America’s billionaires spent a record $880 million on the U.S. midterm elections so far, with most of their spending favoring Republicans, according to a new report.
Billionaire spending is up 44% over the 2018 midterms, and is expected to approach $1 billion by next week, according to Americans for Tax Fairness, which analyzed campaign-contribution data from the Federal Election Commission compiled by nonpartisan campaign finance watch dog Open Secrets. While U.S. billionaires poured $1.2 billion into the 2020 presidential elections, their outsized spend in the mid-terms shows just how much is at stake for wealthy donors of both parties heading into Tuesday’s contests.
Their spending also highlights growing concern over the outsized influence of super-wealthy political donors who can now contribute unlimited sums of money to so-called super PACs, which don’t limit individual donors.
“If we are going to have a democracy that works for everyone, we need to greatly curb the influence of billionaire money in our politics,” said Frank Clemente, executive director at Americans for Tax Fairness.
Billionaires are funding ideologies and parties on both sides. Their spending was about three to two in favor of Republicans, conservative groups or candidates, according to the report. Their funds accounted for 7.4% of all the money received from any source by federal candidates, parties and political action committees (PACs) this election cycle. They accounted for 10% of total money raised by PAC’s so far.
The funding totals don’t include their spending in local and state races.
The top donor so far is George Soros, who has contributed over $128 million to the midterms. Most of his funding has gone to the super PAC Democracy II, which backs liberal causes and Democratic candidates.
The second largest billionaire donor was Richard Uihlein, the Wisconsin shipping-supply magnate, and his wife Elizabeth, who have contributed $67 million to Republican candidates. Their biggest recipients — at over $20 million each — are the Club for Growth Action super PAC and a super PAC the Uihleins created themselves, called Restoration PAC, to fund conservative Senate and House candidates. They have given a total of $3.5 million to a single-candidate super PAC in Wisconsin supporting GOP Sen. Ron Johnson.
Hedge-fund billionaire Ken Griffin, who is becoming increasingly active in GOP politics, was the third largest billionaire political funder. Griffin has donated $66 million so far in this federal election cycle, according to the report. He has given to the Senate Leadership Fund and the Congressional Leadership Fund. Griffin, who recently moved to Florida from Chicago and has long battled Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, spent an additional $50 million on the unsuccessful GOP primary campaign of Richard Irvin in his run for Illinois governor.
Jeffrey Yass, the founder of options-trading giant Susquehanna International Group, contributed $47 million. About a third of his spending was for Club for Growth Action, the conservative super PAC that supports lower taxes and less regulation.
A relative newcomer to the billionaire political class is Sam Bankman-Fried, the 30-year-old crypto mogul. He donated $40 million this cycle, most of it to a super PAC he created called Protect Our Future. The super PAC supported Congressional Democratic primary candidates who hold favorable positions on cryptocurrency regulation. Of the 18 primary candidates supported by Protect Our Future, 16 won, according to the report. Bankman-Fried has said he could spend up to $1 billion in the 2024 elections.
The list of major billionaire donors also includes Oracle’s Larry Ellison, with $31 million to his own GOP-focused PAC. Tech investor Peter Thiel has given $30 million, mostly to super PACs dedicated to two GOP Senate candidates — J.D. Vance in Ohio and Blake Masters in Arizona.
Michael Bloomberg has spent $22 million, largely on the House Majority PAC funding Democratic candidates and the LCV Victory Fund, an environmental advocacy group. Hedge-fund billionaire Stephen Mandel of Lone Pine Capital has spent $17.7 million on Democratic groups, including the super PAC Future Forward.