-By Nicholas Confessore and Michael Luo
February 1, 2012- Newly disclosed details of the millions of dollars flowing into political groups are highlighting not just the scale of donations from corporation and unions but also the secrecy surrounding “super PACs” seeking to influence the presidential race.
Some of the money came from well-established concerns, like Alpha Natural Resources, one of the country’s largest coal companies, which is backing Republican-aligned American Crossroads, or from the Service Employees International Union, a powerful union allied with Democrats, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.
Some came from companies closely identified with prominent industrialists or financiers, like Contran, a mammoth holding company controlled by the Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, a patron of a number of conservative groups and candidates, and Blue Ridge Capital, a New York hedge fund founded by the wealthy investor John A. Griffin, a supporter of Mitt Romney.
But some checks came from sources obscured from public view, like a $250,000 contribution to a super PAC backing Mr. Romney from a company with a post office box for a headquarters and no known employees.
President Obama continues to outraise all of the candidates seeking the Republican nomination by large margins when it comes to money that goes directly into campaign coffers. But the money race is increasingly focused on outside groups that are legally not allowed to coordinate directly with campaigns but pay for advertising and other activities that support particular candidates.
Most of the money disclosed this week went to independent groups supporting Republicans, giving them an enormous money advantage over similar Democratic groups in the first phase of the 2012 election cycle. Such donations were made possible by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 and subsequent court rulings, which opened the door to unlimited corporate and union contributions to political committees and made it possible to pool that money with unlimited contributions from wealthy individuals.
But the full scope of such giving is impossible to ascertain from federal campaign filings: Much of the money raised by the leading Republican and Democratic independent groups went into affiliated nonprofit organizations that are more restricted in how they can spend the money but do not have to disclose their donors.
The contributions have already helped the Republican Party’s elite donor class, who increasingly favor Mr. Romney, regain some control over the party’s nominating process. Many of the party’s top givers sent checks to Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney group, underwriting an advertising campaign that battered Mr. Romney’s Republican rivals even as Mr. Romney himself struggled to win the trust of the party’s restive conservative base.
Mr. Romney, who assailed Newt Gingrich in Florida last week for “working as a lobbyist and selling influence around Washington,” also got a major boost from some of the Republican Party’s top corporate lobbyists, who raised more than a million dollars in checks for Mr. Romney’s campaign during the last three months of 2011.