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The who's who of top political donors

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There are almost 27,000 people—or 1/100th of one percent of the United States population—who spent more than $10,000 to influence elections during the 2010 election cycle.

The top 10 people from this elite class of donors together spent more than $23 million on the last election. The majority of that money went to Super PACs used for independent expenditures. Eight contributed their money exclusively to Republican groups and candidates; two contributed exclusively to Democratic groups and candidates.

In total, this tiny group of relatively unknown individuals was responsible for $774 million of the $3.2 billion that poured into the hotly contested mid-term elections. That money went not only to candidate campaigns and political action committees, but to Super PACs, officially known as “independent expenditure-only committees.” After the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Citizens United and the Federal Election Commission’s two advisory opinions that followed, individuals and corporations effectively have unlimited giving potential. By giving to Super PACs, they can bypass traditional giving limits.

The group that benefited most from the top 10 mega-donors largesse: American Crossroads. That Super PAC received millions of dollars from seven of the top donors, and $7 million from just one donor, Bob Perry.

Here’s a look at who’s who among America’s top 10 most influential givers:

  1. Bob Perry is the CEO of Perry Homes. Perry has been influential in politics and a prominent donor for a number of years. In 2004, he gave $8 million to a number of nonprofit political groups known as 527 committees. Most notably, $4.4 million of that money went to the political group Swift Vets and POWs for Truth, which opposed Sen. John Kerry’s presidential bid. During the 2010 election cycle, Perry donated $7.3 million to political efforts. All but a small portion of his money for the 2010 election went to American Crossroads, a group cofounded by former George W. Bush strategist Karl Rove and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie.

  2. Wayne Hughes, owner and chairman of Public Storage, Inc. According to disclosures, Hughes gave a total of $3.28 million to conservative candidates and committees, with $3.25 million going to American Crossroads. Hughes also gave $4,800 to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

  3. Fred Eshelman is the CEO of Pharmaceutical Product Development. Eshelman spent $3 million in 2010 funding his own group, RightChange. RightChange registered with the FEC as a Super PAC and spent those millions of dollars to defeat Democratic candidates including Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.

  4. Robert Rowling, CEO and Chairman of TRT Holdings, a holding company that owns Golds Gyms and Omni Hotels as well as oil and gas interests. Rowling spent $2.59 million during the last election on conservative efforts. He gave $2.5 million of that money to American Crossroads.

  5. Donald Sussman is the Chairman of the holding company Paloma Partners. Sussman, who earlier this year married Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, gave $1.26 million in 2010 to Democratic candidates. He has also funded a group called the Democracy Fund, a separate but predecessor organization to the United Republic Action Fund. Both of these groups have been affiliated with United Republic, and both have been dissolved.* Sussman gave a little more than $750,000 to the Super PAC Women Vote! and its parent organization Emily’s List. Those two organizations support pro-choice female political candidates.

  6. John Ricketts is the founder of TD Ameritrade and still a board member there. In 2010, his total political contributions were $1.25 million. He gave to a variety of Republican candidates, including House Speaker John Boehner.

  7. Jerry Perenchio is the CEO of the investment firm Chartwell Partners and former owner of the Spanish-speaking television network Univision. In 2010, he gave $1.12 million to conservative candidates and groups, including $1 million to American Crossroads.

  8. Trevor Rees-Jones is the president of Chief Oil & Gas. In 2010, he gave $1.1 million to Republican efforts. $1,000,000 of that was given to American Crossroads.

  9. Rachel Hunter is the Treasurer for the organization Media Matters and an heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune. She’s related to Penny Pritzker who was the national finance chairwoman of the Obama campaign in 2008. In 2010, Hunter gave more than $1 million to democratic groups and candidates. The bulk of that money went to the 527 organization, Bring Ohio Back.

  10. John Childs is on the Board of Directors for Club for Growth and is the founder of JW Childs Assoc., a private equity firm. In 2010, he gave a total $923,000 to Super PACs supporting Republicans and to Republican candidates directly. He gave $100,000 of that money to American Crossroads and $650,000 to his own group, Club for Growth.

For a full list of the top donors for 2010, see the embedded spreadsheet below.

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Also, as a disclaimer, we think it is important to note that there are funders of the Sunlight Foundation on this list. For example, David Bonderman and Marjorie Roswell are numbers 9 and 103 on the list and have donated to the Sunlight Foundation. Additionally, the founder of the Open Society Foundations, George Soros, is 134th on the list. Open Society Foundations has provided grant support to Sunlight.

*Based on inaccurate information received from a source at United Republic, we originally reported incorrectly that Donald Sussman is a funder of that organization.