Super PACs can spend whatever they want on ads, etc. so long as they do not coordinate with any specific candidate. They are a direct result of the Citizens United decision, of which we don’t have much of a beef. It’s way harder to buy elections than people think, and given the number of people entering the race for president (on the Republican side anyway) the current political money regime may actually be broadening the issue spectrum.
Saying this, we have an obligation to pay attention to who is throwing money around. Though it is hard to buy an election that doesn’t mean people won’t try.
Here is a list of the top “single donor super PACs” of 2014.
The single-donor super PACs identified by ProPublica span the political spectrum. Among the top conservative donors were Richard Uihlein, a packaging supplies businessman, and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg spent heavily on both sides but leaned Democrat. Hedge fund titan Tom Steyer dominated on the left.
In 2012 the largest single-donor super PAC was former TD Ameritrade CEO Joe Ricketts’ Ending Spending Action Fund, which raised over $14 million, 89 percent of which came from Ricketts. It was the ninth-largest super PAC by spending. In 2014 Steyer’s Nextgen Climate Action was the largest super PAC, raising almost $78 million, 85 percent from Steyer. (Steyer’s wife, Kat Taylor, is a member of ProPublica’s board of directors, and the couple has donated to ProPublica.)
In addition to the super PACs dominated by a single individual, dozens more received the great majority of their funding from one corporation, labor group or advocacy organization. In 2014, those PACs represented 8.6 percent of super-PAC fundraising.