By Tory Newmyer
August 1, 2015

Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington

A billionaire with an interest in politics doesn’t need to change careers to have an impact on the process, recent developments notwithstanding. Fresh evidence of that came Friday, when super PACs — the outside groups that can raise unlimited sums to spend on the race, as long as they don’t directly coordinate with the official campaigns — disclosed their hauls from the first half of the year.

The reports’ most striking takeaway: Just how far a few committed contributors can go toward staking a candidate’s ante. The top 25 donors together handed over a whopping $93 million. And several Republican contenders saw the bulk of their collections arrive in just a check or two. A pair of super PACs supporting Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, for example, received $10 million from Toby Neugebauer, an energy investor, and $11 million from Robert Mercer, the hedge fund billionaire. Fellow Texan Rick Perry, the former governor, pulled in $11 million from another couple of donors. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took $13.5 million from four sources, including $5 million from a roofing billionaire plus another $4.9 million from Marlene Ricketts, wife of TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts. And Florida Sen. Marco Rubio collected $12.5 million from four sources — including $5 million from Norman Braman, a Florida car-dealing magnate, and $3 million from former Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

For context, consider that when we penciled out the math on what it costs to contest the first four events on the Republican primary calendar, we arrived at a$40- $50 million range. That estimate aimed at official campaigns, which face a federal cap on the size of the contributions they can receive. But super PACs can significantly ease their burden by saturating television airwaves on behalf of candidates, by far the priciest outlay.

The vast majority of the big donors only contributed to a single candidate. And while there’s nothing stopping any of them from switching horses, those early bets suggest a depth of loyalty that contenders will be able to redeem for more money down the line. Which is to say, it’s going to be a long campaign. And if you tune in to the first Republican debate this Thursday, keep in mind the most consequential billionaire may be offstage.

Tory Newmyer
@torynewmyer
tory_newmyer@fortune.com

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