Public-interest groups have warned since the Supreme Court ruling that wealthy individuals, corporations, unions and other interests would seek favors in return for unlimited campaign contributions.
"The size of these donations counts for a lot, and the candidates will naturally be grateful to these organizations and their donors," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. "And with greater support, comes increased gratefulness."
Consol, which gave $150,000 to support the pro-Romney group, is the largest producer of coal from underground mines, with operations in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. It also has interests in natural gas, using hydraulic fracturing — known as fracking — to extract gas with high-pressure streams of water, sand and chemicals.
Most of Consol's coal is sold to electric utilities. Such utilities are the dominant source of sulfur and carbon dioxide emissions, and Consol has backed Republican efforts to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency under Obama from issuing greenhouse gas regulations that the company says could increase its costs and affect the market for coal and natural gas.
Consol spent more than $3 million on energy and environmental lobbying last year, including the hiring of a Washington firm, Forscey & Stinson, to support legislation that would prohibit the EPA from issuing the greenhouse gas rules.
Romney once expressed clear concerns about global warming. Last June, he told a New Hampshire town hall that humans have contributed to climate change, although it is not clear by how much. "And so I think it's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and global warming that you're seeing," he said.
On Oct. 27, after Consol gave $150,000 to help Romney's presidential campaign, he visited the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, the arena where the National Hockey League's Penguins play. "My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet," Romney said. "And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce (carbon dioxide) emissions is not the right course for us."
Six days after Romney's remarks, his campaign deposited $1,000 checks from four of Consol's senior executives." Another executive, J. Brett Harvey, the company's chief executive officer, also serves on Romney's 2012 Pennsylvania Finance Committee.
Consul spokeswoman Lynn Seay said it is common practice for the company "to support political candidates that share a similar philosophy as it relates to a domestic energy policy that recognizes the value and importance of coal and natural gas."
Last month, the EPA objected to Consol's proposal for a mountaintop removal mine in southern West Virginia that would be one of Appalachia's biggest. The EPA had first objected to a permit for the mine on the day that Obama was inaugurated.
Among the pro-Obama group's biggest donors, the Service Employees International Union, has given $1 million so far toward his re-election as it fights Republican plans to restrict the National Labor Relations Board's authority to force employers to move or close plants in efforts to avoid unionization.
The Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action, also received $100,000 from Law, the managing director of Warland Investments, a commercial real estate and investment firm in Santa Monica, Calif. Law is on the board at Cedars-Sinai and was previously the hospital's chairman. The hospital spent $369,000 in 2011 lobbying on federal health policies during Obama's presidency, according to Senate records.
The pro-Gingrich group, Winning Our Future, has been kept running largely with money from casino mogul Adelson. He and his wife, Miriam, gave $5 million each this month. Miriam's eldest daughter gave $500,000, and her other daughter and son-in-law donated $250,000 each.