Corporations, businesses give millions to presidential super PACs

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At a primary debate last night in Cleveland, Ohio, Republican presidential candidates vied for the hearts and minds of the GOP faithful on issues ranging from education and faith to national security.

But when it comes to which of the contenders for the Republican nomination won over the interests (and money) of big business, that question was decided not last night, but last week: Jeb Bush stands out not only for the $103 million raised by the super PAC supporting him, Right to Rise USA, but also because nearly $17 million of that amount came directly from business entities like partnerships, limited liability corporations and others, according to a Sunlight analysis of disclosures filed last Friday with the Federal Election Commission.

While each super PAC supporting a presidential candidate has received millions from executives and other business leaders, none have approached the level of funding routed to Right to Rise through corporate entities, FEC filings show. Conservative Solutions PAC, which supports Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., netted $3.7 million of $16 million in total donations from corporations and other organizations. Super PACs backing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, America Leads and Unintimidated PAC Inc., received $2.6 and $2.25 million from corporations, respectively. They raised totals of $11 million and $20 million, [filings](http://realtime.influenceexplorer.com/committee/2016/america-leads/C00573055/) [show](http://realtime.influenceexplorer.com/committee/2016/unintimidated-pac-inc/C00576108/).

PACs supporting Hillary Clinton have also received support from organizations. Ready PAC reported $554,242 in contributions from corporations, unions and other groups, while American Bridge 21st Century reported $320,000, although that includes money being shuffled between those groups and a $276,000 transfer from Hillary for America to Correct the Record in payment for “research.” The single largest donation to Ready PAC from a corporation was a $105,000 line-item for in-kind email list rental from Moko Social Media. AFSCME, the public employees union, gave American Bridge $100,000. Greenleaf Trust, an investment management firm, also gave $100,000.

However, American Bridge 21st Century’s largest organizational supporter is American Bridge 21st Century Foundation. As a 501(c)4, the foundation does not have to disclose its donors. It transferred nearly $1.3 million to American Bridge, but the money was reported as offsets to operating expenses to cover overhead, staff and expenses, not donations.

Corporations and unions cannot give directly to candidate committees, but have been able to give unlimited amounts to independent expenditure committees, or super PACs, since dramatic changes to campaign finance laws in 2010.

Despite the millions given already by corporations, donations from businesses are still dwarfed by donations from business leaders. In 2012, for example, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison gave $3 million to Restore Our Future, a super PAC which was supporting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential aspirations, records show. Oracle’s corporate PAC, which has strict limits on how much it can give to candidates, donated a total of $544,000 to congressional campaigns and other committees during that cycle, according to FEC filings, a sum that seems modest in comparison. (Ellison gave $3 million to Conservative Solutions, backing Rubio, filings show.)

One exception to this rule is NextEra Energy, Inc., a Florida public utility company, which gave the pro-Bush Right to Rise PAC $1 million so far this year. NextEra is publicly traded and has major institutional investors. No other public company gave $1 million or more to a presidential super PAC this year, according to a Sunlight analysis of FEC records. (Public Service Enterprise Group, the New Jersey public utility, gave $250,000 to the pro-Christie America Leads; Universal Truckload Services, a logistics company which files with the Securities and Exchange Commission, gave $300,000 to Walker’s Unintimidated PAC.)

While Bush stands out when considering companies alone, cash from business interests is more evenly distributed when donations from individual businesspeople are taken into account. For example, private equity investor Toby Neugebauer alone gave $10 million to a super PAC supporting Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential run.

Super PACs supporting other candidates are receiving corporate cash, too: Besilu Stables, L.L.C., which owns racehorses and is itself owned by a Florida businessman, Benjamin Leon, has donated $2.5 million to a group supporting Rubio. Winecup-Gamble, Inc., which gave $1 million to the pro-Christie PAC America Leads, [is owned by another corporate executive](http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/15/08/06/interactive-map-navigating-christie-s-campaign-cash-from-individuals-pacs-and-super-pacs/) who has proposed a casino hotel in Jersey City, N.J. Access Industries, Inc. — a holding company founded by Len Blavatnik, which [purchased Warner Music Group in 2011](http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/entertainmentnewsbuzz/2011/05/warner-music-group-sold-for-3-billion-to-access-industries-len-blavatnik.html) — gave $1 million to Unintimidated PAC, which supports Scott Walker, and another $250,000 to Our American Revival, a 527 group also backing Walker. Access also gave $500,000 to Security is Strength PAC, which is supporting Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

While donations from corporations are still new and growing in scale, they reflect the highly personal character of presidential politics, says Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute. When a limited liability corporation or a holding company appears in disclosure reports, it’s likely a reflection of a personal connection between the candidate and the people behind the company, he said.

“Yes, this is new, and I do expect to see people perhaps looking for access for things that are going to help their business as well,” Malbin said. But, he added, “When you look at the ’12 election, how do you separate Sheldon Adelson’s foreign policy interests from his casino interests? They were different, he cared about both, and he pursued both.”

Adelson, a casino magnate with holdings around the world, and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, who chairs a clinic for drug abuse treatment and research, gave millions to PACs supporting Republican presidential contenders Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich in 2012. They remain active Republican donors.

Corporate donors also gave money to 527 groups supporting presidential candidates, Internal Revenue Service records show.

Schottenstein Management Co. donated $1 million to New Day for America, a 527 supporting Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s presidential aspirations. Schottenstein Management Co. is a Columbus, Ohio-based real estate company controlled by retail executive Jay L. Schottenstein, according to [data compiled by Bloomberg Business](http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/people/person.asp?personId=332275&ticker=DSW). The Center for Public Integrity [has already tracked down](http://news.yahoo.com/why-obscure-montana-company-one-214000523.html) a connection between another corporate Kasich supporter, MMWP12 LLC — which donated $500,000 to another New Day organization — and a former official in Kasich’s administration. Murray Energy Corporation, a coal mining firm with holdings in Ohio, gave New Day $250,000, according to data kept by the IRS.