Meet 10 super PACs that rely on grassroots donors, not billionaires

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Billionaires such as Republican casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson and hedge fund executive-turned-environmental activist Tom Steyer have earned time in the political limelight as they’ve poured their fortunes into super PACs.

But not all of these political groups — which are legally allowed to accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and unions — are dependent on the financial largesse of deep-pocketed interests.

In fact, ten super PACs and hybrid super PACs that raised at least $500,000 last year collected more than half their money from donors that each gave just $200 or less, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission records.

Support from small-dollar donors is about all they have in common, though. These super PACs cover a diverse ideological spectrum — from union-sponsored outfits to tea party-aligned groups to the pro-gun control super PAC led by former Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona, who herself survived an assassination attempt in 2011.

Click through the slides below to learn more about these ten people-powered super PACs.

In 2013, the Service Employees International Union’s super PAC raised $2.2 million — all of it from low-dollar givers who did not reach the $200 threshold at which the FEC requires donors’ names and contributions to be disclosed in an itemized fashion. The union, which represents 2.1 million workers, from janitors to nurses, generally supports Democrats.

Nick Ut/AP

More than 90 percent of the $665,300 raised last year by the conservative-aligned America’s Next Generation super PAC came from grassroots donors, who may opt to receive a free bumper sticker that says “Don’t Tread on Me Obama.” What’s left unsaid by the super PAC is that more than 90 percent of the $701,800 it spent in 2013 went to controversial telemarketing firm InfoCision, which was fined $75,000 by Ohio’s attorney general in 2012 after allegedly misleading callers during its solicitation calls for charities.

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Last year, the Tea Party Leadership Fund raised about $3.2 million, with just shy of 90 percent coming from small-dollar donors. As a hybrid super PAC, it can donate modest amounts of money directly to candidates while also using unlimited funds to produce political ads independently from campaigns. It’s done both, giving to conservatives such as Louisiana U.S. Senate candidate Rob Maness, South Carolina U.S. Senate candidate Nancy Mace and Georgia U.S. Senate candidate Paul Broun. It’s also urged Republicans to oust House Speaker John Boehner and encouraged Sarah Palin to get into Alaska’s U.S. Senate race.

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Restore America’s Voice PAC is led by Ken Hoagland, pictured here, a proponent of the “fair tax” — a plan to replace the nation’s current income tax system with a 23 percent consumption tax. The group says its mission is to be “the hammer that will drive home the point that it is politically dangerous to ignore the will of the people.” Last year, $1.9 million of the $2.2 million the super PAC raised came from donors who gave $200 or less, FEC records show.

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The National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee is a California-based super PAC chaired by John Philip Sousa IV — the great-grandson of the composer of “Stars and Stripes Forever” — that wants retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, pictured here, to run for president. The group raised nearly $1.5 million during its inaugural year, with 78 percent of that sum coming from small-dollar contributors. Carson gained notoriety in February 2013 for criticizing some of President Barack Obama’s policies in a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Gurinder Osan/AP

Led by activist Jenny Beth Martin, pictured here, the Georgia-based Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund raised $6.4 million in 2013, with nearly three-quarters coming from donors who gave $200 or less. The super PAC seeks to “elect true conservative reformers to Congress,” and it recently announced its intent to be active in the Republican U.S. Senate primaries in Kentucky and South Carolina. During 2013, the group’s top two vendors, according to FEC records, were two firms that specialize in direct mail fundraising: Strategic Fundraising and Integram.

Cliff Owen/AP

The Special Operations for America super PAC was founded in 2012 by former Navy SEAL Ryan Zinke, pictured here, and used the money it raised to go on the offensive against Obama. This election cycle, the group has a new focus: backing Zinke’s quest to be the next congressman in Montana. Zinke resigned from the group before it started spending on his behalf. To date, it has also reported expenditures on behalf of Shane Osborne, a Republican running for U.S. Senate in Nebraska. Last year, the super PAC raised $1.3 million, with about 70 percent coming from grassroots givers.

Montana Legislative Information Office/AP, Facebook

The FreedomWorks for America super PAC touts a base of six million volunteers who support candidates “who fight for lower taxes, less government and more freedom.” Under the leadership of Matt Kibbe, pictured here, the super PAC raised $847,000 in 2013, with about 55 percent coming from donors who gave $200 or less. Not afraid to go after Republicans as well as Democrats, the group has already turned its firepower on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as well as incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.

Wikimedia Commons/Gage Skidmore

The American Postal Workers Union operates a hybrid super PAC that raised nearly $1.3 million in 2013. Just more than half of that sum came from contributors who gave $200 or less, according to FEC records. During that time, the group did not spend any money on advertisements touting or attacking politicians, but it did dole out $737,600 in campaign contributions, including $125,000 to House Majority PAC, the super PAC focused on helping Democrats in House races.

Matt Rourke/AP

“Inaction on gun violence” spurred the creation of the Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC, a super PAC co-founded by former Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona, pictured here, who herself survived an assassination attempt in 2011. It raised about $12.5 million in 2013 — more than any other super PAC. Some $6.4 million — just more than half of that sum — came from grassroots givers who contributed $200 or less. Large-dollar donors also supported the group, and two donors each gave $500,000 last year: SalesForce.com CEO Marc Benioff and the law firm of Texas trial lawyer Steve Mostyn, who serves as the super PAC’s treasurer.

Scott Morgan/AP