The concentration of spending by wealthy mega-donors in our elections is even greater than previously thought.
A report by Issue One, a nonpartisan campaign finance reform group, released last month showed that for every $13 spent in U.S. elections, $1 was contributed by one of twelve mega-donors and their spouses. That’s over $3.4 billion spent between January 2009 and December 2020. This doesn’t even include contributions to state election campaigns or super PACs, which often remain undisclosed.
So who are the Big Spenders?
Some of them are household names, or became so as a result of their own attempts at gaining elected office. Others are a little less well-known. Both Democrats and Republicans are well-represented, and all of the donors are white. Here are your Top 12:
- Michael Bloomberg (Democrat) – $1.4 billion
In what is probably a surprise to no one, former New York City mayor and 2020 presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg tops the list. Bloomberg, founder of the tech and media conglomerate that bears his name, spent upwards of $1 billion on his failed presidential campaign, which lasted less than four months. The campaign was completely self-financed, and he did not accept campaign contributions.
- Tom Steyer & Kat Taylor (Democrat) – $653 million
Steyer, another 2020 presidential candidate and founder of Farallon Capital and NextGen America, has spent years bolstering his reputation as an activist and philanthropist. He and his wife, Kat Taylor, have invested heavily in alternative energy, development in rural and disadvantaged areas, and sustainable agriculture. Despite publicly stating his opposition to Citizens United, he has said he would work within the system it created to address climate change. Steyer spent about $250 million of his personal fortune on his presidential campaign.
- Sheldon & Miriam Adelson (Republican) – $523 million
The late casino magnate and his wife have been well-known donors to conservative candidates and causes for decades.
- Richard & Elizabeth Uihlein (Republican) – $138 million
Now for our first lesser-known names on the list. Dick and Liz Uihlein, notoriously private, are America’s modern-day shipping magnates as founders of packing supply company Uline.
- Ken Griffin (Republican) – $107 million
Griffin is the founder, CEO, and Co-CIO of Citadel LLC. He owns 85 percent of the company and is the richest person in Illinois.
- Donald Sussman (Democrat) – $98 million
Sussman is the founder and CIO of Paloma Funds and a philanthropist. He has said that he considers his political contributions to be part of his philanthropic work.
“It’s very odd to be giving millions when your objective is to actually get the money out of politics,” Sussman told The Washington Post in 2016.
Fun fact: he’s also the former husband of Maine Representative and former Common Cause president Chellie Pingree (pictured).
- Jim & Marilyn Simons (Democrat) – $93 million
Dr. Jim Simons is a mathematician and founder of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies. Dr. Marilyn Simons is President of the Simons Foundation, a nonprofit organization she started with her husband to advance math and science research.
- Fred Eychaner (Democrat) – $92 million
Eychaner is Chairman of Newsweb Corporation.
- Dustin Moskovitz & Cari Tuna (Democrat) – $83 million
Moskovitz is a co-founder of Facebook, and Tuna is a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal. They have since founded the philanthropic foundation Good Ventures, which aims to spend the vast majority of the couple’s money before they die on humanitarian causes.
- Timothy & Patricia Mellon (Republican) – $70 million
Timothy Mellon is the chairman and majority owner of transportation holding company Pan Am Systems. He is a member of the Mellon Family, whose fortune dates back to the Gilded Age as founders of investment bank BNY Mellon, which owns stock in Chevron, Comcast, and Disney.
He also donated over $1 million to search for the remains of Amelia Earhart’s plane, despite the fact that the plane had already been discovered in the South Pacific two years prior. We’re not kidding.
- Joe & Marlene Ricketts (Republican) – $66 million
Joe Ricketts is the founder of TD Ameritrade, and he and his wife own the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Their son, Pete Ricketts, is the governor of Nebraska.
- Paul Singer (Republican) – $63 million
Singer is the founder and Co-CEO of Elliott Management.
That’s quite a list.
Yes, it is. Perhaps most surprising is that there are members of this elite group of mega-donors who actually oppose Citizens United.
Shining a light on America’s wealthiest and most prolific political donors is an important step in the movement to get big money out of politics once and for all. This is why we want campaign finance reform. This is why we stamp!