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What Super PAC Donors Really Want Is A Return On Their Investment

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Sheldon Adelson, the highest-spending super PAC donor, has interests in China, Las Vegas and Israel.
Sheldon Adelson, the highest-spending super PAC donor, has interests in China, Las Vegas and Israel.

WASHINGTON -– Heed their names for they are the country's new power brokers: Sheldon Adelson, David and Charles Koch, Harold Simmons, and Bob Perry, among others. Along with similarly wealthy individuals and groups, they're pouring unprecedented sums into the 2012 election -- tens, perhaps even hundreds, of millions of dollars.

When asked why, they prefer to offer lofty motives. The billionaire Koch brothers speak about libertarianism and the need to save free enterprise. Casino magnate Adelson talks in equally apocalyptic terms about preserving the security and Jewish identity of Israel. Institutions such as the AFL-CIO and the National Education Association tend to stress liberal agenda items such as expanded health care and progressive taxation.

Some super donors say they want to level the playing field in the interest of a fair fight. Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks, President Barack Obama's most influential ally in Hollywood, has said that his goal is to blunt the efforts of Republican strategist Karl Rove, the Koch brothers and other hard-core conservatives to run away with the election.

But all these super donors have other goals that are less high-minded and more specific. Simply put, they want the federal government to do something or to stop doing something. For their money, they want results that will help their bottom line, their industry or their members.

"When people contribute to political action committees," then-Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) said in 1983, "they expect something in return other than good government." And the money back then was trifling, and the rules back then were strict. Now it's anything goes.

So what do the big boys want? What do they really, really want? The Huffington Post looked behind the rhetoric for the potential policy payoffs -- there's truly no other word for it -- sought by 15 individual and institutional super donors in the 2012 campaign.

With the Koch brothers, for example, the motivation has less to do with libertarian ideology than with the fact that many of their industrial and mining companies are environmentally invasive -- to put it mildly. They expect a Republican administration and Congress, if they can buy one, to abolish laws, regulations and regulatory bureaucracies that interfere with their business.

For Adelson, the real close-to-home issue isn't in the Middle East; it's in the Far East -- and in Washington, D.C. Federal investigators are examining whether Adelson's company violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by offering large payments to officials in Macau, where it has a major casino operation. Adelson would like an administration more likely to see his side of that story.

As for the AFL-CIO and the teachers' union, their goal is to preserve collective bargaining rights and union prerogatives at a time when membership has declined in all but public employee unions. Indeed, the main goal is to preserve public employees' collective bargaining rights and benefits, which are under attack at the state level. For these institutions, the identity of the president who has the power to nominate members of the National Labor Relations Board -- an obscure agency to most Americans -- is paramount.

Huey Long, the famously corrupt governor of Louisiana long ago, said that voters in his state "one of these days are going to get good government -- and they aren't going to like it." Well, that day has yet to come, in Louisiana or the 2012 election.

Check out the slideshow (below) for more details about these and other super donors -- and what they really want for their money.

Alexander Becker and Melissa Bendixen contributed research to this article.

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What Do Top Super PAC Donors Want?
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