The involvement of the nation's wealthiest citizens in America's political landscape is nothing new. But now that super PACs are front and center in underwriting political messages in the 2012 elections, such little known names as George Soros, Sheldon Adelson, Foster Friess and Harold Simmons are becoming well known in political circles and beyond.
Soros may be the best known of the group since he has been giving to Democratic and Progressive causes in a major way since 2003. That same year, Soros penned The Bubble of American Supremacy: The Cost of Bush's War in Iraq, which was a critique of the Bush administration policies. He then donated $27 million to a number of liberal organizations.
The following year, in 2004, he donated an additional $27.5 million to several other groups, with the majority of the funding going to American Coming Together, a group whose primary objective was to register Democrat voters. Nevertheless, the $50 million plus he has donated is a drop in the bucket to his estimated $30 billion net worth.
The Hungarian immigrant and hedge fund billionaire is probably best known as one of President Obama's earliest and largest contributors and of moveon.org, although his enthusiasm of Obama appears to have waned since 2010, the same year that super PACs were legalized.
A 2010 Supreme Court case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, gave PACs the authority to accept unlimited contributions from individuals, unions and corporations for the purpose of making expenditures with knowledge of a particular candidate or campaign.
Given that the 2012 GOP presidential primary has seen the likes of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum reach out to their wealthy friends, the impact of these super PACs is now being seen.
For example, Romney's Restore Our Future and Gingrich's Winning Our Future together raised over $17 million in January and spent almost $24 million on media advertising over the same period. This is much more than the candidates' individual campaigns have raised and spent.
Sheldon Adelson and his wife are the largest contributors to Winning Our Future, the super PAC that is supporting Gingrich. A stanch defender of Israel, Adelson says he wants to take on what he describes as the "socialist" Obama administration
In an interview with Forbes that will hit newsstands on Wednesday, the casino billionaire revealed why he is so heavily involved in the political process.
"I'm against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections," he told Forbes. "But as long as it's doable I'm going to do it. Because I know guys like Soros have been doing it for years, if not decades. And they stay below the radar by creating a network of corporations to funnel their money."
"I have my own philosophy and I'm not ashamed of it," Adelson continued. "I gave the money because there is no other legal way to do it. I don't want to go through 10 different corporations to hide my name. I'm proud of what I do and I'm not looking to escape recognition."
Adelson and his family have already given over $10 million. And depending on who the eventual GOP nominee is, he may be giving a lot more.
"I know Romney; I like him. I know Santorum; I like him … the likelihood is that I'm going to be supportive of whoever the candidate is. I just haven't decided that yet and will wait to see what happens," Adelson remarked in the same interview.
In addition to Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. and now front-runner Santorum has his own "angel" investor in Arizona businessman Foster Friess, who has given over a million to help Santorum's cause.
The Red, White and Blue super PAC that supports Santorum, collected over $2.8 million in the latest reporting period and has a little over $626,000 on hand, a small amount compared to the $16 million Romney's Restore Our Future has in the bank.
Texas billionaire Harold Simmons gave over $100,000 to Romney's Restore Our Future PAC. Other notable donors included Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman who also chipped in another $100,000.
The super PAC supporting Texas Congressman Ron Paul also has a large donor. Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal, has donated $1.7 million to Endorse Liberty. He gave $900,000 to the PAC last year.