owns TRT Holdings, which includes Gold’s Gym.

Background: The previous time Rowling donated to American Crossroads, he got himself in hot water with the gay and lesbian community. Rowling gave $2 million to Karl Rove’s super PAC in 2010, reportedly angering one San Francisco gym owner enough to leave the Gold's franchise.

In addition to supporting conservative causes, Rowling has donated large sums to the University of Texas through his family foundation.  

How can we possibly expect our democracy to function when the influence of corporate funds overwhelm political campaigns?  Should a single corporation or wealthy individual be allowed to drown out the political will of thousands of individual voters? Check out to learn more and become active in the movement to overturn Citizens United.

Wow…what if all that money was actually going to fix our problems??

The fact that all of that money isn’t going towards fixing our problems but is instead being used in an attempt to transfer more power from the many to the few really should tell you something about the actual intentions the American right has for democracy.

william mattingly

March 1, 2012, 5:43 p.m.

where are the Democratic Super Pac’s listed.  Soros, etc?

I checked the link to alternet & read the piece & comments. Folks it is more than just Fox News, it’s the MSM in whole who have fell down on their jobs to report the news, “not to make it up or only report half truths”, yes people need to take their blinders off and see that our whole system corrupted.

We have to go way back, follow the path took by the progressives befor the the Federal Reserve Banking Cartel bought off members of congress, the Exe & Judicial to control the U.S. Monetary System. It was the a big turning point in U.S. history. Progressive bankers now had a huge ownership over all of government, it spread to the corporations who are now in control thru lobbyist,speacial interest, the military complex, big pharma, & all the other progressive groups seeking their piece of the tax payers pie.

The MSM is a haven of spreading propaganda for the power elites & back room dictators who really run the show!

Here is a link that explains how corruption has become SOP (standard operating procedure) in NYC & across the USA court system. This man has been thru hell & back because of corruption in the court system.

We are coming to a point where there is going to be a big change & most will not be prepared, I wish the best to all!

Only one Democratic donor?  Reallly?  What about all those Hollywood liberals?  Come on Pro Publica, at least make a small attempt to appear unbiased and balanced.

To repeat, I quote:
“Here’s our guide to the top 10 super PAC contributors through Jan. 31”
If you would like the top 20 or 50 or 1000, sure to contain more than one librul, perhaps you should do your own research. Warning: I hear it’s tedious, not as easy as posting comments without thought.

Those Hollywood liberals are right there in the middle, contributing the Priorities USA Action:

Jeffrey Katzenberg - Amount donated: $2 million
To whom:
Priorities USA Action, the super PAC supporting President Obama

Steven Federoff

March 2, 2012, 6:08 a.m.

All this money doesn’t do much. They all cancel each other out. Look how Santorum is at the heels of Romney, despite spending a fraction of what Mitt spends.

I hear this so often. The money isn’t “wasted”; it just gets spread around, in this case to the PR types & media outlets that run the ads, who in turn hire and pay people with the money they take in, unless you think they stuff it in a mattress.  The only way to waste money is to burn it. If it gets spent it works its way through the system. I know this is elementary, but it takes reminding.

Caraline Levy

March 2, 2012, 3:51 p.m.

The point is that no money equals no speech. People are using money to bribe politicians to make policies that benefit them, many time to the detriment of others.  Look what’s happening right now in the public schools of Chicago and NYC (watch todays story on Democracy Now).  Look who benefits from private prisons.  This is bribery.  Politicians are supposed to serve the public, so they shouldn’t be allowed to take money from anyone.


March 2, 2012, 5:12 p.m.

Super PAC enthusiasts - follow all of your favorite billionaires, big corporations, and hedge fund managers at America’s #1 SuperPAC Fan Club -

Strip away the gimmickry and the layers of enabling laws, and the bottom line is is there are a lot of politicians and judges/justices who have been selling this nation to money for money, and the combined set - money, and politicians - have been betraying this nation to other nations for more money.

There are names for both of those crimes.

The Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court was conservatives attempt to out raise individual contributions by the people movement of Obama. Most of his contributions in 2008 were $20 at a time. I’ll soon be helping the Presidents superpack. You don’t take a knife to a ginfight. If he is re-elected, his Supreme court nominees can help overturn this Fascist (Corporate rule) decision.

Arline Mathews

March 4, 2012, 2:09 p.m.

The purpose of giving all of that money is for the Republicans to destroy our Government and America.  Yet they admit that they hate government with the exception of military forces.  How patriotic is that?

They want to cut out education from grammer school through the University system, unless you are rich enough to pay for private schooling. They don’t want to believe or trust in science, research of any kind.

They tell us that the tooth fairy will take care of the economy, the climate, the planet, and your insurance bills, if you just leave them alone.

not only do they want to not take care of their fare share of supporting government- they want no share.

Those of you voters who have been sold the bill of goods that no government is great, let the law of the jungle prevail, and the tooth fairy will magically right the wrongs, WAKE UP! YOU VOTE AGAINST YOUR OWN BEST INTEREST.  Wait until you are old enough for social security- and it won’t be there for you.

Re: “Most of his (Obama’s)contributions in 2008 were $20 at a time.” That’s true about the number of contributors, but most of the money for his campaign came from a few organizations and individuals.

On the night of the Michigan primary I listened to the CNN internet were all cameras were pointing to various headquarters at 8pm nobody speaking at any of them except Newt Gingrich was in Georgia and he spoke some personal introduction and then spent the entire hour basically as a informational propaganda for the xlpipeline—-lots of misinformation that this was going to bring oil into the country- it is basically a conveyor belt of the Canadian oil to be shipped overseas.

I figure there is where Gigngrich’s money comes from—

Caraline Levy

March 4, 2012, 9:49 p.m.

Did you see Bill Moyers this weekend on PBS? This interview of the authors of “Winner Take All Politics” was so important that he replayed it!  It was so captivating that I watched it again.
We need to go out and grab our democracy back!

@g.scott. Sheldon Adelson has contributed $20 million to Gingrich, as the article showed. There is nothing known about Adelson that links him to the pipeline.

lolll…oh, I don’t know, Zamm…

Big Oil/Big Carbon is - thanks to their collusive and very effective/efficient monopoly on energy - one of those industries that can get away with levying private taxes.  Big Oil is always making money hand over fist…but they’re making it even faster now as they drive fuel prices upwards by exporting more oil products.  For the first time since 1949 America is a net oil exporter:

My point is that a lot of cash is being taken out of the pockets of the many in America (while the right blames Obama…convenient, eh?) and being put into the pockets of the few…while that directly yields “high rollers” for Adelson’s casinos, that is only one of the linkages between Adelson and Big Oil/whatever Big Oil wants.

The Wikipedia entry on Adelson may prove to be enlightening ( if you understand the term “mutual benefit”:
Adelson has an interest in Israel’s well-being, while Big Oil has an interest in the profits they make by exploiting Middle Eastern oil; that yields a mutual desire for continued U.S. actions and presence in the Middle East.  “One hand washes the other” is the “golden rule” of the right…anybody Adelson supports is going to advance whatever Big Oil wants, which would include the Keystone XL pipeline - because Adelson wants the political pressure and money Big Oil can bring to bear to keep America entangled in the Middle East.

The few who are the power behind the right are all interrelated; they only act individually in a manner that benefits them collectively.  (Consider the Koch brother’s significant presence in the oil industry.)  So any Republican candidate can be assumed to advance the Keystone XL pipeline - or anything else Big Oil wants - regardless of the threat to the American people.

Legitimate Corruption.  Awesome.

@A.M. - “legitimate” only ‘cuz the corrupt corrupted those who write and interpret the law.

Is like the devil sent some lobbyists to the Vatican/the Southern Baptist Convention/the Episcopalian Church/the Tabernacle/whatever and they worked with the clergy to redefine “sin” as “Anything done by someone who isn’t one of the devil’s.”

(He said, piously.)

@ibsteve You sound like the Seven Separations From Kevin Bacon game. That Adelson is supporting the pipeline because wealthy “oil” people gamble at his casinos is quite a stretch. By that reasoning Adelson supports everything people who patronize his casinos want, including “Hollywood liberals.” If it makes sense to you, have at it. I’ve got nothing more to add.

@zamm:  Apparently you quit reading some time before you quit adding.

@ibsteve No, I read everything you wrote. (Not easy to do while laughing.) As I said, if it make sense to you, have at it. You’re welcome to the last word if you want it.

Certainly is not surprising that of the SuperPACs listed all except one are supporting the Republican candidates.  Citizen’s United benefits Republicans the most.  Me thinx President Obama’s supporters have done the right thing by setting up their own SuperPac. Have to fight fire with fire!

Last words:  Of course the relationship between the members of the right are entirely separate and distinct…a person like Adelson who is nominally in gaming would therefor have nothing to do with Big Oil and/or Israel…

I’m sure the appearance of his name in this story is just…a weird coincidence:

Guess that makes some people laugh?

I read the article about new gas discoveries off coast of Haifa Israel.  I don’t trust anyone. I don’t know who to believe. Maybe someone from Lebanon wrote that piece. Everyone has an agenda. All I know is that if we could clear the money out of politics and elect people with publically funded campaigns, then everyone will have a more equal say in what happens. We HAVE to take all money and lobbying out! It doesn’t work for 99% right now.  Policies are being driven by the rich people.

@Caraline Levy:  The article’s author - F. WIlliam Engdahl - was born in Minnesota.

There are other sources for the relationship between Adelson, Gingrich, and Netanyahu/Israel.  Huffington Post ran an article:

The Jewish Daily Forward (פֿאָרווערטס; Forverts) - which is, no doubt, frowned upon by the “conservatives” in both Israel and America - has another article regarding the relationships at:

It seems, in fact, that the relationship in general - and Adelson, in particular - has raised a number of eyebrows:

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