WASHINGTON Remarkable for its last-minute surge of contributions, the U.S. presidential election witnessed unprecedented sums of cash boosting two men in their quest for the White House. It was a cost that surpassed $2 billion.
The election was the first in which “super” political action committees spent hundreds of millions on television ads, especially those supporting GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Super PACs, like those helping President Barack Obama, benefited from deep wells of money from wealthy donors and corporations.
A handful of mega donors stood out. The most prominent were Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who together contributed nearly $100 million — as promised — to help Republican candidates. On the left, celebrities like Jeffrey Katzenberg poured millions of dollars into efforts helping Obama win a second term.
More than $230 million in super PAC money bolstered Romney’s candidacy, adding to the giant haul by the Republican Party for the former Massachusetts governor. The pro-Romney super PACs hammered the president in swing states with meticulously designed ads highlighting a woeful economy and what they portrayed as Obama’s failed record.
A sizable chunk of that cash flowed in just weeks before Election Day. Because Federal Election Commission rules don’t require groups to report until late November the money they’ve raised since mid-October, many top donors escaped scrutiny until after the Nov. 6 voting. The Adelsons’ $33 million gift to two pro-Romney super PACs, as well as $3 million from Larry Ellison, head of software giant Oracle Corp., were not divulged until Thursday.
The pro-Obama Priorities USA Action raked in nearly 20 percent of the money it raised this election during the final weeks of the campaign. Much of that $15 million haul, records show, came from repeat million-dollar donors like Fred Eychaner, the founder of Chicago-based Newsweb Corp., and from the ranks of Renaissance Technologies, whose investors donated $4 million in the campaign’s final weeks.
Those pots of money, in turn, enabled super PACs to dole out millions of dollars on pricey television ads in important swing states, including some where razor-thin ballot margins had been forecast for Election Day.
“The super PACs helped Romney run a more competitive race,” said R. Donahue Peebles, an Obama fundraiser from New York. “But, in the end, money can take a candidate only so far.”