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Deadline Arrives for Super PACs to Reveal Their Donors

All eyes are on the Federal Election Commission website today, as policy wonks, journalists and political players pore through the latest disclosure reports for the super PACs that are dominating the 2012 election.

On the eve of today’s filing deadline, most top-spending super PACs still had not reported their receipts and expenditures to the FEC. (The drop-dead filing deadline is midnight.) But the handful of super PAC disclosures that had trickled in spoke volumes about the diverse funding sources behind such unrestricted groups.

As many had suspected, the super PAC that had backed GOP hopeful Jon Huntsman, who bowed out in mid-January, was backed by his father, Jon Huntsman Sr. The elder Huntsman, chairman of the chemical company Huntsman Corp., donated $1.9 million of the $2.7 million that the political action committee known as Our Destiny raised.

Other big donors to the pro-Huntsman Our Destiny PAC included Peter Arnott, chairman of the investment firm Research Affiliates, who gave $250,000; and Arvest Bank Chairman and CEO Jim Walton, who contributed $100,000.

By contrast, the 9-9-9 Fund, a PAC backing Herman Cain, another erstwhile GOP presidential contender, collected no contribution larger than $5,000 and raised $617,620 largely from retirees, physicians, landlords and even a Dallas-based pawnbroker. A handful of donors from Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas each donated exactly $999, a tribute to Cain’s signature 9-9-9 tax plan.

The AFL-CIO’s new super PAC, known as Workers’ Voices, reported close to $4 million in receipts, signaling that labor unions are also taking full advantage of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that ushered in super PACs. In Citizens United v. FEC, the high court freed both corporations and labor unions to spend unrestricted treasury money on campaigns.

Comedian Stephen Colbert’s spoof super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, outstripped many super PACs backing actual politicians, collecting $825,475, largely from small donors. The bulk of Colbert’s receipts was donations smaller than $1,000 from such diverse donors as computer programmers, factory workers and doctors, according to a Sunlight Foundation analysis.

The public disclosures have been long-awaited in part because many leading super PACs have drawn fire for reporting delays. Several top-spending PACs over the course of the GOP primary asked for FEC permission to file disclosures on a monthly basis, instead of quarterly. This relieved them from filing pre-primary reports and allowed them to shield donors until the end of January, after several GOP primaries had come and gone.

The super PAC phenomenon has helped fuel a 1,600 percent increase in broadcast advertising expenditures by outside groups in the 2012 election, according to a recent analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project.

Interest groups unconnected to parties and candidates accounted for nearly half of all the ads aired so far in the GOP presidential primary, totaling 44 percent, according to the Wesleyan report released Monday. In 2008, by contrast, such interest group ads made up only 3 percent of all ads aired in the GOP primary. Conversely, candidate-sponsored ads dropped from 97 percent of overall advertising in 2008 to 56 percent of the total this year, the Wesleyan analysis found.

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