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The 20 Biggest Donors of the 2012 Election (So Far)

The 2008 presidential election was the most expensive on record, but this year's contest promises to break that record, due in part to the new rules of political fundraising.
 
 
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The following article first appeared in  Mother Jones. For more great content from Mother Jones, sign up for free email updates  here. 

The 2008 presidential election was the most expensive on record, with candidates, parties, and outside groups  dropping $5.3 billion. This year's contest promises to break that record, due in part to the new rules of political fundraising: Donors can pour unlimited cash into outside-spending groups that can freely boost or attack the candidates of their choice. Which means that wealthy donors who have maxed out on their gifts to candidates or just want  a lot more bang for their political buck can write massive checks to any of  the new super-PACs that are popping up as proxies for politicians and parties.

 

Throughout the year, we'll be keeping tabs on these superdonors (many of them couples who double up or spread out their gifts). As primary season heats up, here's a list of the current top 20 political givers based on donation data collected by the  Center for Responsive Politics.

1. SHELDON AND MIRIAM ADELSON (LAS VEGAS)

With a net worth of more than $21 billion, casino mogul Sheldon is listed by Forbes as the  eighth-richest person in America. His recent  $5 million donation to the pro-Newt Gingrich super-PAC Winning Our Future has secured his spot as the 2012 election cycle's most generous donor (for now). In keeping with Gingrich's  scorched-earth primary strategy, Adelson's massive gift is funding a round of  harsh attack ads against Mitt Romney. The chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands casino chain, Adelson previously contributed to conservative outside-spending groups, including the now-defunct  Freedom's Watch and Gingrich's shuttered 527 group,  American Solutions Winning the Future. In a 2008  Mother Jones article, a Nevada Republican operative described him as "a very aggressive, strong-minded, passionate person"; in another MoJo story, a  union leader called the famously anti-labor Adelson "probably one of the most litigious people on the planet."

Total giving for 2012 race: $5,224,800
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $5,010,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $214,800

2. BOB AND DOYLENE PERRY (HOUSTON)

Bob is the founder of Perry Homes, one of America's top homebuilders. He's worth a reported $650 million and is a longtime Republican power player, though  "not a schmoozer at all." During the 2004 election, Perry gave nearly $4.5 million to the John Kerry-smearing group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. He has also  bankrolled every member of the Texas Supreme Court, which ruled for him in a defective-home lawsuit. (He was ultimately ordered to pay $51 million.) In the 2012 election cycle, the Perrys have given $2.5 million to Karl Rove's American Crossroads super-PAC, $500,000 to the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future, and $250,000 to the Republican Governors Association. 

Total giving for 2012 race: $3,337,600
• Giving to outside-spending groups:$3,250,000
• Giving to candidates and parties:$87,600

3. JEFFREY AND MARILYN KATZENBERG (LOS ANGELES)
 
The former head of Walt Disney's film division, Jeffrey is the CEO of DreamWorks Animation, the world's largest animation studio. A  2009 Fast Company profile noted his reputation for "relentless ambition and a hypercontrolling management style." In the 2012 election cycle, he has given $2 million to the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action. As in the last election, Jeffrey is a major bundler for the Obama campaign.  He described soliciting money for Obama as "the single easiest fundraising phone call that I have ever made, ever."
 
Total giving for 2012 race: $2,173,100
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $2,000,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $173,100

 4. JERRY AND MARGARET PERENCHIO (LOS ANGELES)