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'Super PACs' fundraising outdoes campaigns

An unmistakable dynamic is playing out in the money game among Republican presidential candidates: New "super PACs" are growing more powerful than the campaigns they support.

For two of the GOP front-runners, their supportive super political action committees raised more money and have more cash left in the bank than the candidates' own campaigns. Helping their efforts are major financial gifts from wealthy business executives, whose contributions can be essential to the groups' continued operations. The Mitt Romney-leaning Restore Our Future and the Newt Gingrich-supportive Winning Our Future raised a combined $17 million last month and spent nearly $24 million during the period. That financial strength allowed the groups to splash the airwaves in key primary states with millions of dollars in television ads.

The proliferation of new super PACs continues to underscore how the groups, which can raise and spend unlimited sums, are influencing the race. Their fundraising last month provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the identities of the rich supporters who will help elect the next president, along with details on how the millions of dollars they donated have been spent.

Restore Our Future, which had $16 million cash on hand, has been boosted by more than two dozen repeat donors. Winning Our Future, which had $2.4 million in the bank, is supported by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife.

Meanwhile, Romney raised $6.5 million last month and had $7.7 million left for his presidential bid, while Gingrich's presidential campaign raised $5.5 million during the period and had about $1.8 million in cash remaining.

The super PACs, as well as other groups supporting other candidates and the individual campaigns, were required to disclose their fundraising and the identities of their donors in reports filed with the Federal Election Commission by midnight Monday.

During the month, GOP candidates Gingrich and Rick Santorum had briefly surged ahead of Romney but trailed the former Massachusetts governor in fundraising. Since then, Santorum has climbed remarkably in polls, while Gingrich's support has eroded just as stunningly.

Restore Our Future has been a boon for Romney, who has benefited greatly from the group's TV ads attacking Gingrich in particular. Such ads were paid for thanks to the financial help of repeat donors, including Marriott International Chairman J.W. Marriott Jr., who to date has given $750,000 to the super PAC. New donors also were reported by the super PAC, including Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman. Romney mentored Whitman, a recent unsuccessful candidate for California governor, during the 1980s at Boston-based Bain Capital, the private equity firm that Romney headed.

The reports likely will rekindle criticism of the groups, which were made possible by a 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case.