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The Promiscuity Of the Very Rich

Sorry, Florida, but the biggest political news Tuesday was not Mitt Romney’s predictable win after his carpet-bombing of Newt Gingrich, but the long-awaited release of the financial disclosures for the Super-PACs that, courtesy of the Roberts Court, will utterly dominate the 2012 campaign. As Dan Eggen and Tim Farnam lay out in today’s Washington Post, Barack Obama’s record-breaking small-donor machine will be sorely tested by the big-dollar Republican donors who, liberated by Citizens United and other rulings, are giving in truly eye-popping sums. American Crossroads, the group co-founded by Karl Rove, raised more than $50 million last year and has just used $500,000 of it to put up another ad attacking Obama over the Solyndra fiasco; the Super-PAC supporting Romney, Restore Our Future, raised $30 million in the second half of 2011 from just 200 donors, including a handful of hedge fund titans who gave $1 million each. By contrast, Obama raised $68 million from 583,000 donors in the 4th quarter of 2011, with 98 percent of the donations $250 or less and the average contribution $55. 

To put things in perspective: Obama needs 18,182 donors making his average $55 contribution to balance out a single $1 million check to Romney’s Super-PAC. Thanks, SCOTUS!

But enough bewailing big money for now. Instead, let’s marvel at something else that comes through in the disclosure forms: the sheer promiscuity of deep-pocketed donors, who spread their love with about as much abandon as the Holstein studs that Virginia is shipping to Russia, courtesy of an unusual economic development venture by Gov. Bob McDonnell. Consider, for one, Bob Perry, the Texas homebuilding magnate who was a major funder of the Swift Boat ads against John Kerry. Perry is a longtime supporter of Rick Perry (no relation) and Gov. Perry, as I described in my September profile of him, has repaid Bob in kind:

In another case, Perry created a whole new government body, the Texas Residential Construction Commission, to allow building contractors to self-regulate rather than fight claims in court. Among those pushing hardest for the new board was the homebuilder Bob Perry (no relation), who gave the governor $175,000 in the two years prior to the board’s creation in 2003 and whose own corporate counsel was given one of the seats on it. (Bob Perry’s other priority has been fighting immigration restrictions that could drive up his labor costs—which some Texans point to as one possible explanation for Rick Perry’s moderate stance on illegal immigration.)

But this bond was only so strong come the 2012 campaign. Bob Perry was already writing checks early in 2011, including $500,000 to Restore Our Future, the Romney Super-PAC, in March, and $5,000 to Tim Pawlenty (remember him?) in April. But that was before Perry’s mid-summer entrance into the race, after which Bob Perry dutifully coughed up $100,000 for Perry’s Super-PAC, Make Us Great Again. But then came Perry’s less-than-stellar debate performances. And by early December, Bob Perry was already batting eyelashes at Romney again—on December 7, he gave $500,000 more to Restore Our Future, which proceeded to spend the rest of the month running ads in Iowa for Newt Gingrich, the man Perry would eventually endorse. All along, Bob Perry was also cutting big checks to American Crossroads, far bigger than what he gave Rick Perry—a total of $2.5 million in 2011. Around the time that Rick Perry was getting into the race, there was a lot of talk about the threat he would pose to Rove, his longtime nemesis, who relied on many of the same big Texas donors for his Crossroads operation. Well, let’s just say that Crossroads felt the impact from the Perry challenge about as much as a speeding truck on I-10 in West Texas feels the carcass of a jackrabbit.

Bottom line: these people have more money than they know what to do with, and thanks to Roberts et al, they don’t really have to choose—it’s like Hefner at the mansion. Though here and there in the FEC filings, one can discern heartwarming hints of true loyalty. Take, for instance, Nate Walton, a 26-year-old from lovely Marblehead, Mass. Walton, who helped lead a group of Romney supporters from Massachusetts’ North Shore to campaign for him in New Hampshire, has tapped out on the $2,500 maximum allowable donation to Romney’s campaign. So what did he do? He gave another $1,000 to the Super-PAC, Restore Out Future. There he was, at the bottom of the disclosure list, way down below the hedge fund kings and their $1 million checks. Ah, to be a 26-year-old giving to a Super-PAC! I gave Walton a call to ask him about his giving, and he cordially declined to talk. “I appreciate your inquiry, but I don’t have any comment,” he said. Spoken like a true footsoldier in the Super-PAC era.

follow me on Twitter @AlecMacGillis