An analysis by The Los Angeles Times has found that there are 17 people or companies who gave more than $1 million to a super PAC last year, showing how just one wealthy individual can make a big impact on the election. A small handful of those donors gave in excess of $2 million, sometimes to more than one group or candidate. Ten of the 17 donors gave more than $1 million 

The end of January brought a massive data dump of Federal Election Commission filings that has given Americans a slightly clearer picture of how the 2012 election is being fought and paid for. Because super PACs are not bound by the limits that apply to individual donations made directly to candidates, those with the means are able to pump as much as they want into the group that may or not be behind their favorite candidate.

Everyone knows about Sheldon Adelson, who has so far donated $11 million to the pro-Newt Gingrich PAC "Winning our Future" (by far the most given by any single person.) But there are others, like Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, who has given a total $8.6 million to several different groups. On the left, there's Jeffery Katzenberg, the Hollywood mogul who has given $2 million to a PAC supporting Barack Obama.

There are also the corporations, most of them private or non-profit, that are flooding the market this election season. However, even those donations are often the work of the wealthy person known to be running the company, or in some cases, an overt way to disguise the individual putting up the money. Disclosure laws require that the source of donations be revealed, but if the company is a private entity, it doesn''t have to say where it got its money in the first place. A story in The New York Times mentions a company that gave $250,000 to a Mitt Romney super PAC, despite not having a headquarters or any employees.

Those same laws have discouraged big publicly traded companies from getting involved in with super PACs, in an effort to avoid potential controversies. According to the LA Times, only one public traded company (Chesapeake Energy) donated to a super PAC last year. As a result, the new rules only magnify the influence of wealthy individuals like Adelson, Simmons and Katzenberg, whose political leanings are well-known and who don't care what people think about it. 

Simmons, for example, gave $1.1 million to Perry's campaigns for governor of Texas, gave $3 million to "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" in 2004, and paid $2.9 million ads about Barack Obama's relationship with William Ayres in 2008. He gave another $1.1 million to Perry's presidential super PAC, but also spread the money around to Newt Gingrich and other candidates. That suggests he's pushing an agenda, not a candidate, and that (given his $9.6 billion net worth) there will be a lot more where that came from before this election is over.

Photo via Rob DiCaterino (goodrob13) on Flickr