Californians gave more than $12 million to super political action committees in 2011, bolstering the campaigns of President Barack Obama and his Republican challengers by taking advantage of new campaign finance rules that have been plagued by controversy.
In all, California residents gave more to super PACs last year than residents of any other state except Texas (which threw millions behind its own governor, Rick Perry), New York and Washington, D.C., according to filings submitted yesterday – the first time most super PAC donors have been made public.
The giving was headlined by DreamWorks executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and former Univision CEO Jerry Perenchio, both prolific campaign donors who each gave $2 million – Katzenberg to a super PAC supporting Obama and Perenchio to American Crossroads, a group led by Republican strategist Karl Rove.
A searchable database of all itemized super PAC contributors is available here.
Since they were enabled under a Supreme Court ruling in 2009, super PACs have attracted controversy by allowing wealthy individuals and organizations to spend unlimited amounts in support of their favored candidates.
In this year's contentious Republican primary election, super PACs have outspent the candidates themselves, primarily by putting their money into television advertising. The groups are not allowed to coordinate directly with campaigns but have still succeeded in spreading their favored candidates' messages and attacking their opponents.
Even in traditionally blue California, Republican groups collected millions in 2011, no doubt owing to the visibility and imminence of the party's primary season.
Restore Our Future, a group backing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, pulled in more than $2.3 million from Californians, including $275,000 from Los Angeles private equity firm W/F Investment Corp. and $250,000 from Glenbrook LLC, a company based in Redwood City.
Perenchio's $2 million contribution to American Crossroads matched the largest amount given by a Californian this year, and venture capitalist and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel contributed $900,000 to a group called Endorse Liberty, which supports U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
Still, buoyed by Katzenberg's $2 million, California showed up big for Democratic groups as well. The $2.3 million raised by the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action was the most the group raised in any state. In addition to Katzenberg, directors Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams combined to contribute $150,000 to the group, and businessman Stephen Bing gave $250,000 to a group called Majority PAC, which also supports Democratic candidates.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom chipped in $500 to comedian Stephen Colbert's super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, which raised more than $1 million, mostly in small contributions.
Californians gave only a small share of the more than $92 million in itemized contributions given to nearly 300 super PACs last year. Another $10 million given by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife last month to a group backing Newt Gingrich were not counted in yesterday's filings because they occurred after the mot recent disclosure deadline.