In the wake of the GameStop controversy and the seemingly odd support by some political figures and some in the media for hedge fund billionaires over the "ordinary folk," it helps to take a look at who's pulling political strings in Washington D.C.
As I reported last November, hedge fund billionaires are near the top of donor lists when it comes to big money for both Democrats and Republicans.
Bain Capital reportedly has a hedge fund unit. Joshua Bekenstein, co-chair of Bain Capital, the financial firm started by Republican Mitt Romney, gave more than $12 million during the 2020 election cycle: almost all to Democrats. That put him at the 16th largest individual donor of the campaign.
And liberal billionaire activist George Soros, whose business reportedly operates a hedge fund, was a top 30 individual donor (at #26), giving more than $8.5 million to Democrats. Analysts say he contributed many millions more through third party groups.
Number 5 on the individual donor list was Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the investment firm Blackstone Group, which operates a hedge fund. He and his wife have dropped more than $28 million mostly on Republicans.
Jeffrey and Janine Yass of Wall Street’s Susquehanna International Group, which reportedly works with hedge fund clients, were #6 on the individual donor list, giving above $24 million on the Republican side.
At #7 was hedge fund magnate Donald Sussman of Paloma Partners, giving more than $23 million almost all to Democrats.
The Simons (#10) and the Laufers (#18), big donors affiliated with the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, held two top individual donor places with more than $32 million for Democrats.
Read a transcript of the November 2020 Full Measure story below and watch the video at this link.
It’s another record-setting American election when it comes to campaign cash. Groups funded by billionaires and linked to “dark money” are spending more than ever this election. Today, we begin with a deep dive into the givers and takers, including the biggest political donors of all: some names you know and a few you’ve probably never heard of.
When the candidates hit the campaign trail or get attacked in campaign ads, there’s more money than ever working behind the scenes to pull strings.
(Ads about both candidates)
Sharyl: Oil and gas?
Dave Levinthal: Oil and gas is definitely on team Trump by and large.
Sharyl: Big tech?
Levinthal: Big tech is a mix.
Dave Levinthal is senior Washington correspondent at Business Insider.
Sharyl: Wall Street?
Levinthal: Wall Street, Wall Street wants to make money. If you look at Wall Street's money over the years, they will ebb and flow. Sometimes they're supporting Democrats more. Sometimes they're supporting Republicans more.
So when it comes to 2020, not long before election day, who are the top contributors to the campaigns, when grouped by employees at companies?
Joe Biden counts donations above a million dollars from three.
Alphabet, owner of Google, which has been leading numerous fact-checking initiatives: about $2 million dollars.
The University of California $1.6 million
Federal Employees about 1.1 million
Next on Biden’s list:
Microsoft ($997k), Amazon ($931k), Health Insurer Kaiser Permanente (692k) Apple ($655k) and Facebook ($648k)
Trump, on the other hand, has no single group reaching a million dollars.
His biggest group of donors comes in comes in barely above a quarter million dollars.
U.S. Postal Service employees. ($285k)
then, the dept of defense ($279k), other federal employees ($234k) who give over five times more to Biden, the Army ($224k), and American Airlines ($222k).
There are some familiar names among the biggest individual donors.
Number 1 is Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, topping $172 million to Republicans.
At number 3: former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer, a Wall Street hedge fund billionaire, has given more than $55 million.
Number 8: former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, above $21 million.
Number 16: Joshua Bekenstein, co-chair of Bain Capital, the financial firm started by Republican Mitt Romney, he's given more than $12 million almost all to Democrats.
Number 19: Rupert Murdoch owns conservative leaning Fox News and the Wall Street Journal but has given more than $11 million to Democrats.
And Liberal billionaire activist George Soros is on the money list way down at number 26 with more than $8.5 million to Democrats.
But that’s not the whole picture. Anna Massoglia is with the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks a lot of the numbers we’re using at opensecrets.org.
Anna Massoglia: For example, George Soros is not among the top, top donors, not among like the top five donors this election cycle. But among the top organization groups, we do have two groups that are connected to Soros funneling money from a 501(c)(4) that's tied to Soros, to a super PAC that has also been tied to Soros, which he has also donated to directly, and then infusing that money into a number of different Democratic groups. So just looking at the direct donor doesn't tell the full story of who is actually behind those donations in many cases.
But you might be surprised to hear some of the biggest individual donors in American politics aren’t household names.
After Adelson, the number two donors in 2020 giving more than $59 million to Republicans are shipping and supply magnates Richard and Elizabeth Uhlein.
After Steyer, at #4, is Timothy Mellon: more than $50 million, mostly to Republicans. He’s heir to a banking fortune and owns Pan Am Systems transportation company.
From there, Wall Street hedge funds and investment firms dominate.
There’s number 5, Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the investment firm Blackstone Group, he and his wife have dropped more than $28 million mostly on Republicans.
(6) Jeffrey and Janine Yass of Wall Street’s Susquehanna International Group above $24 million on the Republican side.
(7) Hedge fund magnate Donald Sussman of Paloma Partners, more than $23 million almost all to Democrats.
(10) (18) The Simons and the Laufers, big donors affiliated with the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, hold two top places with more than $32 million for Democrats.
(9) Liberal activist Karla Jurvetson, reportedly split from her Silicon Valley venture capitalist husband is closing in on $21 million for Democrats. Most of it went to Elizabeth Warren.
Also reaching new highs this election, so-called “outside spending” cash primarily spent on all those negative ads.
That number passed 1.9 billion dollars just two weeks before election day, that’s $800 million more than the same time in 2016.
Biden takes the win in this category with a $139 million dollar advantage in outside spending ($443 million to $304 million). Not counting a $100 million dollar pledge from Bloomberg.
Topping the list is the same group that supported Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Priorities USA Action.
Priorities USA Action has devoted more than $94 million to make sure Trump loses.
Also helping Biden:
the opposition research powerhouse American Bridge 21st century ($48 million), founded by Conservative turned Liberal activist David Brock,
the Lincoln Project, a group of never Trump Republicans ($26.9 million),
Unite the Country ($31.8 million), and
Pacronym ($18.6 million) which claims to be running the largest digital campaign targeting key voters in battleground states on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
Massoglia: One of the biggest trends over the last few election cycles that seems to have really proliferated in 2020 is the role of the internet and digital ads, because it is extremely easy for a dark money group or even an individual or group of individuals to create an online presence that may give the appearance of being either a civic group or a news outlet, or even another individual without leaving a trace of who is actually behind those accounts.
Outside spending groups helping Trump include:
America First Action which comes in at more than $93 million.
Preserve America PAC at $76.8 million
Committee to Defend the President and
Great America PAC ($12 million)
Levinthal: So we do have a number of people all across the country who are big dollar political donors, but we don't quite know who they are because they are the ones who are donating hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars, to organizations that in turn don't disclose where that money is truly coming from.
In all, Trump and Biden have raised well over $1.4 billion dollars.
With Biden showing a $101 million advantage over Trump.
And while the money race is one all candidates want to win, it’s not necessarily the predictor many once thought it was. as proved in 2016 when Hillary Clinton outraised Donald Trump two to one. But lost.
Sharyl (on camera): Trump wins in one money category: small donors. He receives nearly 53 percent of his contributions from small donors; Biden’s small donors are 38 percent of his donations.