-By Fredreka Schouten, Gregory Korte and Christopher Schnaars

February 22, 2012- WASHINGTON – Five wealthy people, led by Dallas industrialist Harold Simmons and Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, have donated nearly $1 of every $4 flowing to the super PACs raising unlimited money in this year's presidential race, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

Those donations have helped new Republican-leaning outside groups swamp Democratic-friendly super PACs in fundraising — money that is used largely for attack ads. The large sums also have rejuvenated the underfunded campaigns of principal challengers to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in the race for the Repulican nomination.

"Without the flow of super PAC money, the Republican race would be over," said Anthony Corrado, a campaign-finance expert at Colby College in Maine. "Super PACs have become a vehicle for a very small number of millionaires and billionaires who are willing to spend large sums in pursuit of their political agenda."

Simmons, a billionaire who pumped $3 million into "Swift Boat" ads in 2004 challenging Democrat John Kerry's Vietnam War record, is the largest super PAC donor of the 2012 election, the analysis shows.

He and his holding company, Contran, gave $12 million to American Crossroads, a super PAC affiliated with Republican strategist Karl Rove. He donated $2.2 million more to three super PACs supporting Republican presidential candidates. He did not respond to an interview request Tuesday.

In the No. 2 slot: Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who gave $10 million to Winning Our Future, a super PAC aiding former House speaker Newt Gingrich. Adelson declined an interview request through a spokesman.

However, in a Forbes magazine article posted Tuesday, Adelson said he is willing to donate an additional "$10 million or $100 million" to aid Gingrich. "I'm against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections, but as along as it's doable, I'm going to do it," Adelson said.

Adelson, who operates the Venetian, a massive Las Vegas resort, along with casinos in Singapore and Macau, shares hawkish stands on Israel with Gingrich, but he said he's motivated by economic policy. He said his goal is to defeat President Obama and what he termed a "socialist-style economy."



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