WASHINGTON -- For a casino mogul worth an estimated $25 billion, $34.2 million may sound like chump change. Yet that's how much money Sheldon Adelson has donated so far to aid Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and organizations supporting Romney this election, making him the donor of donors for the GOP.
Other top donors giving millions of dollars to aid Romney's campaign include a trio of Texas money moguls and the head of a south Florida-based energy conglomerate. Their rankings atop the list of Republican donors shifted Friday as new campaign donation totals for September were released by the Federal Election Commission. Adelson remained ahead of the pack, but two of the Texas donors switched places.
Those donors and others are funding a presidential election on track to cost nearly $2 billion, with money going toward individual Democratic and Republican campaigns as well as independent, "super" political committees working on the campaigns' behalf.
Political donations can open doors that are closed to most people. Big-dollar donors are often invited to state dinners at the White House and other events with the president. They also may be asked to weigh in on public policy, especially if it affects their own financial interests. And the ranks of ambassadors, advisory panels and other government jobs traditionally are filled with those who have been unusually generous during the campaign.
Based on an examination of more than 2.3 million campaign contributions -- the methodology is below -- The Associated Press has ranked the top five financial supporters bankrolling the Republican presidential run:
No. 1: Sheldon Adelson, 79, owner of the Las Vegas Sands casino empire.
Total: $34.2 million
Adelson is the largest declared donor to the Romney campaign and supporting political committees, providing more than $34.2 million this election season. He and his wife, Miriam, a physician who heads the Nevada-based Adelson Drug Clinic, have given $10 million to the Restore Our Future, a super PAC backing Romney. Adelson also joined relatives to give $24 million to committees backing former GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. And he has made public pledges vowing to give $10 million to Karl Rove's American Crossroads super PAC and as much as $100 million this election more broadly to the GOP. Worth an estimated $25 billion, Adelson oversees the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which runs casino and resort interests in Las Vegas, Singapore and Bethlehem, Pa., and Sands China Ltd., a cluster of casinos in the Chinese territory of Macau. He would benefit from loosened trade restrictions and a rise in the Chinese currency rate against the dollar. His company devoted $60,000 this year to lobby on tax issues, foreign tourist visas, travel and Internet gambling issues -- and has spent $1.86 million lobbying on legislation dealing with China trade, gambling and travel since 2002. A staunch supporter of Israel, he also is a contributor to the Republican Jewish Coalition, which spent $920,000 since 2002 backing bills aimed at pressuring Iran and enhancing U.S. security cooperation with Israel. Adelson's casino company has advised shareholders that it was under investigation by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Investigators were said to be focusing on the Macau casinos and reports of missing money and possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
No. 2: Bob J. Perry, 80, head of a Houston real estate empire worth an estimated $650 million.
Total: $17.3 million
Perry had been at No. 3, after giving $15.3 million to aid the Romney campaign and allied causes so far this election season. But federal campaign figures released Friday showed a new $2 million donation to Restore Our Future in September, vaulting Perry into the No. 2 spot. Long active in Texas and national GOP politics, Perry has donated a total of $10.7 million to Restore Our Future and $6.5 million to American Crossroads. Before backing Romney this year, Perry gave $100,000 to the super PAC backing Texas Gov. Rick Perry (no relation). Bob Perry has been a fixture of GOP fundraising in Texas and nationally dating back to former President George W. Bush's Texas gubernatorial races in the mid-1990s. Perry was a top Bush presidential "bundler" and also gave big to the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth campaign in 2004, donating $4.4 million to the effort to discredit Kerry.
Harold Simmons, 81, owner of Contran Corp., a Dallas-based conglomerate worth an estimated $9 billion that specializes in metals and chemical production and waste management.
Total: $16.5 million
Simmons is a longtime backer of GOP and conservative causes. He has donated $16 million to the party's efforts this year, including more than $11 million to American Crossroads, but dropped to the No. 3 spot Friday as new contribution figures emerged. Simmons has donated $1.3 million to Restore Our Future -- $500,000 in September. Simmons and his wife, Annette, also gave $2.2 million to Super PACs backing former GOP presidential candidates Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry. Simmons has been active in political fundraising since the 1990s and in 2004 was a $4 million backer of the Swift Vets campaign, the GOP-backed effort to discredit Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's military record in the Vietnam War. Simmons' Titanium Metals Corp. reportedly is a top producer of titanium for weapons and other industrial uses. He also owns a majority stake in Valhi Inc., a Texas-based waste management company, and could benefit from a proposed Nuclear Regulatory Commission rule change that would allow the company's Texas facility to store spent uranium from nuclear power and weapons plants. Contran's subsidiaries have spent $200,000 this year lobbying the NRC, Energy Department, the Senate and House on metals and waste issues, and $4.3 over the past decade, including efforts to protect a Pentagon rule limiting titanium purchases to U.S. producers. Simmons was fined $19,800 by the Federal Election Commission in 1993 for exceeding the then-annual $25,000 limit on individual campaign contributions, which has since been lowered.
No. 4: Robert Rowling, 58, head of Dallas-based TRT Holdings.
Total: $4.1 million
Rowling has given at least $4.1 million to Republican Party and candidates this election. Most of his donations, $4 million, went to Rove's American Crossroads, both through personal donations and through his firm. Rowling also has given $100,000 to the pro-Romney Restore Our Future super PAC. Rowling's holdings are worth an estimated $4.8 billion and include Omni Hotels, Gold's Gym and Tana Exploration, his family's oil company. Rowling once told the Texas Tribune he prefers political donations to lobbying efforts. Rowling has been a big donor in Texas political circles, winning a role for Omni as operator of Dallas' convention center hotel after a 2009 city referendum fight.
No. 5: William Koch, 72, an industrialist whose South Florida-based energy and mining conglomerate is worth an estimated $4 billion.
Total: $4 million
Koch has given $4 million to the Restore Our Future, including a $250,000 personal donation and $3.75 million through his corporation, Oxbow Carbon LLC, and a subsidiary, Huron Carbon. Oxbow's latest $1 million donation to the pro-Romney committee was listed Friday. Unlike his brothers, Charles and David Koch, who are longtime supporters of Republican and conservative causes, Bill Koch has funded both GOP and Democratic Party candidates in the past. Koch's corporate interests have repeatedly battled against what company officials have decried as government interference. Oxbow spent $570,000 last year on lobbying in Washington, mostly aimed at mining, safety issues and climate change. The company has complained in federal filings about government delays on permits and has raised concerns about administration changes in regulations that would aid collective bargaining. Koch also has pushed for approval of the Central Rockies Land Exchange, a proposed swap of land tracts in Colorado and Utah to enlarge his 4,500-acre Bear Ranch. The proposal, which requires congressional approval, has sparked local opposition.
These rankings by The Associated Press, based on campaign financial reports submitted to the Federal Election Commission, include contributions to super PACs, presidential campaigns, political parties and joint-fundraising committees. Federal law limits maximum contributions to campaigns, parties and affiliated committees, but federal court rulings have stripped away such limits to super PACs. This analysis excludes secret-but-legal contributions that might have been made to nonprofit groups, which can pay for so-called issue ads that don't explicitly advocate for or against a candidate. Such groups are not required to identify their donors.
Where available, the analysis considered donations "bundled," or raised, from other wealthy donors for Romney and President Barack Obama. Obama periodically identifies his bundlers, although Romney has resisted calls to do the same.