Super rich prop up super PACs

Sheldon and Miriam Adelson's $10 million gift is an example of the unlimited money that can be donated to super PACs.
CBS News

NEW YORK (CBS) -- Sixteen billionaires on the "Forbes 400," the business magazine's list of the richest Americans have given to "super PACs," according to a CBS NEWS review of the 2011 fundraising reports disclosed to the Federal Election Commission.

Twelve of the nation's super rich gave to the pro-Mitt Romney group Restore Our Future. One gave to the pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future. One gave to the pro-Ron Paul Super PAC Endorse Liberty. And two gave to Democratic-leaning groups supporting either President Obama (Priorities USA) or Senate Democrats (Majority PAC).

The pro-Romney super PAC donor list includes two pairs of billionaire siblings - hotel moguls Bill and Richard Marriott and Wal-Mart heirs Jim and Alice Walton. (Please see the full list below). Of the $30 million the Restore Our Future raised in 2011, $10 million, or one third of its total, came from donors who gave a million dollars each.

One of those seven-figure donors is William Koch and his Florida energy company, Oxbow Carbon. Koch is a brother of Charles and David Koch (both billionaires), who are better known and more prolific donors to conservative, independent groups.

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Another million dollar donor to the pro-Romney super PAC is Frank VanderSloot's Idaho Falls company, Melaleuca, which makes nutritional and pharmaceutical products.

"Because we want Mitt Romney to be the President of the United States, and we'd like Mister Obama get a different job," VanderSloot said in an interview with CBS News affiliate KIDK-TV. "Romney is the best guy to get the economy back on track, and that's what's our nation needs."

VanderSloot is also a Romney campaign finance national co-chairman, which illustrates the cozy relationship between campaigns and super PACs, according to Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation, a campaign watchdog group that has analyzed more than $40 million of super PAC spending.

"His connection to Restore Our Future, his role in the Romney campaign, I mean it really does seem to be blurring the distinction, but let's not forget that during the debates themselves, both Romney and Gingrich referred to 'my super PACs,'" Allison said. "What they can't do is coordinate spending, but even then we've seen, for example after Iowa, and after he lost there, Newt Gingrich said he would start focusing on Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital, and you have Winning our Future coming out with an 27-minute Internet film talking about Romney's record at Bain Capital. So there is a really close relationship between a lot of these candidates and these super PACs."

Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons and his company, Contran, donated $8.5 dollars to Super PACs. Half-a-million dollars went to the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future, and $1 million to the defunct super PAC that was backing Texas Governor Rick Perry's presidential campaign, "Make Us Great Again."

But $7 million from Simmons and Contran went to American Crossroads, the Republican-backing group co-founded by George W. Bush political adviser Karl Rove.

Simmons' donations are second only to those from Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who participated in the Nevada caucuses yesterday. Adelson, a billionaire, and his family have given $11 million - all to the pro-Gingrich group.

"There's about 22 donors who've given the vast majority of the money. This is really a rich man's game; this is not a grassroots," Allison said.

Movie director Steven Spielberg is the only Forbes 400 billionaire to give to the Priorities USA super PAC supporting President Obama. Spielberg gave $100,000, but his fellow Hollywood mogul, Jeffrey Katzenberg, gave the group $2 million.

Billionaire investor George Soros, the wealthiest of the super PAC donors in 2011, gave $100,000 to Majority PAC, a group working to keep Democrats in charge of the Senate. He also donated $75,000 to a Super PAC aimed at helping Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives, House Majority PAC.

Allison said, "The super PACs really are a vehicle for the 1-percent."

Here are the 16 billionaire super PAC donors and their wealth rankings on the latest FORBES 400 list, from 2011:

7. George Soros, 81, investor, NY, $22 billion. He gave $75,000 to the pro-Democrat House Majority PAC on 05/19/11 and $100,000 to the pro-Senate Democrats Majority PAC on 12/29/11.

8. Sheldon Adelson, 78, casinos, NV, $21.5 billion. He and his family gave a combined $11 million to pro-Gingrich Super PAC Winning Our Future in December 2011 and January 2012.

9. Jim Walton, 63, Wal-Mart, AR, $21 billion. He gave $100,000 to pro-Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future (ROF) on 10/07/11.

10. Alice Walton, 61, Wal-Mart, TX, $20.9 billion. He gave $100,000 to pro-Romney super PAC ROF on 10/07/11.

17. John Paulson, 55, investor, NY, $15.5 billion. He gave $1 million to pro-Romney super PAC ROF on 01/28/11.

66. Sam Zell, 69, real estate, IL, $4.7 billion. He gave $50,000 to pro-Romney super PAC ROF on 12/05/11.

81. William Koch, 71, energy, FL, $4 billion. He and his company, Oxbow Carbon, gave a combined $1 million to pro-Romney super PAC ROF on 9/12-13/2011, 12/12/11.

107. Paul Tudor Jones, 56, investor, CT, $3.2 billion. He gave $200,000 to pro-Romney super PAC ROF on 12/28/11.

114. Steve Ross, 71, real estate, NY, $3.1 billion. He gave $100,000 to pro-Romney super PAC ROF on 12/19/11.

117. Steven Spielberg, 64, movies, CA, $3 billion. He gave $100,000 to pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA on 07/18/11.

171. Ken Griffin, 42, investor, IL, $2.3 billion. He gave $100,000 to pro-Romney super PAC ROF on 12/15/11.

293. Peter Thiel, 43, Paypal/Facebook, CA, $1.5 billion. He gave a total $900,000 to pro-Ron Paul super PAC Endorse Liberty in December 2011.

309. Marc Rowan, 49, investor, NY, $1.45 billion. He and his wife Carolyn gave a combined $55,000 to pro-Romney super PAC ROF over five occasions in 2011.

331. J.W. "Bill" Marriott, 79, hotels, MD, $1.3 billion. He gave $500,000 to pro-Romney super PAC ROF on 06/15/11.

312. Richard Marriott, 72, hotels, MD, $1.4 billion. He gave $500,000 to pro-Romney super PAC ROF on 6/20/11.

397. Steven Roth, 69 real estate, NY, $1.05 billion. He gave $100,000 to pro-Romney super PAC ROF on 11/13/11.

Sources: Federal Election Commission,, CBS NEWS