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PACs and super PACs: how the rich are buying the 2012 U.S. election

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Rich super PAC donors have a giant influence in the 2012 presidential race. Republican candidate Newt Gingrich (left), for example, may be irrelevant were it not for billionaire Sheldon Adelman (right). 

PACs and super PACs have become so influential in the 2012 US Presidential race that some wonder whether America's super-rich can simply "buy" an election. Is there a point to the "one person, one vote" rule of democracy when a small handful of elites can dictate what a party does once elected? 

A PAC (political action committee) is a private group set up to elect candidates or to advance a political issue or legislation. They were set up mainly during the 1940s because direct corporate and union contributions to political campaigns are prohibited by a 1907 law, and have been required to register since 1974. Super PACs -- a term that became popularized in the 2010 campaign -- influence elections that can take unlimited donations from corporations, unions or wealthy individuals.

Of the $112 million donated to super PACs so far, just 46 top donors have doled out $67 million, or two thirds of the total amount. The 46 donors are mainly: 

  • Energy executives, financial services tycoons and hoteliers
  • Socially and fiscally conservative
  • Male  
  • White (or not a visible minority)
One major super PAC funder is  Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson, a supporter of Republican Newt Gingrich. 
“I’m against very wealthy ­people attempting to or influencing elections,” Adelson told Forbes magazine in February. “But as long as it’s doable, I’m going to do it."
Adelson is fiercely pro-Israel, and says he wants to use his influence to take out President Barack Obama, who he feels has brought a "socialist-style economy" to the U.S.