Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia CommonsGOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney
If super political action committee dollars were votes in the Republican presidential primary, California would already have voted resoundingly for Mitt Romney.
Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting the former Massachusetts governor, collected $2.3 million from Californians last year, more than any other super PAC, according to new filings this week. The group boosting Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, pulled in a paltry $1,750 from California, less than any other super PAC involved in the Republican primary.
Super PACs have been omnipresent in the primary race, spending lavishly on hard-hitting TV ads and rivaling in influence the candidates' own campaigns. The political committees are controversial because, under loosened campaign finance regulations, they allow wealthy individuals and companies to give unlimited amounts of money to directly support their preferred candidates.
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Much of California's pro-Romney money came from the world of private investment – not surprising, as Romney formerly headed investment firm Bain Capital and the industry's business practices have become a hot issue in the campaign.
The biggest Golden State donor to Restore Our Future was W/F Investment Corp., which, together with CEO Bill Fleischman, gave $350,000. The Los Angeles private equity firm's portfolio includes a Bavarian beer importer and The Roadium open-air market in Torrance. W/F Investment referred calls to the super PAC.
Restore Our Future spokeswoman Brittany Gross said the organization is running advertisements in Nevada, which holds caucuses Saturday, and Arizona and Michigan, which have primaries later this month. As for the donations, Gross said, "we’re going to let the numbers speak for themselves."
The second-biggest donation, at $250,000, came from Glenbrook LLC. The Redwood City address listed on the donation is that of Glenbrook's accounting firm, which declined to provide any information about the company.
Dick Boyce, a San Francisco partner at private equity giant TPG Capital, gave $200,000. Boyce previously worked at Bain and currently serves on the board of Burger King. TPG has investments in Petco Animal Supplies, Spanish-language network Univision, retailer Neiman Marcus and casino company Caesars Entertainment.
David Wilson, owner of several Southern California car dealerships, gave the super PAC $100,000.
So did controversial Los Angeles developer G.H. Palmer Associates. Owner Geoff Palmer has been lauded for his pioneering upscale developments but criticized [PDF] for not including low-income units. Palmer's company was fined $30,000 in 1992 by the Fair Political Practices Commission on allegations of laundering campaign contributions through company employees.
The head of CKE Enterprises, the company that owns Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, also gave $100,000. CEO Andrew Puzder has been an outspoken backer of Romney, defending his business background at Bain and arguing that he will help businesses by reducing government regulations.
"The policies he proposes are precisely the ones we in the private sector need to successfully grow our businesses," Puzder wrote.
With California's presidential primary not until June, the state's role in the race is mainly that of an ATM, said Jessica Levinson, campaign finance scholar at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Super PACs, she said, have allowed for a "shadow campaign finance system" that is detrimental to the political system.
"If money’s speech, then people with more money get more speech, and this is a fundamental problem in a representative democracy," Levinson said. "It’s giving people with money a megaphone in the current debate."
But the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently rejected that argument, said John Samples, director of the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute.
"The concern is that it’s unequal – unequal money," Samples said. "The problem is that equality and freedom here are direct tradeoffs."
Chase Davis of the California Watch staff contributed to this report.
California funding to super PACS involved in presidential race
|Super PAC||Amount||Supported candidate|
|Restore Our Future||$2,362,525||Mitt Romney|
|Priorities USA Action||$2,353,000||Barack Obama|
|Endorse Liberty||$950,000||Ron Paul|
|Our Destiny PAC||$317,750||Jon Huntsman*|
|Make Us Great Again||$307,000||Rick Perry*|
|Americans for Rick Perry||$35,000||Rick Perry*|
|Red, White & Blue Fund||$30,250||Rick Santorum|
|9-9-9 Fund||$8,544||Herman Cain*|
|Winning Our Future||$1,750||Newt Gingrich|
*Candidate has withdrawn from the race
Source: Federal Election Commission