With the rise of the super PAC, so too have emerged watchdog groups that track spending, donors, leaders and beneficiaries. We found OpenSecrets enormously helpful in compiling this list of the big-money political groups today. But that ranking of who’s on top will shift dramatically in the coming weeks, so it’s best to keep a close eye on roster. ProPublica’s PAC track tool is also useful and easy to parse.
Here’s a look at the bulging wallets in the 2012 election. These groups will spend fat wads of cash on the presidential race, of course, but they’ll also reach into statewide and even local elections.
It’s worth noting that conservative super PACs have so far outspent their liberal counterpoints by a 4-to-1 ratio.
Restore Our Future—Supports Mitt Romney
Though super PACs are not allowed to work directly with campaigns, this one is run by former Romney campaign chiefs, including 2008 political director Carl Forti. Media team member Larry McCarthy was responsible for 1988’s infamous Willie Horton ad, which was eventually yanked for playing into racial fears. This PACs multitude of ads has been almost exclusively negative. A majority of its funding has come from hedge fund and private equity managers.
American Crossroads—Karl Rove’s Super PAC
Rove and former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie launched Crossroads, which aims to spend as much as $300 million to oust President Obama and elect Republicans to Congress. New Mexico Senate candidate Heather Wilson sat on Crossroads GPS' board from 2010 to 2011. The super PAC has already spent more than $400,000 to run pro-Wilson ads in New Mexico.
Winning Our Future—Supports Newt Gingrich
A former top aide who worked for Gingrich for years stepped down from the campaign to join this PAC. It was formed just a couple of weeks before the Iowa caucus as Gingrich was scrambling to stay in the race. Sheldon Adelson, who made his billions on casinos, and his family donated $20.5 million to this PAC. Some of the money was refunded right before Gingrich dropped out of the race. Winning Our Future has more than $400,000 left in its coffers.
Priorities USA Action—Supports President Obama
The Dem equivalent to Restore Our Future, Priorities is run by former Obama campaign press secretary Bill Burton and Rahm Emanuel ‘s former chief of staff Sean Sweeney. Most of Priorities’ money has come from lawyers, labor unions and Hollywood figures. Bill Maher and Steven Spielberg are among the group’s biggest donors. But this PAC is way behind Restore Our Future in fundraising. It's also spent most of its money.
Club for Growth Action—Supports Limited Government
This group focuses on issues of decreasing taxes and and libertarian economic values, as well as limiting federal government. It spends its money primarily on bashing Democrat candidates and supporting Republicans. It's also been known to trash the occasional moderate Republican. It was founded by Stephen Moore, a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
Majority PAC—Supports Democratic Senate Candidates
This anti-Crossroads group’s mission is to maintain the blue majority in the Senate. Majority PAC is staffed by longtime Democratic party operatives and spends its money on ads denouncing GOP groups and the Tea Party. It hasn’t spent money in New Mexico yet. But Rep. Martin Heinrich, who's up against Wilson, can likely look forward to its support in the form of airtime ad buys in the fall.
House Majority PAC—Supports Democratic House Candidates
This group is working toward a Dem majority in the House. Today, there are 192 Democrats and 240 Republicans. So far, this PAC has spent about $2.6 million on ads targeting Republicans, and about $700,000 on ads supporting Democrats. George Soros, the Hungarian businessman and philanthropist, is a major funder.
American Bridge 21st Century—Supports Liberals
The product of former journalist turned liberal activist David Brock, this super PAC is filled with former Hill staffers whose mission is to “monitor and correct conservative misinformation.” So far, the group has not spent any money. But it has plenty of anti-Romney videos on its website. Soros is once again the biggest donor, kicking in $1 million.
Red, White & Blue—Supports Rick Santorum
Before Santorum ditched his bid to become the Republican nominee for president, this PAC spent nearly $7 million on ads aimed to paint him in a positive light. It also spent about $800,000 attacking opponents—a comparatively small amount. Billionaire Christian conservative Foster Friess was the PAC's biggest donor, infusing this group with $2 million. Friess has made it his mission to unseat President Obama.
Workers' Voice—Supports the AFL-CIO Union
This group has thus far spent very little money—only slightly more than $2,000 in support of candidates. But it's planning on speaking out against Romney and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan because of their stances on Medicare and taxes. AFL-CIO calls the candidates' positions an "attack on middle class families." The PAC intends to protest at presidential campaign events.