“It’s a very sluggish economy, which makes it harder for us to raise money, that’s for sure,” said Sam Fox, a former ambassador to Belgium who founded the family’s Harbour Group investment firm in St. Louis. “So everything that can be done is important.”
The 2010 elections saw the rise of “super PACs,” outside political groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money. The 2012 contest brings “super bundlers,” a new breed of fundraisers who can raise millions for candidates and outside groups at the same time.
Wealthy donors who bundle contributions for candidates have long exercised inordinate influence in U.S. politics, often being rewarded with cushy ambassadorships or powerful positions in Washington. But recent changes in the landscape of campaign-finance law have given these donors even greater influence with candidates and their advisers.
As recently as two years ago, corporations were barred from spending any money on elections and donors were more tightly restricted as to how they could help candidates. But a 2010 Supreme Court ruling effectively swept away the corporate spending ban and other limits, making it easier than it has been in decades to bankroll a high-dollar election effort.
A wealthy donor now has the ability to give nearly $67,000 directly to a presidential candidate and his or her party, plus unlimited amounts to super PACs — which must reveal their donors — and nonprofit advocacy groups, which do not. What’s more, donors can enlist their friends and family in the effort and funnel their largesse through opaque corporations, compounding their influence within a candidate’s inner circle.
The super bundler phenomenon appears confined to Romney and President Obama (D), who are far ahead of their competitors in raising money. But there are signs that other Republican candidates will soon catch up.
Backers of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), whose grass-roots candidacy has relied mostly on small donors, announced a new super PAC last week to help her presidential run.
And Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who announced his candidacy over the weekend, has in place a vast fundraising apparatus that includes several super PACs formed by supporters. One new pro-Perry group, Make Us Great Again, will hold its first fundraisers in Texas this week and will begin running ads, organizers said.
Perry has raised more than $100 million during his political career and will be able to draw on a long list of wealthy benefactors from his time as Texas governor and chairman of the Republican Governors Association. One strategy document shows that Perry is thinking big, defining a range of bundlers as broad as Obama’s, with a top category of “Patriots” who will be asked to raise $500,000 or more.