The 20 Biggest Donors of the 2012 Election (So Far)
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Gary is the developer behind The Villages, a master-planned retirement community in central Florida. Described as a "mystery man" by the Orlando Sentinel, he is a longtime Republican donor. He has said "excessive and inefficient regulation" is the main obstacle to his business. He has thrown his support behind Mitt Romney; in turn, Romney has campaigned at The Villages, a common stop for GOP candidates. Gary and his wife, Renee, have contributed $250,000 to Restore Our Future and $5,000 to the Romney-affiliated PAC Free and Strong America.
Total giving for 2012 race: $425,000
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $265,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $160,000
18. FOSTER AND LYNNETTE FRIESS (JACKSON, WYOMING)
The Friesses founded the investment firm Friess Associates in 1974; in 2001, they sold a majority share for $247 million. At a celebration of his and Lynn's 70th birthdays in Jackson Hole, they astounded guests by handing out $7.7 million to the nonprofits of their choice. With their son, the couple runs a family foundation focused on "encouraging private-sector solutions." Foster has said, "If you look at the solutions that government comes up with, they're almost always an unmitigated disaster." During the 2012 election cycle, the couple has given to Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Tim Pawlenty—and $250,000 to the conservative Movement Fund. Bonus: Charles Koch named them as part a list of elite donors who have pledged $1 million to his and his brother David's conservative fundraising machine.
Total giving for 2012 race: $403,100
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $270,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $133,100
19. HOWARD AND SUSAN GROFF (NORTHRIDGE, CALIFORNIA)
The Groffs own Northwest Excavating, a Southern California construction equipment rental and digging company. The couple maintains a low public profile but has contributed heavily to Republican federal candidates since the mid-2000s. In the 2012 election cycle, they have given $100,000 to Restore Our Future.
Total giving for 2012 race: $392,900
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $110,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $282,900
20. ROBERT AND DIANA MERCER (LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK)
Robert Mercer is co-CEO of the $15 billion hedge fund company Renaissance Technologies. In 2009, according to the New York Daily News, he accused a builder of overcharging him $2 million for a construction project in his mansion—a "museum-quality" model train display "about half the size of a basketball court." During the 2010 midterms, Mercer was outed as the funder behind $300,000 worth of attack ads targeting Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). In the 2012 election cycle, he and his wife Diana have given $150,000 to the Republican National Lawyers Association and $100,000 to the free-market super-PAC Club for Growth Action.
Total giving for 2012 race: $384,100
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $260,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $124,100
Dave Gilson is a senior editor at Mother Jones
Gavin Aronsen is an editorial fellow at Mother Jones.