Millionaires and billionaires donating $5 million, $10 million and even $50 million to super PACs have underwritten a disproportionate share of the outside spending in this election. A full 67 percent of all super PAC contributions have come from just 209 donors or groups of related donors giving $500,000 or more, according to an analysis by the Huffington Post.
Topping the list is casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., who with his wife, Miriam, has given $53.7 million to GOP-friendly super PACs, according to the Center for Public Integrity. Other mega-donors include Contran Corp. owner Harold Simmons, who with his wife has given $26.9 million to pro-Republican super PACs, and Texas real estate developer Bob Perry, whose GOP super PAC donations total $21.5 million. Top Democratic super PAC donors include media and publishing mogul Fred Eychaner, who has given $12 million, according to the CPI.
Voters are Fed Up
Conservatives hail the new era of unlimited campaign spending as a boon to voters and to free speech. Republicans say the new rules have also helped them gain parity with big-spending labor unions.
“Money actually breaks up old monopolies, makes more ideas heard, makes more voices heard,” said Center for Competitive Politics co-founder and Chairman Bradley Smith, another former FEC chairman. He added that outside groups “ought to be participating. There’s no reason why the debate should be limited to what candidates and parties want to talk about.”
But polls suggest that voters are not happy with the new, wide-open rules. In a July Gallup poll, respondents listed “reducing corruption in the federal government” as their No. 2 priority, second only to “creating good jobs.” A more recent survey by Bannon Communications Research for the Corporate Reform Coalition, a progressive umbrella group, found that 84 percent of respondents agreed that “corporate money drowns out the voices of average Americans.”
Money Wars Rage On
Candidates, too, deplore the onslaught of often-anonymous campaign ads from outside groups. Look for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to propose reforms once Congress returns. But don’t expect much common ground. Republicans will want to lift contributions on candidates and parties, a proposal Democrats will reject out of hand. Democrats will continue pushing disclosure legislation and may add public financing, in the form of matching funds for low-dollar donations, to their wish list.
Still, there will be plenty to stoke the political money wars after Election Day.
“There are going to be folks on both sides of the aisle that have seen super PACs and outside groups transforming the election, and they’re going to want to do something about it,” said Adam Skaggs, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.