Behind every 2012 presidential candidate, there is a millionaire or billionaire holding the purse strings to the campaign’s war chest.
Relaxation of campaign finance laws has given rise to a new class of super-donors who are now acting as kingmakers in this year’s presidential election.
It’s an elite club that includes Wall Street titans, Texas oil tycoons, billionaire tech execs, and an outspoken evangelical mutual fund manager, all of whom have given $1 million or more to support Republican SuperPACs. According to the Washington Post, these sugar daddies have forked over a combined $54 million so far this election cycle, helping bankroll an onslaught of negative attacks that have made this year’s Republican primary one of bloodiest in recent memory.
Needless to say, these emergent power players now wield an outsized influence over presidential politics. Their ability to tap into vast fortunes — and their willingness to do it over and over again — is reshaping campaign finance, and helping to decide who stays and who goes in the 2012 race.
We’ve combed through federal finance reports and this AP analysis to find the biggest — and most interesting — benefactors for each of the candidates.
Who He Is: A billionaire corporate raider who has been described as 'Dallas' most evil genius.' Simmons is worth about $9.3 billion, making him the 33rd richest person in America, according to Forbes.
Who He Supports: Almost everyone. Simmons is on a SuperPAC spending spree, although the bulk of his money ($12 million) has gone to Karl Rove's American Crossroads SuperPAC. A longtime Rick Perry pal, Simmons also donated $1.1 million to SuperPACs supporting the Texas Governor's presidential campaign. Since Perry dropped out, Simmons has donated $1 million to Newt Gingrich and $100,000 to Mitt Romney.
Why: Simmons' SuperPAC love is not surprising. The Texas donor has long supported shadow campaign groups, including the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth and the group behind the 2008 ads tying Barack Obama to the Weather Underground. He was also an early supporter of GOPAC, the political action committee Gingrich founded while he was Speaker of the House.
Who He Is: A Silicon Valley venture capitalist and former chess master best known for co-founding PayPal and for being an early investor in Facebook.
Who He Supports: Ron Paul. Thiel is responsible for about 75 per cent of the funding for Endorse Liberty, a pro-Paul SuperPAC that makes YouTube documentaries explaining Paul's political philosophy.
Why: Although they have reportedly never met, Thiel and Paul are actually a perfect donor-candidate match. An openly gay and Christian libertarian, Thiel is a staunch free-market capitalist who founded PayPal to create a global currency beyond the reach of central banks. In addition to supporting Paul, Thiel has donated to several other unorthodox political causes, including a 'seasteading' foundation to create experimental libertarian islands off the California coast.
Who He Is: Billionaire hedge fund investor and founder of Tiger Management Corp., a now-defunct hedge fund. Forbes estimates his net worth at around $2.3 billion.
Who He's Supporting: Mitt Romney. Robertson is the biggest individual donor to the pro-Romney SuperPAC Restore Our Future. His son Spencer Robertson has also donated to Romney and both Robertsons have hosted fundraisers for the candidate.
Why: Robertson is part of a small group of Wall Street deficit hawks who have supported Romney since 2008. But the donor's politics don't totally align with those of his candidate. In a bizarre twist, Robertson is the single biggest donor behind the Environmental defence Fund's efforts to pass cap-and-trade and has donated $27 million to the New York Stem Cell Foundation. He has also pledged to donate part of his wealth to charity as part of an initiative spearheaded by Obama cheerleader Warren Buffett.
Who He Is: A mildly eccentric -- and super successful -- mutual fund investor.
Who He Supports: Rick Santorum. An outspoken Wyoming millionaire, Friess has been one of the most visible mega-donors of the 2012 cycle, sometimes to the detriment of his preferred candidate. His decision to finance the Red, White And Blue Fund, a pro-Santorum SuperPAC, is largely responsible for keeping Santorum's candidacy alive when his campaign started running out of money earlier this month.
Why: Friess, like Santorum, is a staunch social conservative with a hawkish stance on foreign policy. He and his wife are generous donors to a variety of evangelical and conservative causes, including many of those sponsored by the Koch brothers. Friess is also a major investor in The Daily Caller, a conservative website founded by Tucker Carlson.
Who He Is: Billionaire CEO of Melaleuca, Inc., an Idaho-based 'multi-level marketing' company that sells dietary supplements and 'other household and health products.' Melaleuca has been accused by federal and state regulators of running a pyramid scheme and of deceiving customers about its products and business practices.
Who He Supports: Mitt Romney. VanderSloot is a co-finance chair of Romney's 2012 presidential campaign. Through his companies, he has donated $1 million to the pro-Romney Restore Our Future SuperPAC.
Why: Like Romney, VanderSloot is a devout Mormon and an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the pair have expressed mutual admiration for one another. VanderSloot has been described as the most influential political donor in Idaho, where he has supported far-right causes like relaxing regulations against raw milk and weakening teachers' unions. He got his start in politics by launching a vitriolic billboard campaign against the the airing of a PBS documentary about teaching gay and lesbian issues to schoolchildren. He and his wife donated $100,000 to support California's Prop. 8, which would have banned same-sex marriage.
VanderSloot has been accused of using his money to threaten and silence critics and journalists. (Salon's Glenn Greenwald extensively reported on these thuggish tactics earlier this month.) VanderSloot issued a lengthy response denying that he has bullied his critics, but questions about the Idaho billionaire are now threatening to become another problem for the Romney campaign.
Who He Is: A wealthy Texas home-builder and Republican bankroller best known for helping fund Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Who He Supports: The GOP. The ultimate political sugar-daddy, Perry was one of the first to get on board with SuperPACs and has given more than $10 million to Karl Rove's American Crossroads since 2010. Perry's biggest contribution this election cycle has been $1 million to the pro-Mitt Romney SuperPAC Restore Our Future. His donations also played a critical role in keeping Rick Perry (no relation) afloat and in rolling out Tim Pawlenty's short-lived presidential campaign.
Why: Although he is notoriously media-shy, the Dallas millionaire is said to thrive on influence and his choice in 2012 candidates bears that out. Both Rick Perry and Pawlenty built their gubernatorial careers on Perry's money, debts that likely gave the mega-donor automatic influence over the two presidential campaigns. Perry was also a Texas finance chair for Romney's 2008 presidential campaign, making his decision to back Romney's opponents in 2012 shrewdly Machiavellian. As one of the most sought-after Republican donors, Perry almost certainly increased his leverage over the Republican frontrunner by entertaining other options before returning to the Romney fold.
Who He Is: Founder and CEO of Elliott Management Corp., a New York hedge fund.
Who He Supports: Mitt Romney. Singer is one of several financial industry titans who have joined the $1 million donor club on behalf of Romney. Other prominent members include billionaire hedge fund master John Paulson, who has hosted several Romney fundraisers this year; Tulsa-based investor Francis Rooney, a major Bush donor and former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican; Bob Mercer, co-CEO of the New York hedge fund RenTech; and Romney's former Bain colleagues Edward Conrad and Paul Edgerly.
Why: Singer has recently emerged as one of the most coveted Republican fundraisers, with a reputation for aggressive bundling. Although he initially pushed Chris Christie to enter the race, he threw his support behind Romney this fall, citing the Bain Capital founder's business and management experience. But Romney's recent tack to the right might not sit well with his more moderate benefactor. Singer is a prominent gay-rights supporter who played a crucial role in helping pass New York's same-sex marriage law last year. His gay son was married in Massachusetts when Romney was governor, according to ABC News.
Who Are They: Billionaire brothers at the helm of the Marriott Hotel empire. Bill Marriott is the chairman and CEO of Marriott International and Richard Marriott is chairman of Host Hotels & Resorts, a Marriott offshoot.
Who They Support: Mitt Romney. The brothers are longtime Romney supporters.
Why: Like the Romneys, the Marriotts are an important family in the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and ties between the two families run deep. Romney was even named after Marriott International founder J. Willard Marriott, who was a close friend of George Romney. Bill Marriott was finance chair of Mitt Romney's first White House campaign, and the candidate served as a member of the hotel company's board in between his two presidential bids.
Democrats were late to the SuperPAC party, but Katzenberg, a fundraising powerhouse, has been trying to keep the left in the game.
The CEO of Dreamworks Animation has almost singlehandedly funded Priorities USA Action, the SuperPAC supporting President Barack Obama. Katzenberg is also one of the top bundlers for Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, raising upwards of $500,000 in 2011.
Unsurprisingly, the SEIU is the only other $1 million+ donor to Priorities USA, although that is likely to change in the wake of Obama's recent reversal on SuperPACs.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.