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The people who fund the GOP super PACs

Super Pac Super Donor Harold Simmons, of Texas.
Courtesy Tom Fox/Dallas Morning News
Harold Simmons
Super Pac Super Donor Harold Simmons of Texas.
Courtesy Tom Fox/Dallas Morning News

The nation's second-largest super PAC donor emerged Wednesday as 80-year-old Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, the CEO of Dallas-based holding company Contran Corporation, who forked over $8.5 million in 2011 to boost Republican candidates.

Simmons gave $5 million while Contran gave $2 million to American Crossroads, the Republican-backing super PAC co-founded by former George W. Bush political aide Karl Rove. That $7 million represents 38 percent of the group's total $18 million in donations last year.

Contran gave $1 million to "Make Us Great Again," the defunct super PAC that promoted the presidential campaign of Texas Governor Rick Perry. Simmons was also the first donor to the pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC "Winning Our Future," with a $500,000 donation in December. Simmons' $8.5 million in 2011 is second only to billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson's $10 million gift (along with his wife, Miriam) also to the pro-Gingrich super PAC.

Thorough his executive assistant, Simmons declined to comment on his donations to CBS News.

Simmons and Contran are not newcomers to the negative attacks super PACs specialize in. In 2004, Contran gave $3 million to Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, the independent group that produced ads questioning the Vietnam war record of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' review of the group's IRS records.

Simmons has given to political campaigns since the late 1980s and previously supported Gingrich's old political action group, GOPAC, according to Mother Jones. Forbes estimates Simmons' worth at $9 billion.  Contran has stakes in chemicals, metals, waste management, computer support systems, fencing, wire, and security products, according to Hoover's.

Newt's Benefactor

A shot from an ad by the Super PAC Winning Our Future, titled "Questionable," which attacks former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his business background.
Winning Our Future

You could probably credit Adelson with putting another $1 million into Winning Our Future's coffers. Of the total $2 million the super PAC collected in 2011, half its money came from Adelson kin. Sivan Ochshorn and Yasmin Lukatz, who each gave $500,000, are Adelson's stepdaughters, daughters of Miriam Adelson and her first husband, Ariel Ochshorn, according to the Jewish Daily Forward. Forbes magazine has estimated Adelson's worth in excess of $20 billion.

Both Ochshorn and Lukatz have worked for Adelson's Las Vegas Sands Corporation, according to the Forward. Lukatz's contribution came jointly from her and her husband, Oren, according to yesterday's FEC report, and political giving is nothing new for them. The couple previously gave more than $126,000 to the Republican National Committee and Republican candidates including House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Nevada Congressman Joe Heck, and Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, according to this summary by the Huffington Post:

While the super PAC boosting Mitt Romney's campaign, "Restore Our Future," didn't receive any funds from Simmons or Adelson, the group did garner the most $1 million gifts in 2011 - ten, from a combination of individuals and companies. In fact, those seven-figure donors represent one-third of the $30 million raised by the group last year.

The Other Koch Brother

One of those $1 million donors was one of the Koch brothers--William, president of the West Palm Beach-based Oxbow Carbon, a leading largest marketer of petroleum and calcined coke, a key ingredient of aluminum.  Koch gave the super PAC $250,000, while his company donated $750,000. William's better known billionaire brothers, Charles and David, are among the nation's most prolific donors to conservative groups.

Super PACs are prohibited from coordinating activities with the presidential campaigns. Still, William Koch is among a handful of six-figure Restore Our Future donors who have co-hosted fundraisers for the Romney campaign, according to the New York Times.

Another big Restore Our Future Donor, Frank Vandersloot, is a national finance co-chair for the Romney campaign. Vandersloot is the CEO of Idaho Falls-based Melaleuca companies, manufacturers of nutritional and pharmaceutical products, which gave the pro-Romney Super PAC $1 million.

Wal-Mart Money

Alice Walton, billionaire daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and a full-time philanthropist, gave the pro-Romney Super PAC $100,000. She most recently was the driving force behind the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which opened last November, in her home state of Arkansas. Her brother Jim, a banker, also gave Restore Our Future $100,000. The siblings, each said to be worth $20 billion, were among close to 60 donors who gave the group $100,000 or more.

Overall, individuals accounted for 70-percent of the contributions to Super PACs in 2011, while corporations accounted for 30 percent, according to an analysis of nine leading PACs by the Sunlight Foundation.

Hollywood Connection

Steven Spielberg is the biggest celebrity to emerge on any Super PAC donor list. The movie director gave $100,000 to the pro-Obama Super PAC "Priorities USA," one of only three donors to give that much to the group in the last six months of 2011. Spielberg's donation, while generous, pales in comparison to the $2 million gift the group received last spring from Hollywood pal Jeffrey Katzenberg. Santa Monica, California, investor John Law also gave $100,000. A union was the group's biggest donor in the latter half of the year; Service Employees International Union gave $500,000.

Priorities USA, founded by former Obama White House aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, raised $7 million last year. Another pro-Democratic group, American Bridge 21st Century, raised $6.5 million. Two Super PACs founded to assist Democrats win back seats in the Senate, Majority PAC, and the House, House Majority PAC, each raised around $3 million, according to FEC reports.

"President Obama and Democrats in the House and Senate will face an unprecedented wave of money this year and our groups stand ready to support Democrats in elections around the country, up and down the ballot," the four groups, which raised a total of $19 million, said in a joint statement. "In 2012, we will be the countervailing force to Karl Rove, the Koch brothers, and Mitt Romney's billionaire friends, who would love nothing more than to drive a right wing agenda that benefits the wealthy at the expense of the middle class."

While their Super PACs are off to a slower start than the Republicans', Democrats hoping for a second Obama term aren't too far behind in the unprecedented money chase. The president raised $140 million in 2011, according to his campaign's end of year report to the FEC.