On Chris Christie’s way to getting crushed in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, the super PAC supporting his campaign pulled in big money from a handful of billionaire donors. So did the super PAC in Jeb Bush’s corner. Those boosters now become top fundraising targets for the remaining Republican candidates in the race.
According to newly released campaign finance reports, in the last month of the New Jersey governor’s now-defunct presidential campaign, billionaire investor Steve Cohen and his wife delivered $2 million to the outside group, called America Leads. Federal regulators in January banned Cohen from managing money other than his own fortune until at least 2018, as part of a settlement in a major insider trading case.
Billionaire Dan Gilbert, the founder of Quicken Loans who also owns the Cleveland Cavaliers, delivered $500,000 to the Christie-backing super PAC. In 2015, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Quicken Loans “contending that it made hundreds of improper loans through the Federal Housing Administration lending program,” according to the New York Times. Gilbert’s company recently lost a lawsuit attempting to shut down the government’s case.
America Leads received $200,000 from billionaire Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in January. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — which is partially controlled by Christie — in 2015 awarded a lucrative One World Trade Center contract to a firm part-owned by Jones. The super PAC also accepted major contributions from investor Jonathan Jacobson ($100,000), Jeanne Sorensen Siegel (wife of billionaire media investor Herbert Siegel), professional wrestling magnate Linda McMahon ($50,000) and grocery chain mogul Richard Saker ($50,000). In 2012, the Christie administration awarded a $5 million tax incentive to his company, Saker ShopRites, to finance development of a supermarket in Somerville, N.J.
With Saturday’s South Carolina Republican primary winnowing the GOP field, other major donors have been untethered from their current candidates. The super PAC supporting former Florida Gov. Bush has raised tens of millions of dollars from many longstanding GOP financiers. Now that Bush has suspended his primary campaign, many of those donors will likely be looking to back another candidate.
There’s no one rule or precedent guiding how super PACs spend their remaining money after a candidate leaves the race. Outside groups are meant to be independent from campaigns, so they don’t technically belong to any candidate. The people leading the groups could decide to pay themselves massive bonuses — though that could scare future donors away. The groups could opt to refund contributions, as did the super PAC supporting Scott Walker, or might back another candidate.
While the pro-Bush super PAC may still have money — it had more than $24 million cash on hand as of Jan. 31 — that doesn’t appear to be in issue in Christie’s case. America Leads disclosed Saturday it only had $736,000 on hand at the end of last month. The group has spent over $19 million, including $6.2 million in January, according to its FEC disclosure.