Big super PACs are spending tens of millions of dollars trying to influence the 2012 presidential contest. The super PACs, or "independent expenditure-only committees," have innocuous sounding names such as Make Us Great Again and Restore Our Future. But who are they really supporting? And where are they getting their money?
See also: Super PAC Questions and Answers
The important things to remember about super PACs are that they can raise unlimited amounts of cash from corporations, unions, associations and individuals. But they are prohibited from working “in concert or cooperation with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, the candidate's campaign or a political party.”
Here's a guide to five big super PACs to watch in the 2012 presidential race:
Restore Our Future Inc.
Restore Our Future Inc. is a super PAC that raised $30.3 million in 2011 to support the presidential candidacy of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Restore Our Future Inc. spent money buying TV ads that claimed Romney's chief rival in the Republican nomination process, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, could not beat Democratic President Barack Obama in a general election.
The Restore Our Future super PAC received much of its money from major players in the financial industry, including private equity executives and hedge fund managers, Federal Election Commission filings show.
"One candidate has the experience to defeat Barack Obama, stop the reckless spending, and bring down our national debt," Restore Our Future claims on its website. "That candidate is Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney has an unquestionable record of cutting spending, reducing debt, and creating jobs.
American Crossroads is a super PAC that raised more than $18 million in 2011 to oppose Obama's re-election bid.
The American Crossroads super PAC was founded in part by Republican strategist Karl Rove, the former deputy chief of staff and senior policy adviser to President George W. Bush. It spent money on ads criticizing Obama's record on job creation and reducing the unemployment rate.
The American Crossroads super PAC raised much of its money from wealthy supports of the Republican Party, including Harold Simmons, a billionaire from Texas. Simmons alone gave $5 million to the super PAC, and his privately held company, Contran Corp., gave another $2 million.
"In 2012, America will choose between President Obama’s politics of permanent decline and a new era of strength, security and growth," American Crossroads writes on its website. "Barack Obama obstinately blames everyone but himself for the 14 million Americans who can’t find work, the most anemic economy since the 1970s and the largest run-up in federal government debt in America’s entire history.
"Now, Americans are joining together to say that Barack Obama’s blame game is over. It’s time for accountability and results."
Priorities USA Action
Priorities USA Action is a super PAC that raised $4.2 million in 2011 to support Obama's re-election bid.
The Priorities USA Action super PAC bought ads criticizing Romney for advocating for a crackdown on illegal immigration while campaigning for Hispanic votes. The super PAC accused Romney of being "two-faced."
The super PAC says it is at the "forefront of efforts to draw clear contrasts between progressive policies and those of the far right. We are committed to the re-election of President Obama and setting the record straight when there are misleading attacks against him and other progressive leaders."
Winning Our Future
Winning Our Future is a super PAC that raised more than $2 million in 2011 to support Gingrich's presidential campaign.
Winning Our Future has been credited with keeping Gingrich's campaign afloat. It is run by a former Gingrich aide and chief fundraiser, and ex-campaign press secretary. The super PAC received $10 million from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, and $500,000 from Harold Simmons, who also contributed to Rove's anti-Obama super PAC, according to FEC records.
The super PAC paid for the creation of a 28-minute documentary attacking Romney called “When Mitt Romney Came to Town,” commonly known as “King of Bain,” according to the Center for Public Integrity.
"Conservatives need Gingrich to expose President Obama’s statist and un-American ideas on economic growth and prosperity," Winning Our Future writes on its website. "Gingrich has been an articulate spokesman for conservatives his entire life and represents the best opportunity for turning back the heavy-handed socialist leaning Obama policies that have destroyed American jobs.
"Gingrich’s mastery of ideas, knowledge and experience can change minds and bring about real change for the country. Thus, he is by far the most formidable candidate in the field."
Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow
Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow is a super PAC that raised more than $1 million in 2011 and is run by Stephen Colbert, a political satirist and host of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report.
"We raised it on my show and used it to materially influence the elections – in full accordance with the law," Colbert said in a statement posted on the super PAC's website. "It's the way our founding fathers would have wanted it, if they had founded corporations instead of just a country."
See also: Colbert Report Video Clips
The super PAC had been called "The Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC" at the time of Colbert's spoof presidential candidacy. Its contributors include California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who gave $500, and celebrities Laura San Giacomo and Bradley Whitford, according to published reports.
The Colbert super PAC's spending includes an ad buy that referred to Romney as "Mitt the Ripper." "If Mitt Romney really believes corporations are people, then Mitt Romney is a serial killer," the ad, which ran during the South Carolina primary, stated.
Despite its satirical nature, the super PAC's ability to raise $1 million makes Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow a legitimate committee in that it is able to spend money on influencing the presidential race.