Donations to super PACs skew conservative nationally, partly for reasons of ideology, partly because Republicans had a long, hard-fought primary. But the ratio is more like 3 to 1, not 50-plus to 1.
Liberal super PAC fundraising lags so badly in this key swing state that a PAC set up by Christine O’Donnell, a 2010 Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Delaware, took in more from Virginians in the past 18 months than Priorities USA Action, the biggest super PAC in President Obama’s corner.
A PAC devoted to preserving the Democratic majority in the Senate pulled in just $2,500 over that period — a mere $237 more than comedian Stephen Colbert’s tongue-in-cheek Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow PAC. This in a state where former governor Timothy M. Kaine (D) is deadlocked in a Senate race with former governor George Allen (R).
Super PACs are organizations that can accept unlimited contributions and are largely bankrolled by a few dozen wealthy contributors. That makes for quirky donation patterns that might have little or no connection to a candidate’s standing in the polls, experts said.
“The trivial mathematical answer is if one person or two people give $5 million or $10 million, and even if everybody else gives $100,000, you’re going to have a big shift,” said Bob Biersack, a senior fellow with the Center for Responsive Politics. “Because it’s a process where there are no limits, one or two people can really cause that kind of skew.”
The Supreme Court paved the way for super PACs in 2010, ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that companies and unions have a First Amendment right to make unlimited contributions. A recent study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Demos, two liberal research and advocacy organizations, found that just 47 people account for more than half of the $230 million raised by super PACs from individual donors.
Chief among them is billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his immediate family, who have given more than $36 million to PACs supporting former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R) and, after Gingrich’s presidential bid failed, presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
The closest thing Virginia has to Adelson is coal magnate Richard Baxter Gilliam, who donated $750,000 to American Crossroads, a super PAC founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove, and Restore Our Future, which supports Romney. The founder of the private coal company Cumberland Resources, Gilliam did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Other six-figure donors to conservative PACs include: Robert W. Bailie, a retired fiberglass-insulation executive, who donated $250,000; Nicholas F. Taubman, president of Mozart Investments in Roanoke, former president of Advance Auto Parts and President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Romania, who gave $150,000; coal company Alpha Natural Resources, which gave $105,000; William H. Goodwin Jr., a hotelier whose properties include the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, who gave $100,000; and Bruce C. Gottwald, chairman of the chemicals firm NewMarket, who also gave $100,000.