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

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.


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


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

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


Jerry, 80, is the former CEO of the Spanish-language network Univision, which he sold for $13.7 billion in 2007. He is worth a reported $2.3 billion and is one of Malibu's biggest private landowners. He was previously a talent agent for Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, and other stars. His wife, Margaret, is a portrait artist who has painted celebrities including Salma Hayek. In the 2012 election cycle, the Perenchios have dished out $2 million to Rove's American Crossroads. 

Total giving for 2012 race: $2,128,300

• Giving to outside-spending groups: $2,000,000

• Giving to candidates and parties: $128,300


Reportedly worth $4.7 billion, the 57-year-old Robert owns TRT Holdings, whose assets include the Tana Exploration oil company, a Mexican dollar-store chain, and Gold's Gym. He and his wife, Terry, live in the legendarily conservative Dallas suburb of Highland Park. He has given millions of dollars to state and national Republicans over the years; as a bundler to George W. Bush's 2004 campaign, he was named a "Bush Pioneer." In the 2012 election cycle, he has given $1 million to American Crossroads (a prior donation prompted protests from San Francisco branches of Gold's Gym).

Total giving for 2012 race: $1,101,600

• Giving to outside-spending groups: $1,000,000

• Giving to candidates and parties: $101,600


hedge fund power couple, Ken and Anne Griffin are, respectively, the founder and CEO of Citadel and the founder and managing partner of Aragon Global Management, one of the nation's largest hedge funds headed by a woman. Noted art aficionados, they own works by Monet, Degas, and Cezanne, and paid $80 million for a Jasper Johns painting.Reportedly worth $2.3 billion, Ken bundled money for both Obama and John McCain during the 2008 election. In the 2012 election cycle, the couple has given $500,000 to the Republican Governors Association, $300,000 to Rove's American Crossroads, and $150,000 to the Wisconsin Club for Growth. Bonus: Charles Koch named them as part of 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: $1,089,000

• Giving to outside-spending groups: $950,000

• Giving to candidates and parties: $139,000


With a net worth of $15.5 billion, John, a phenomenally successful hedge funds manager, is America's 17th-richest man. After riding out the market collapse, Paulson made $4.9 billion in 2010—Wall Street's biggest-ever single payday. Occupy Wall Street protested outside his 28,500-square foot Manhattan mansion in October 2011. The following month he issued a letter apologizing for Paulson Funds' poor recent performance, then personally bailed it out to the tune of $4 million. In the 2012 election cycle, Paulson has given $1 million to the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future. He and his wife Jenny have also given $9,600 to Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown

Total giving for 2012 race: $1,075,600

• Giving to outside-spending groups: $1,005,000

• Giving to candidates and parties: $70,600

Since 1990, Paul has served as a managing director of Bain Capital, the private investment firm cofounded by Mitt Romney. Previously, he didconsulting and managerial work alongside Romney at Bain & Company. Sandra also worked at Bain & Company before leaving to focus on philanthropic interests. The Edgerleys are longtime Republican boosters in Massachusetts. In the 2012 election cycle, the couple has donated $1 million to Restore Our Future.
Total giving for 2012 race: $1,015,000
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $1,000,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $15,000


Edward is a retired managing director at Bain Capital, and Jill is a former comedy writer who previously worked for David Letterman. They are prominent Romney supporters, as they were in 2008. In August, following complaints from election watchdogs, Edward revealed that he was behind a mysterious $1 million donation, given by a previously unheard-of company called W Spann, to the Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future. 

Total giving for 2012 race: $1,005,000

• Giving to outside-spending groups: $1,000,000

• Giving to candidates and parties: $5,000


This reclusive media mogul is a major Democratic fundraiser. A former reporter, he runs the Newsweb Corporation, which publishes alternative and ethnic newspapers. In 2002, he made more than $420 million selling a TV station to Rupert Murdoch. A 2005 Chicago Tribuneprofile reported that he "drives a 1999 Ford Escort, flies coach, owns just three suits and sometimes stays at budget motels." In the 2012 election cycle, Eychaner has given $500,000 to the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action, $100,000 to the House Majority PAC, $100,000 to the Democratic Governors Association, and $50,000 to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. 

Total giving for 2012 race: $791,800

• Giving to outside-spending groups: $750,000

• Giving to candidates and parties: $41,800


For the past four decades, J.W. "Bill" Marriott Jr. has served as CEO of Marriott International, the hotel franchise and property management company founded by his father. (In December 2011 he announced his intention to step down.) He is reportedly worth $1.3 billion. His brother, Richard, is also in the hotel business and is a major political donor. Bill chairs the President's Export Council, which advises the executive branch on national and global trade. In the 2012 election cycle, he and his wife, Donna, have donated $500,000 to the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future.

Total giving for 2012 race: $657,687

• Giving to outside-spending groups: $510,000

• Giving to candidates and parties: $147,687

John heads the John Templeton Foundation, a nonprofit focused on answering "the Big Questions of human purpose." (Critics say it seeks to lend scientific legitimacy to matters of faith.) The foundation was started by his late father, Sir John, a mutual fund billionaire. In 2009 it reportedly had $1.7 billion in assets. In the 2012 election cycle, John and his wife, Josephine, have donated $232,000 to the College Republican National Committee, $200,000 to the anti-Obama super-PAC Raising Red, $100,000 to Rove's American Crossroads, $55,000 to the Republican Governors Association, and $5,000 to Rick Santorum. 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: $633,000
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $597,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $36,000
Worth a reported $1.7 billion, the media-shy founder of Moore Capital Management has a reputation as one of the world's top hedge fund traders. In the 2012 election cycle, Bacon has given $500,000 to the pro-Romney Restore Our Future.
Total giving for 2012 race: $580,300
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $500,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $80,300
Richard has split his father's hotel-industry fortune with his brother Bill.Worth a reported $1.4 billion, Richard runs Host Hotels, the world's biggest lodging investment trust. In the 2012 cycle, Richard and his wife, Nancy, have given $500,000 to Restore Our Future. 
Total giving for 2012 race: $556,200
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $510,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $46,200
The Davises serve as chair and vice chair, respectively, of the New Balance shoe company. Reportedly worth $1.8 billion, Jim is one of the founders of Major League Lacrosse and is a major donor to collegiate athletics programs. In the 2012 election cycle, he has given to $500,000to the pro-Romney Restore Our Future. New Balance has issued a letterexplaining that Davis' donation to Restore Our Future "was a private donation and not a contribution from New Balance" and distanced the company from Romney's stance against gay marriage. 
Total giving for 2012 race: $542,300
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $500,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $42,300
Bing is a film producer (Shine a Light), script writer (Kangaroo Jack), and the founder of Shangri-La Music. He inherited a $600 million real estate fortune when he turned 18. Described as one of Bill Clinton's "best friends," Bing has donated millions to the Clinton Global Initiative andpaid $200,000 to fly the former president to North Korea to bring home two detained American journalists in 2009. Bing was worth an estimated $590 million in 2009; a movie producer told the Daily Beast that he "treats money as if there are no consequences to losing it." A major donor to Democratic causes, in the 2012 election cycle he has given $250,000 and $150,000 to the liberal super-PACs Majority PAC and American Bridge 21st Century, respectively. 
Total giving for 2012 race: $495,800
• Giving to outside-spending groups: $410,000
• Giving to candidates and parties: $85,800


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


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


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


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

Source of donation data: Center for Responsive Politics. Outside spending groups include super-PACs, PACs, and 527 groups.

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