02/24/2012 02:21 pm ET

Super PAC Leaders Give Themselves Huge Paydays

Super political action committees appear to serve two purposes: helping candidates win elections and, of course, making a select few rather rich.

These new political organizations, which can raise unlimited amounts of money but can't coordinate with candidates, have quickly become a force in American politics, raising more money than presidential campaigns themselves during the 2012 election cycle. Political operatives started forming super PACs after the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision removed limits on political spending by corporations and wealthy individuals.

But super PACs have also come under scrutiny for a lack of regulation that reportedly allows them to independently decide how much of the contributions they use to pay themselves.

Steve Roche, the top fundraiser for a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, for example, has received $1.9 million in fees from the organization, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

He's not alone. The 33-year-old director of the main super PAC supporting Rick Santorum, the Red White & Blue Fund, earned more than $1 million. Nick Ryan, who founded the Romney-supporting super PAC, created a direct mail and phone company in December that has received about a quarter of the super PAC's spending so far: $1.26 million in all, according to the Des Moines Register. The company has handled the super PAC's phones and direct mailings in multiple states, the super PAC's spokesman told The Los Angeles Times.

Becky Burkett, president of Winning Our Future, a super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich, earned $206,000 in January alone, according to The Los Angeles Times. Its managing director received $90,000.

Super PACs have faced criticism not only for making their leaders rich, but for allowing a few wealthy individuals to gain a large degree of control over the electoral process. Roughly a fourth of donations to super PACs came from just five rich people, according to an analysis by USA Today.

So are super PACs here to stay? President Obama recently softened his opposition to them while gearing up for his reelection campaign, a sign that politicians may see them as a necessity on the expensive campaign trail. His campaign staff plans to appear at super PAC events, though Obama himself will not.

Priorities USA Action, a super PAC supporting Obama, now has at least one prominent donor: Liberal comedian Bill Maher, who announced on Thursday that he will donate $1 million to the organization. Maher said the donation was serious, though he made fun of the super PAC that he says sounds like it was "named by Borat."