196 People Control 80 Percent of Super PAC Money: Who Are They?

Who are the top five people who could control much of the outcome of the 2012 election?

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Source: upwr.me via Upworthy on Pinterest

This is what Citizens United looks like.

Viral website Upworthy has resurfaced a startling statistic from American academic Lawrence Lessig: That 80 percent of super PAC money spent in the presidential election so far has come from just 196 Americans. As Upworthy points out, that's less than the capacity of a single Boeing 767.

[See: Latest political cartoons]

With just over 100 days to election, Whispers checked in with the Center for Public Integrity to look at the top five of those 196 donors. And, surprise surprise, as of the June FEC filing, 4 of the top 5 biggest super PAC donors support Republican candidates.

They are:

1. Sheldon Adelson

The biggest donor to the 2012 campaign by a long shot, billionaire casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson recently said he was willing to spend $100 million or more just to keep President Obama from being re-elected. In June, Adelson donated $10 million to pro-Mitt Romney super PAC Restore Our Future. He previously gave $21.5 million to a pro-Newt Gingrich PAC, and is also believed to be handing over tens of millions to conservative 501(c)(4) nonprofits, which do not have to disclose their donors.

The money quote: "I'm against very wealthy ­people attempting to or influencing elections... But as long as it's doable I'm going to do it." (Forbes)

2. Harold Simmons

The billionaire businessman has donated $10 million of his wealth to Karl Rove's super PAC American Crossroads, and $100,000 to Restore Our Future. Like Adelson, he previously supported Newt Gingrich. Simmons, who runs a chemicals and metals company, says it isn't important who wins, so long as it isn't President Obama.

The money quote: "I have lots of money, and can give it legally now... Just never to Democrats." (Wall Street Journal.

3. Bob Perry

The shy Texas homebuilder has given $4 million to Restore Our Future, more than any donor before Adelson's June cash infusion. Perry has also given $2.5 million to American Crossroads and $100,000 to the pro-Rick Perry PAC Make Us Great Again.

The money quote: "It is my view that the government is not owned by anyone, least of all wealthy contributors." (Houston Chronicle)

4. National Education Association

America's largest union is also the only donor among the top five to endorse a non-Republican candidate. The association has given $3 million to its pro-Obama super PAC the NEA Advocacy Fund, and $500,000 to the progressive We Are Wisconsin Political Fund.

The money quote: "The president wants what parents, NEA members and indeed all Americans want." (NEA site)

5. Peter Thiel

The libertarian venture capitalist who co-founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook has almost singlehandedly propped up a pro-Ron Paul super PAC, funneling $2.6 million to Endorse Liberty. In a recent D.C. speech, Thiel said his donated millions are actually just padding for the future.

The money quote: "The campaign really is for 2016...I think we're just trying to build a Libertarian base for the next cycle." (Slate)

As of February, approximately 25 percent of super PAC money came from just these five donors.

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at eflock@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.