Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Super Pac Sugar Daddys' clout

Seeing the effect of the current Supreme Court's ruling on "non-direct donors" to political campaigns, one could wonder whether even with their withering wisdom and bias they could have imagined a campaign being so heavily influenced by a handful of people. I am not talking about the candidates.

These influencers are the Super Pac donors. Each of the four Republican primary candidates has benefitted, some with more diversification and depth than others if those are words that can apply to any.

Certainly the Las Vegas tycoon Sheldon Adelstein's contributions to support Newt Gingrich's must represent at least 80% or more of the money to that Super Pac. It has been said that Adelson's ardent support of Israel is the reason for this, the feeling that Gingrich is most aligned with his thoughts, and that's certainly a big part of it. We can't forget though that Obama's corporate bashing and threats to penalize any supposed excesses led to a collapse in the Las Vegas convention business in 2009 and 2010 and Adelson has been known to be ruthlessly dedicated to the success of his businesses. He must genuinely prefer Gingrich, but with his wealth he is also making a statement to any eventual nominee about what they need to do to get his further support.

Based on most media reports, Romney has ten to fifteen super-supporters, each of whose contributions have been more than $1 million, maybe much more. They are reported to be former colleagues at Bain, other Wall Street leaders, and wealthy members of his faith. None have seemed to want to take a public profile on the largesse. At least no one person dominates his Super Pac, but that group is likely to 60% of more of the contributions and maybe that's a conservative guess.

The Super Pac representing Rick Santorum is far far smaller than those of Gingrich and Romney, but like Gingrich he has one Super Donor, maybe two. The public one who founded the Santorum Super Pac is Foster Friess, a really successful growth investor over many years with his most well known fund being the Brandywine Fund. At the few investor conferences where his and yours truly's paths crossed in the 80's and 90's, he was incredibly gregarious, always surrounded by people laughing at his jokes, and he was an both an entertaining and informative speaker. Who would have guessed as an observer then that he was capable of being a Santorum supporter, a born again moneybags.

Ron Paul's Super Pac is similarly "modest" like Santorum's. A highly successful, far right eccentric thinker and billionaire named Peter Thiel has contributed 75% of the Paul Super Pac funds. With Paul's ardent following, one would have expected a much greater percent coming from the small contributions of true believers. He must be like the Greatful Dead of old, traveling around the country with the same entourage - "this is my 21st, did you catch him in Maine?"

Of the four candidates, the profile of the Romney Super Pac is probably what was expected in the minds of those justices and politicians who publicly supported this already highly questionable practice. That three of the candidates fates have been significantly in the hands of one donor is an extreme outcome.

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