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By Tim Higgins, Bloomberg News (TNS)

Nearly 60 people have already donated at least $1 million each to independent political committees supporting Democratic and Republican presidential candidates in what promises to be the most expensive election ever.

Super PACs and other outside groups raised more than $250 million during the first half of this year, according to filings with the U.S. Federal Election Commission.

That amount far exceeds what was raised during the comparable period before the 2012 election and is fast approaching the $374 million spent by super PACs on the presidential campaign during the entire 2012 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“These groups have gotten off to a much faster start than they have in the past,” said Brendan Glavin of the Campaign Finance Institute, a research group affiliated with George Washington University. “What will remain to be seen is how much can they go back to these people? Will they be willing to give again?”

That the groups raised a lot of money wasn’t a surprise. Right to Rise USA, for example, announced in early July that it had collected $103 million to support Republican Jeb Bush. The filings, however, gave the first look into how giving has changed since the 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened the door for super PACs, which are political entities that, unlike candidates’ official campaign committees, can raise unlimited amounts of money. Super PACs must disclose their donors, and can spend directly on campaign advocacy as long as they don’t coordinate with a candidate, though some are run by former aides or associates of the candidates.

The aggressiveness with which super PACs are raising money also shows that the caution first displayed by campaigns after the 2010 decision has fallen away. At the comparable time in 2011, only one of the 12 Republican contenders had a super PAC. That was Mitt Romney, whose super PAC’s $12 million haul was less than the $18 million raised by his regular campaign fund at that point.

During 2011 and 2012, super PACs supporting Romney had 30 donors giving at least $1 million while a group behind President Barack Obama had 35 big givers.

This time around, the pro-Bush group Right to Rise, which raised more than any other super PAC, relied on two dozen individuals and corporations to contribute at least $1 million and another 22 that gave at least $500,000. The largest single donor was Mike Fernandez, chairman of private equity firm MBF Healthcare Partners in Coral Gables, Florida, who gave more than $3 million.

For some candidates, the generosity of a few benefactors is fueling much of their effort. Super PACs behind Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) raised a combined $37.83 million. Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund manager and the biggest individual donor to any super PAC thus far, gave $11 million, and Toby Neugebauer, co-founder of Quantum Energy Partners, a Houston private-equity firm that oversees more than $7 billion, gave $10 million.

(Gregory Giroux and Zachary Mider contributed to this report.)

Photo: Super PACs behind Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) raised a combined $37.83 million. Cruz speaks at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

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