Andrew Innerarity / Reuters

Bush super PAC leads field in donations, with massive haul from the rich

Raising cash at record rate, presidential contenders have generated more than $250 million through super PACs alone

Jeb Bush’s super PAC raised $108 million in the first six months of this year, nearly as much as all his GOP rivals combined, according to midyear filings submitted to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) on Friday.

Six months before the Iowa caucuses, Republican and Democratic hopefuls have already brought in more than $250 million through their super PACs — on pace to far exceed the $469 million that outside groups amassed during the entire 2012 race. The giant sums have outraged campaign finance reform advocates, who see these outsize contributions as a direct threat to participatory democracy.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, comes in second in the money race, solidifying his status as a formidable fundraiser. His network of Keep the Promise super PACs brought in $38 million, putting him ahead of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s super PAC, Unintimidated, which raised $20 million.

While Democratic Party front-runner Hillary Clinton has raised more money through her campaign than anyone else in the race, her Priorities USA super PAC total of $15.6 million trails five Republican candidates’ and is not much more than the $11 million that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s super PAC managed to raise from fewer than 100 well-heeled donors such as hedge fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen and his wife, Alexandra Cohen.

Many of these groups announced their totals earlier this month. Friday’s FEC filings offer the most complete look yet at the fundraising prowess of super PACs and the ultrawealthy donors behind them.

In the five years since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and subsequent federal court rulings opened the floodgates for unlimited political contributions, super PACs have become the preferred method of influence for ultrawealthy donors. These independent-expenditure groups can solicit donations of any amount but are prohibited by FEC rules from directly coordinating with the candidates they’re spending that money to elect. They are also required to periodically disclose their contributors.

Bush’s nine-figure haul comes from only 6,312 contributions, according to FEC filings, with an average of $17,000 per donation. Nearly 3,000 of those donations were above $2,700, the maximum individual contribution for campaigns. His most generous supporter was Miguel “Mike” Fernandez, a Miami billionaire health care investor who gave $3 million to Bush’s super PAC, with 19 other individuals contributing $1 million or more.

Cruz, though unable to match Bush’s fundraising total, has the biggest single-donor haul, an eye-opening $10 million contribution from Toby Neugebauer, a co-founder of the Houston-based private equity firm Quantum Energy Partners.

Scott Walker’s super PAC received a $5 million contribution from Diane Hendricks, the head of ABC Supply, the nation’s largest wholesale roofing supply company and another $5 million from Marlene Ricketts and Joe Ricketts, who are among the owners of the Chicago Cubs and are the parents of Walker campaign finance co-chair Todd Ricketts.

Exactly half of the $16 million raised by Sen. Marco Rubio’s Conservative Solutions PAC comes from Miami billionaire and former Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman, who contributed $5 million, and Oracle founder Larry Ellison, who pitched in $3 million.

Rand Paul’s super PACs raised only $6 million but are funded by essentially just three donors. Jeff Yass, the managing director of the trading firm Susquehanna International Group; George Macricostas, the head of the data center company RagingWire; and Silicon Valley angel investor Scott Bannister each gave more than $1 million, account for 74 percent of Paul’s super PAC haul.

Campaign finance reform advocates attacked the large donations as a threat to the integrity of the democratic process. “Our politics is completely skewed towards the donor class, which is fundamentally bad for democracy,” said Lauren George, an associate director of government watchdog nonprofit Common Cause New York. “These [donations] make more people more cynical and serve to push people away from the polls. We’ve seen an inverse relationship between more money in politics and lower voter turnout.”

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