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GOP Campaigns Grow More Dependent on 'Super PAC' Aid

Weeks of intense campaigning in the early nominating states have left the leading Republican presidential candidates increasingly dependent on millions of dollars spent on their behalf by outside “super PACs,” reports filed with the Federal Election Commission on Monday showed.

Mitt Romney - Iowa Caucuses
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Mitt Romney - Iowa Caucuses

Mitt Romney’s campaign spent close to $19 million during January, almost three times as much as the $6.5 million he raised. He ultimately won two states, New Hampshire and Florida, and ended the month with less than $8 million in cash on hand. Newt Gingrich raised nearly as much, $5.6 million, and spent close to $6 million.

Rick Santorum, who enjoyed a surge of grass-roots donations after being declared the victor in Iowa, raised $4.5 million, as did Representative Ron Paul of Texas. The amounts still leave Mr. Romney in the lead, but no longer in a class by himself.

The super PAC backing Mr. Romney, Restore Our Future, raised $6.6 million in January and spent close to $14 million, much of it on advertisements battering Mr. Gingrich in Iowa and Florida. A super PAC backing Mr. Gingrich raised much more that month — almost $11 million — and spent most of it on attack advertisements against Mr. Romney in South Carolina, where Mr. Gingrich won, and in Florida, where Mr. Romney prevailed.

The spending reports revealed the breadth and power of super PACs as the campaign hits a critical and perhaps decisive period, with outside groups poised to pick up a growing share of political spending during the costly primary battle that lies ahead.

Bolstered by Mr. Romney’s extraordinarily high burn rate, the campaigns spent about $5 million more during January than the super PACs supporting them. But over all, super PACs backing the four leading Republican contenders raised $22.1 million in January, slightly more than the candidates themselves, and ended the month with $19.4 million in cash on hand, about $5 million more than the candidates had.

Most of that money came in six- and seven-figure checks from just a few dozen individuals or corporations — the billionaire casino executive Sheldon Adelson, the mutual fund investor Foster S. Friess and the PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, among others — who have exploited recent court rulings and changes in campaign finance rules to exert unprecedented influence over their party’s choice of presidential nominee.

Restore Our Future, the super PAC backing Mr. Romney, entered February with $16.3 million in cash on hand, money that has already underwritten an early run of attack advertisements against Mr. Santorum, whose victories in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri this month have made him the chief target for Mr. Romney’s attacks.

Mr. Romney could be even more dependent on Restore Our Future money than he was last month. While he has raised far more than other Republican candidates, he has spent heavily without taking a clear lead in the race. Moreover, Mr. Romney is “maxing out” the donors to his campaign — taking the maximum $2,500 contribution allowed by federal law for the primary — faster than any of the leading candidates of either party during the last two races.

Through the end of December, Mr. Romney had raised $2,500 from more than 14,000 donors, representing about 44 percent of all of his contributors. About 5 percent of Mr. Paul’s donors, 14 percent of Mr. Gingrich’s donors and 30 percent of Mr. Santorum’s donors had maxed out, meaning that a vast majority of their contributors can continue to give more money this year.

As Mr. Romney’s campaign prepares for a potentially long fight for the nomination, he has increased his fund-raising events in strongholds like Washington and New York and has begun prospecting elsewhere. During a campaign visit to Cincinnati on Monday, Mr. Romney made time for an evening stop at the Great American Tower, where local donors said they would raise more than $600,000 for him.

“We have exceeded our fund-raising goals and are on track with spending plans,” Spencer Zwick, Mr. Romney’s national finance chairman, said in a statement. “We are the only campaign who has the organization and resources to go the distance of a long primary process.”

Though other candidates appear to be capturing more grass-roots enthusiasm than Mr. Romney, they also ended January with far less money in the bank. Mr. Gingrich had about $1.8 million, and nearly as much debt. Mr. Santorum ended January with less than $1.5 million on hand, though his campaign said he raised at least $3 million in grass-roots contributions after his triple victories this month. Mr. Paul had about $1.6 million.

A super PAC founded by two former aides to President Obama, Priorities USA Action, raised just $58,816 during January, helping to prompt a drastic shift from Mr. Obama, who has long inveighed against the influence of outside groups. On Feb. 6, just days after the end of the January filing period, aides to Mr. Obama told his top donors that White House and campaign officials would appear at events for Priorities USA Action in a bid to increase its fund-raising.

While the pro-Romney Restore Our Future took in some donations as small as $5, close to $5 million came from just 25 individuals and corporations, each giving $100,000 to $500,000. Three individuals gave half a million dollars apiece: Joseph W. Craft, an Oklahoma mining executive; Bruce Kovner, a billionaire hedge fund founder from New York; and David Lisonbee, the founder of a Utah vitamin supplements company.

The group also received donations from some past donors: the Texas industrialist Harold C. Simmons; members of the Marriott and Walton families, founders of the Marriott and Walmart chains; and Julian H. Robertson Jr., a retired hedge fund manager. Mr. Simmons also gave $5 million in January to American Crossroads, a Republican super PAC co-founded by Karl Rove, in a donation that constituted virtually all of the group’s fund-raising for the month.

Winning Our Future, the super PAC backing Mr. Gingrich, raised nearly all of its cash from just three people: Mr. Adelson; his wife, Miriam Adelson; and Mr. Simmons. (Because he gave to both groups, Mr. Simmons’s money was in some sense working against itself during the January run of Republican nominating contests.) Mr. Adelson is reportedly weighing putting yet more money into the pro-Gingrich group.

Restore Our Future also received money from several corporations, some not easily connected to a specific executive or even business. Select Management Resources, a limited liability corporation based in Georgia, gave $100,000; the company appears to have registered to lobby on banking and credit card issues in Nebraska.

The super PAC backing Mr. Santorum, the Red White and Blue Fund, raised about $2 million in January, much of it from Foster S. Friess, a wealthy investor who is a top Santorum backer, and William J. Doré, a retired Texas businessman who gave $1 million to the group. While the Red White and Blue Fund ended January with only about $600,000 on hand, Mr. Friess has indicated that he is likely to contribute more money to the group should Mr. Santorum require the help.

Griff Palmer and Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.

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