Meet the Wealthy Men Trying to Buy Our Upcoming Election
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The hidden infrastructure of the 2012 campaign has already been built.
A handful of so-called Super PACs, enabled to collect unlimited donations by the continued erosion of campaign finance regulations, are expected to rival the official campaign organizations in importance this election. In many cases, these groups are acting essentially as outside arms of the campaigns.
These are America's best-funded political factions, their war chests filled by some of the richest men (and almost all are men) in the country.
More than 80 percent of giving to Super PACs so far has come from just 58 donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics analysis of the latest data, which covers the first half of 2011. The Republican groups have raised $17.6 million and the Democratic groups $7.6 million. Those numbers will balloon, with American Crossroads, the main Republican Super PAC, aiming to raise $240 million.)
The exceptions are two public employee labor unions, whose massive donations match those of some of the largest moguls. The rest are individuals with vast fortunes at their disposal. They constitute two different tribes.
The conservative red tribe is dominated by businessmen who have built or inherited fortunes. They also include Wall Street investors, oil and gas men, construction magnates, and retail executives. Mormons are well represented.
The liberal blue tribe is dominated by men from Hollywood and media entrepreneurs -- often Jewish -- and the leaders of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
The Super PACs are not paragons of transparency, but what has been disclosed gives a sense of where the money is coming from and the interests of those giving it. Based on the donors and the origins of these groups, we can already discern what messages the Super PACs will generate in the home stretch of the campaign.
What follows is a pocket guide to the big money tribes of American politics, what they will tell you -- and what they won't.
Staffed by former officials from the Republican National Committee and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and associated with Karl Rove. Many consider it more important than the RNC itself. Certainly American Crossroads and Fox News control the GOP's message in a way the Republican National Committee does not and cannot. It is not unfair to say that during a presidential election year, the Republican Party is more an adjunct to American Crossroads, than vice versa.
-- Jerry Perenchio, the former CEO of Univision, has already given a whopping $2 million to the group. Perenchio has been attacked by some right-wing commentators for his moderate stances on immigration issues. Befitting his more moderate politics, Perenchio in August signed on to the Jon Huntsman campaign as a member of the "California finance team" to help with fundraising. That move came four months after his contribution to Crossroads. Given Huntsman's failure to pick up any steam, it's not clear at this point what role Perenchio will play in the 2012 race.
-- Bob Perry: A Texan who made a fortune in the construction business, he has given $500,000 to Crossroads. A longtime friend of Rove, he's been a huge donor to GOP causes for years. In 2010, he gave a staggering $7 million to Crossroads in a six-week period before Election Day. As for what issues he cares about, a spokesman once described his philosophy this way: "People call him and pitch him, and if he likes what he hears, he'll write a check." That includes unsavory efforts like the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attack campaign against John Kerry, which Perry bankrolled.