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Ameritrade founder, auto union among top super PAC donors

Donations to super PACs exceed half-billion dollars

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Joe Ricketts, a billionaire who pioneered online stock trading by founding TD Ameritrade Inc., was far and away the biggest donor to super PACs last month, having given $11.4 million to the Ending Spending Action Fund.

The donations rocket Ricketts to No. 4 on the list of top donors to super PACs, according to data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics and analyzed by Center for Public Integrity.

The amount is equal to about 90 percent of his total giving to the controversial political organizations.

Also entering the top 10 this month is the United Auto Workers union, which, in September, contributed $5.4 million to its super PAC, the new UAW Education Fund. The donations rank it at No. 9.

The top 10 super PAC “super donors” have collectively given about $135 million to these unlimited spending groups so far this election cycle, about 25 percent of the $546 million that all super PACs have raised, according to CRP.

Ricketts and his super PAC pledged to spend $12 million this election with $10 million opposing Obama and $2 million helping Republicans in Congress.

The UAW backs Democrats, especially President Barack Obama, who authorized an $81 billion bailout of Chrysler and GM in 2008. Obama will no doubt enjoy UAW support in Ohio, which once again has emerged as the pivotal swing state in the presidential election.

The UAW super PAC gave $1 million to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC supporting the president.

Super PACs were formed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and a lower court ruling that allowed unlimited corporate and union spending on elections. Super PACs collect the funds from donors and spend them on advertising and other materials. The groups are banned from coordinating their spending with candidates’ campaigns.

Among the other big donors last month and over the third quarter were Texas homebuilder Bob Perry, who continues to write seven-figure checks. Perry gave $3.5 million to super PACs in September, including $2 million to pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future. Perry ranks No. 3 at $20.5 million.

Second is fellow Texan Harold Simmons, a billionaire businessman who gave $2.5 million to conservative super PAC American Crossroads in September. Simmons, his wife Annette and Contran Corp., which he controls, have given $21.9 million thus far this election cycle.

Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his family are still on top, having given $38.5 million. In early October he gave $1.5 million to a super PAC backing Republican George Allen's Senate bid in Virginia and $190,000 to the Hispanic Leadership Fund, which has fought for donor anonymity. These contributions move his total beyond the $40 million mark at the close of the next filing period.

Three other unions and two wealthy liberals round out the Center’s list of the top 10 super donors.

The National Education Association (No. 5, $8.8 million), Service Employees International Union (No. 8, $6 million) and AFL-CIO (No. 10, $5.5 million), each increased their super PAC giving during the last month.

Meanwhile, Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner (No. 6 at $7.8 million) and James Simons (No. 7 at $7.5 million), the founder and former CEO of Long Island-based hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, are the only two Democratic-aligned individual donors to rank among the top 10.

Overall, according to CRP, conservative super PACs have raised nearly $340 million — or about 62 percent of all super PAC receipts — while liberal super PACs have raised roughly $195 million.

Nonpartisan groups, such as the super PACs of the National Association of Realtors and the Cooperative of American Physicians, account for the remaining funds.

For a complete list of the most prolific donors, a set of super donor playing cards and more profiles please go here.

Andrea Fuller contributed to this report.