Big donors diversify Super PAC donations

WASHINGTON Mon Apr 16, 2012 8:08pm EDT

Sheldon Adelson, the chairman and chief executive of Las Vegas Sands Corp., smiles during an interview in Macau August 31, 2006. REUTERS/Paul Yeung

Sheldon Adelson, the chairman and chief executive of Las Vegas Sands Corp., smiles during an interview in Macau August 31, 2006.

Credit: Reuters/Paul Yeung

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Diversification has long been a preferred investment strategy for uncertain times - and now, U.S. political investors are diversifying, too.

This season's big political donors - casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, Texas billionaire banker Harold Simmons and others - gained attention for feeding millions into Super PACs that can raise and spend unlimited money on presidential candidates.

But the presidential Super PACs - spawned by a Supreme Court decision that loosened campaign spending restrictions - are not their only realm of influence. The wealthy donors also have made an imprint on smaller outside groups focused on state races, where large donations can have an outsized impact.

Adelson and his family have invested $16 million in a Super PAC that for weeks kept afloat Newt Gingrich's flagging Republican presidential bid. But Adelson and his wife, Miriam, also invested $5 million in another "super" political action committee set up to defend the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Adelson's contributions to the Congressional Leadership Fund account for nearly the entire $5.1 million the Super PAC has raised so far this year, according to the latest Federal Election Commission filings.

Texas bigwig financiers Simmons and Perry both invested in the state battle to replace retiring Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. They gave to two separate Super PACs supporting Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst.

Simmons, whose money has helped presidential bids by Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, in February gave $500,000 to a pro-Dewhurst Conservative Renewal PAC, according to the latest FEC filings.

Perry, who had donated to the Super PACs backing likely Republican nominee Romney, in February gave $100,000 to the Texas Conservatives Fund backing Dewhurst.

Dewhurst represents the establishment wing of the Republican party. His challengers include Tea Party-backed former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and one-time television sports analyst Craig James.

"It's a multicandidate field... and it's primarily about David (Dewhurst) as all the others are hitting against him," said Bill Miller, Austin-based Republican consultant.

Dewhurst's rivals hope to thwart an early victory and force him into a run-off - a dangerous position for an incumbent office holder, Miller said.

The two pro-Dewhurst Super PACs are working independently of one another, said Conservative Renewal PAC's treasurer Larry Hicks. His group reported raising $490,100 in the first three months of the year, most of which remained in the bank at the end of March. It has funded an anti-Cruz ad.

The Conservative Renewal PAC had raised $600,000 from Simmons and James Pitcock, who runs Houston-based Williams Brothers Construction Co. Pitcock gave an additional $100,000 to the Texas Conservative Fund.

On the Democratic side, Alexander Soros, son of billionaire investor and liberal donor George Soros, donated $200,000 to the Jewish Council for Education and Research.

The Council, which helped Obama in 2008, is planning this year to "confront the scare tactics used to peel away Jewish voters from the Obama campaign and re-energize those in his base whose enthusiasm may have diminished from four years ago," according to its website.

The elder Soros has so far remained on the sidelines of the Super PAC game that is defining this year's elections.

Many PACs only have to file quarterly reports, and they filed their first 2012 results late last week. But presidential Super PACs must file monthly ahead of the November 6 election.

They are due to report their March numbers to the FEC by April 20.

(Reporting by Alina Selyukh and Alexander Cohen; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson and Lisa Shumaker)

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