Despite outraising its Democratic counterpart by a 2-to-1 margin, the Republican Governors Association won only four of 11 races in the 2012 election, a far cry from the success it enjoyed two years ago.
The Washington D.C.-based political organization raised almost $100 million, according to recently released Internal Revenue Service data. The group targeted six states it considered winnable, losing five of them. Overall, Democrats won seven of this year's 11 contests, but the GOP still managed to pick up one seat in North Carolina, long held by Democrats.
The top donors to the so-called “527” organization, which can accept unlimited contributions from billionaires, corporations and unions, are familiar Republican Party patrons — No. 1 is Bob Perry, a Texas homebuilder and perennial RGA supporter, who gave $3.25 million. That’s a little more than half of what he gave in 2010.
Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is No. 2, with $3 million in donations between him and his wife. According to the latest Federal Election Commission reports, Adelson is the top donor to super PACs in 2012, doling out more than $93 million along with his family.
Conservative billionaire David Koch — who has not made any contributions to super PACs — was the organization’s third-highest donor, writing two checks totaling $2 million. Koch is co-owner of the second-largest privately held company in America, Koch Industries, an energy conglomerate.
Seven of the RGA’s top 10 donors are corporate executives who gave at least $1 million. Two of them, Paul Singer and Kenneth Griffin, are hedge fund managers.
Six of the Democratic Governors Association's top donors were unions. The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees topped the DGA donors list, giving about $1.3 million. The Service Employees International Union gave about $1.1 million while the American Federation of Teachers gave at least $772,000.
Top corporate donors to the DGA included pharmaceutical giants Pfizer, which gave almost $700,000, and AstraZeneca, which contributed nearly $600,000. The companies also gave comparable sums to the RGA. The DGA also got corporate support from health insurer United Healthcare Services Inc., and AT&T.
The DGA raised nearly $50 million, the organization's "strongest fundraising year ever," according to spokeswoman Kate Hansen.
The DGA and RGA have devised national strategies for collecting unlimited funds from unions, corporations, and wealthy individuals, and funneling the money into state races. Using a network of state-based PACs, the RGA and DGA have maneuvered around various state limits on campaign giving.
“They’ve had an enormous impact on state elections across the nation,” said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, an election law expert at Stetson Law School. “In many states they were consistently a top spender.”
The circuitous methods used by both organizations to inject corporate and union cash into state races and mask the identity of its donors have raised legal questions, prompted lawsuits, and tested the capacity of state election boards to enforce limits on outside spending.
Both organizations have told the Center for Public Integrity that they fully comply with campaign finance laws, and that they report their donors and spending to the IRS.
The RGA set up a federal super PAC called RGA Right Direction, and fed it with $9.8 million in contributions. The super PAC — another type of organization that can accept unlimited donations from individuals and corporations — then made a large contribution to Indiana Republican candidate Mike Pence, and bought ads in tight state races in Montana, Washington, New Hampshire, and West Virginia.
Super PACs are normally used to spend money on federal campaigns. By passing the funds through the super PAC, which reported its sole donor as the RGA, the association effectively shielded the identities of the donors who paid for ads in the state races.
In North Carolina, the RGA spent millions of dollars, directly from corporate treasuries to win in a state long led by Democratic governors. The unlimited contributions from dozens of corporations across the country went toward ads supporting Republican candidate Pat McCrory, who won convincingly over Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton.
The DGA, too, used a network of state-affiliated PACs, to fund ad campaigns in battleground states like Montana and North Carolina. It was the primary funder of a PAC called North Carolina Citizens for Progress, which purchased ads attacking McCrory.
While America’s wealthiest corporate executives tend to prefer the RGA, and unions give almost exclusively to the DGA, some donors played both sides this election.
Agricultural giant Monsanto, credit card company Visa and health insurance company Humana were large donors to both the RGA and DGA — each giving about $100,000 to both groups.
Despite the Republicans' win-loss record, RGA spokesman Michael Schrimpf called 2012 "a successful year by any standard" with Republicans now in control of governorships in 30 states. Most of those gains, however, came in 2010. The North Carolina win and the failed effort to recall Scott Walker, Wisconsin's Republican governor, in June, were high points for the GOP.
In addition, in five states targeted by the RGA where it lost, the Democrats held advantages unrelated to fundraising.
Missouri and West Virginia featured Democratic incumbents. Three other states — Montana, Washington and New Hampshire — had open seats where a Democrat had previously been in power.
The two organizations will put their fundraising powers to the test again in 2013, when Virginia and New Jersey choose their next governors.
Michael Beckel contributed to this report.