WASHINGTON -- More than half of the nation's 400 richest citizens have contributed money to help elect President Barack Obama or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to the White House. These members of the Forbes 400, who boast a combined net worth of $1.7 trillion -- more than 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product -- have donated more to affect the outcome of the presidential race than ever before.
Romney leads with a total of $3.4 million raised for his campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) from 158 of the Forbes 400 through Oct. 17, exceeding the $2.8 million raised by Republican nominee Sen. John McCain four years ago. Obama and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) have raised $1.7 million from 62 of the richest billionaires through Oct. 17; four years ago he raised $1.3 million from this elite group.
These numbers pale in comparison to the amounts the wealthy have donated to two super PACs that are legally independent of the campaigns but are run by the candidates' former aides. The latter contributions, which rise into eight figures, are made possible thanks to the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling that freed corporations, unions and, through a subsequent lower court ruling, individuals to spend unlimited sums on elections.
Restore Our Future, the primary super PAC supporting Romney, received $44.8 million from 43 billionaires through the middle of October. Priorities USA Action, the super PAC supporting Obama, pulled in $16.6 million from 12 billionaires over the same period. Other super PACs and "dark money" nonprofit groups have raised tens of millions more from these billionaires.
Then there's casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the largest donor to Romney's efforts. Adelson, who has given $20 million to Restore Our Future and $35,800 to Romney and the RNC, has made it clear that he opposes unions, supports lower taxes and Israel's right-wing government, and wants an investigation into his company's China business to be quashed.
There is another way to look at the strong support Romney receives from the super rich: Many of his policies are in line with the overall view of priorities held by the wealthy, which is different than that of the general public.
"When it comes to kitchen-table issues that matter to working families, over and over the wealthy have different priorities and different ways to go about addressing our national problems, and these ways don't often benefit working families," said Adam Lioz of the left-leaning advocacy group Demos.