Even before it formally registered with the Federal Election Commission in mid-December, Winning Our Future, the leading super PAC backing Newt Gingrich, raised more than $2 million, according to founder and president Becky Burkett. That includes “a few” donations above the $100,000 mark, she said.
The haul is far less than that of the super PACs backing Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, and even below what's been spent so far by a pro-Jon Huntsman super PAC. But the money was amassed in a much shorter time. Burkett’s past fundraising success with a now-defunct nonprofit led by Gingrich, and the recent addition of former top Gingrich aide Rick Tyler suggests that Winning Our Future could be positioned to take off if its candidate can regain momentum.
MORE: Check out Sunlight's interactive roster of presidential super PACs here.
Though it formed many months after other high-flying super PACs, the pro-Gingrich committee spent about $1.5 million by the time of Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses, all of which was targeted at Iowa except for a $100,000 national email blast. Even so, Gingrich finished a distant fourth in the state — and blamed negative ads, some from a super PAC backing his rival, Mitt Romney.
While not releasing donor names, Burkett said that some of the group’s money comes from the same sources that funded the similarly named American Solutions for Winning the Future, a politically active nonprofit founded and chaired by Gingrich. Burkett was the chief fundraiser. That group raised over $50 million since forming in 2006, then folded last summer because it could no longer raise funds after Gingrich left to run for president, one of its leaders said at the time.
The other contributors to Winning Our Future are “people who have come to us after just announcing that we were available,” Burkett said, or “friends of friends” and “associates.”
Like some other major super PACs, the group moved recently to change its FEC filing schedule, thereby delay disclosing donors until Jan. 31.
The donor list for American Solutions offers clues to who might be donating to the super PAC. Its largest backer was casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who contributed $7 million over the years. Burkett would not comment on whether she has spoken to him, saying that every contact is “privileged.” He denied a rumor last month that he said he wanted to give $20 million to a pro-Gingrich outside group.
As for three other top individual donors, all of who gave $100,000 to the group in 2010, she said they have not donated yet but are “on my list to be contacted.” They are: investor Charles Schwab, Dallas real estate investor Harlan Crow, and businessman and Wisconsin GOP party insider Terry Kohler. She also said she would be open to donations by the corporations that contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to American Solutions like Peabody Energy, American Electric Power, Devon Energy, as well as NASCAR. So far, all donations have come from individuals, she said.
Kohler is the only one of the three who has not supported one of the other candidates this election. He and his wife Mary have contributed over $25,000 to Gingrich’s campaigns over the years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Schwab has donated $2,500 to Romney this election. Crow, a Dallas real estate investor, is a longtime major Perry donor who recently switched to support Romney.
Winning Our Future plans to buy advertisements in the three early primary states—New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida—Burkett said.
The group is based in Atlanta, Ga., near the district Gingrich represented as a congressman, but also has staff members in Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas.
Tyler, a longtime Gingrich spokesman who in June joined a mass exodus of staffers from his presidential campaign, saying the candidate “lost his perspective," now says that was a mistake. Tyler, who began working for Gingrich’s nonprofit groups in 1999, according to the Washington Post, joined Winning Our Future in late December.
The group's Washington, D.C. lawyer is Lawrence H. Norton, whose professional biography touts his defense of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, known as McCain-Feingold, when he was the general counsel to the Federal Election Commission. The legislation's lead sponsor, Sen. John McCain, this week complained about the way super PACs are undermining its efforts to reduce the influence of money on politics.
Super PACs became legal after the 2012 Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC reversed a provision of the act that said corporations, unions could not make electioneering communications, paving the way for an influx of unregulated contributions into this election cycle.