Nevada voters will be hearing plenty this year about super political action committees, or "super PACs," which have already played a substantial role in presidential campaigns for Election 2012.
Super PACs cannot donate to campaigns but they can advocate for or against particular candidates as an independent voice. There also aren't limits on how much money they can receive from corporations, labor unions or individuals, thanks to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that equated political donations with free speech.
That's how it came to be that Venetian resort owner Sheldon Adelson cut a check in early January for $5 million for Winning Our Future, a super PAC that favors Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Adelson's wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, donated $5 million more to Winning Our Future after Gingrich's decisive South Carolina win. The Adelsons already contributed the maximum $2,500 each that they could give directly to Gingrich's campaign for presidential primaries.
The committee used a chunk of the $5 million in advance of the Republican primary in South Carolina to air portions of a movie that criticizes Republican candidate Mitt Romney's tenure at private equity company Bain Capital. The PAC continued to air the movie even though Gingrich, among others, said it contained inaccuracies. Gingrich won the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary by 12 percentage points over Romney.
Federal Election Commission records show that another Las Vegas businessman, Edward Smith, gave $100,000 last May to Restore Our Future, a super PAC that supports Romney. Smith is a partner at Smith-Christensen Enterprises.
Winning Our Future, Restore Our Future and other super PACs aren't expected to provide an updated list of their donors to the commission until Jan. 31.
Up to now, much of the donating has been done in secret. Restore Our Future has only released donations received through June 30, 2011, while Winning Our Future has yet to officially disclose its donors. Super PACs that favor Republican presidential candidates Ron Paul and Rick Santorum also have yet to reveal their donors.
Priorities USA Action, which supports President Barack Obama, has also released donors through June 30, 2011. The biggest single donation was $2 million from Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg of California. No Nevadans were on that list.