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Primer: How Super PACs Rake It In


Super PACs raised about $181 million in the last two years — with roughly half of it coming from fewer than 200 super-rich people.

Those are the findings in a new study that confirms what public interest groups have long feared and campaigns are learning the hard way in 2012 — that the cash for big-ticket campaign spending like TV advertising is increasingly controlled by an elite class of super-rich patrons not afraid to plunk down a million bucks or more for favored candidates and causes.
Last year alone, just 32 donors gave $34 million — and that’s not including an eight-figure donation from billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson in January.
The concentration of donors was discovered in Federal Election Commission filings analyzed by two nonprofit groups, U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Demos that are pushing to strengthen disclosure and spending rules. Their results appear in a report published Wednesday that maps where super PACs are getting their cash.
Alongside individuals, corporations chipped in another $17 million last year. And unions kicked in $6 million. Another $2 million came from more shadowy sources difficult to trace, according to the report.
Expect “an unprecedented surge” in cash, particular secret money, later this year as Election Day approaches, predicted a co-author of the report, Blair Bowie of U.S. PIRG, pointing to 2010 patterns. As campaigns brace for that deluge, here’s a primer on the five ways the new outside groups are pulling in money — from secret gifts to transparent donations — and why each might be attractive to a donor.