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Candidate-Specific Super PACs Offer End Run For Maxed-Out Donors: Study

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WASHINGTON -- Further indicating that candidate-specific super PACs are being used to end-run traditional campaign contribution limits, a new analysis finds that Restore Our Future, the super PAC formed to support former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's candidacy for president, is being primarily funded by donors who have already maxed out on direct contributions to Romney's campaign.

The analysis confirms a separate analysis conducted by ABC News in August that examined donations to the Romney campaign and Restore Our Future, as well as to President Barack Obama's reelection effort and the Obama-supporting Priorities USA Action super PAC.

As a result of the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision, super PACs can now accept unlimited corporate and personal contributions. They are legally required to be independent of candidate committees, whose contributions are capped.

But the unexpected and meteoric rise of candidate-specific super PACs -- which nevertheless claim to be independent of those candidates' campaigns -- has set watchdogs howling.

A new analysis by Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center and the Center for Responsive Politics concludes that 55 of the 75 individuals who donated to Restore Our Future in the second quarter of 2011 also contributed to Romney's presidential campaign committee. Almost all of them had already given $2,500 to the Romney campaign, the maximum amount allowable for an individual donor. These donors then turned around and gave as much as $1 million each to the ostensibly independent super PAC.

The analysis found that double-dipping donors represented almost three-quarters of all Restore Our Future's individual donors.

The analysis also found that nine individuals donated to President Obama's reelection campaign as well as to Priorities USA Action, the super PAC founded by former Obama staffers, in that same time period.

These nine -- out of 24 total donors to the super PAC -- were responsible for $2.6 million in donations to Priorities USA Action -- or 82 percent of the total money the group raised.

"The presidential candidate super PAC exists for one reason: to serve as an arm of the presidential campaign for big-money donors to launder unlimited contributions to support the presidential candidate and thereby evade and eviscerate the contribution limits for a presidential candidate enacted to prevent corruption," Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21 and a longtime champion of campaign finance reform, said in a statement. He called for the Federal Elections Commission to treat campaign and candidate-specific super PACs as "in reality, one entity to which the contribution limits applicable to a single federal candidate should apply."

Paul S. Ryan, FEC Program Director at the Campaign Legal Center, pointed out in his statement that the "revolving door of staff between candidates and the Super PACs supporting them makes clear the close relationships between the two. The Super PACs are simply shadow candidate committees. Million-dollar contributions to the Super PACs pose just as big a threat of corruption as would million-dollar contributions directly to candidates."

The watchdog groups' analysis was based on only an early trickle of data from the super PACs, which report semi-annually in off election years. Several more candidate-specific super PACs, including one supporting Texas Gov. Rick Perry, were formed after the June 2011 reporting deadline.

Candidate-specific super PACs are shattering all sorts of fundraising precedents and records, with the one supporting Perry, for instance, planning on spending $55 million to help him secure the Republican presidential nomination.

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