NBC: Election's biggest corporate donor an enigma that gave $5.3 million; Companies have spent $75 million this cycle

NBC News has just published a great report focusing on major examples of corporate spending on the 2012 elections. Here are some key excerpts:

The biggest corporate contributor in the 2012 election so far doesn’t appear to make anything — other than very large contributions to a conservative super PAC.

Specialty Group Inc., of Knoxville, Tenn., donated nearly $5.3 million between Oct. 1 and Oct. 11 to
FreedomWorks for America, which is affiliated with former GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey...

Specialty was formed only a month ago. Its “principal office” is a private home in Knoxville. It has no website. And the only name associated with it is that of its registered agent, a lawyer whose phone number, listed in a legal directory, is disconnected.

Specialty is the biggest and most mysterious corporate donor to super PACs, but it is not unique.

A new analysis by the Center for Public Integrity and the Center for Responsive Politics shows that companies have contributed roughly $75 million to super PACs in the 2012 election cycle...

...about 11 percent of the $660 million raised by all super PACs through mid-October has come from company treasuries — mostly privately held businesses, sometimes organized as limited partnerships or limited liability companies...

Yet a few high-profile companies haven’t been afraid to jump into the partisan fray.

In mid-October, oil and gas giant Chevron donated $2.5 million to a super PAC close to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the Congressional Leadership Fund, which has aired a bevy of ads attacking Democratic House candidates.

Oxbow Carbon, the energy company owned by billionaire William Koch, the lesser-known brother of conservative industrialists David and Charles Koch, and Contran Corp., the business of Republican super donor Harold Simmons of Texas, have both steered significant sums to the coffers of super PACs.

Oxbow Carbon has donated $4.25 million to GOP super PACs, making it the No. 2 corporate donor to super PACs, while Contran, No. 3, has donated more than $3 million to Republican-aligned groups.

Another top corporate donor is a retirement community in central Florida known as The Villages — a Republican stronghold where Paul Ryan held his first campaign rally the day after GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney named him as his running mate.

Developer H. Gary Morse created The Villages more than 50 years ago, and this election cycle, more than a dozen companies connected to Morse and The Villages have collectively steered $1.6 million to GOP super PACs. That’s in addition to the $450,000 that Morse and his wife, Renee, have donated from their personal funds...

Other high-profile corporate donors include:

* The Apollo Group, a for-profit education company, which gave $75,000 to the pro-Romney Restore Our Future and another $5,000 to JAN PAC, the super PAC of Arizona’s Republican Gov. Jan Brewer;

* Convenience store giant 7-Eleven, which donated $25,000 to Hoosiers for Jobs, a super PAC that supported Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., during his failed primary campaign;

* Hamburger chain White Castle, which gave $25,000 to the Congressional Leadership Fund;

* Defense contractor B/E Aerospace, which gave $50,000 to Restore Our Future;

* Payday lender QC Holdings, which gave $25,000 to Restore Our Future; and

* Weaver Holdings, the parent company of the Indiana-popcorn company known for its brands “Pop Weaver” and “Trail’s End,” sold by Boy Scouts across the country, which has donated $2.4 million to American Crossroads, the super PAC founded by GOP strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie.

Only a few other Fortune 500 companies have joined Chevron, which ranks third on the elite list behind only Exxon Mobil and Walmart, in making contributions to super PACs, and none has given as much as the energy giant.

Caesar’s Entertainment Corp., for instance, ranked by Fortune at No. 288, has given $150,000 to Majority PAC, a group that is spending to help Democrats retain the majority in the U.S. Senate.

“Fortune 500 companies are the least likely to be the ones who will be out in front giving publicly,” said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California-Irvine. “They want to have influence over elections and elected officials, but they don't want to alienate customers.”

By category, companies in the finance, insurance and real estate sector donated more than $15 million, “general business sector” firms gave about $14 million and energy sector companies contributed more than $11 million, according to the analysis.

Unions, by contrast, have donated about $60 million to super PACs, from their treasuries or political action committees.

The top union donors include the National Education Association ($9 million), the United Auto Workers ($8.6 million) and the AFL-CIO ($6.4 million). All of these groups have spent heavily on Democratic candidates.

For the full article by Michael Beckel and Reity O’Brien of The Center for Public Integrity, click here.