From Open Secrets:

Yes, we live in a gilded age of campaign finance, with billionaire donors forking over tens of millions of dollars to super PACs.

But hard money — which is contributed directly to candidates’ campaigns, political parties or regular PACs and, unlike outside money, is subject to limits — still matters to those seeking office. Candidates need it for salaries, travel, rent, phone bills, producing ads, purchasing air time and other expenses that are hard to avoid, and many a campaign has foundered for lack of it (see, e.g., Rick Perry and Jeb Bush).

“Those resources that go into this pool can be used much more effectively than any outside resources,” said Michael Malbin, executive director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. 

And a list of top donors of hard money looks very different than the roster of top donors overall, which is skewed by the few who give big bucks to outside spending groups. For instance, the organization that has contributed the most in this election cycle is hedge fund firm Renaissance Technologies, profiled on OpenSecrets Blog earlier this week for the huge sums its top two executives have given to super PACs.

Most of the top hard money groups are companies with well-established lobbying records, and they give chiefly through their PACs rather than through individual employees. The PACs tend to contribute to congressional races all across the country, giving the maximum allowed amount of $10,000 ($5,000 per candidate, per election) to dozens of candidates. In many of these races — most of…

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