With a 50-50 split in the U.S. Senate and a thin majority for Democrats in the House, huge amounts of money are pouring into this year’s congressional races as both major parties vie for control of Congress. Twelve years after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unleashed unlimited amounts of corporate spending on federal campaigns, a record amount of money is likely to flow into the midterms.
Billionaires who amassed their wealth as executives in the financial, manufacturing, and tech industries donated huge sums of money to super PACs in 2021, led by a staggering nine-figure sum from liberal George Soros. Several conservative business owners and executives also gave big, but in the tens of millions, according to recently released Federal Election Commission data reviewed by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD).
1. George Soros — $125.7 million
Hedge fund manager George Soros, who is worth an estimated $8.6 billion, gave an eye-popping $125 million to his Democracy PAC II, which supports pro-democracy “causes and candidates, regardless of political party” committed to “strengthening the infrastructure of American democracy: voting rights and civic participation, civil rights and liberties, and the rule of law,” according to a statement obtained by Politico.
The $125 million is a long-term investment that will support these causes beyond the 2022 midterms. Last year, Democracy PAC II contributed large amounts to liberal committees such as House Majority PAC, Democrats’ main House super PAC; BlackPAC, which mobilizes Black voters; and Workers Vote, a super PAC affiliated with the Unite Here labor union.
In 2021, Soros also gave $500,000 to WFP National PAC, the super PAC of the progressive Working Families Party, and roughly $240,000 to Democracy PAC, which was his leading funding vehicle in 2020.
In addition to being a reliable megadonor to the Democratic Party, Soros has also made significant commitments to racial justice organizations such as Color of Change and helped elect progressive district attorneys in an effort to reform the criminal justice system.
2. Ken Griffin — $21.5 million
Worth $25.5 billion, Ken Griffin is the founder and CEO of the hedge fund and financial services company Citadel and the richest resident of Illinois. The finance titan, who was the fifth-biggest federal elections contributor of the 2020 cycle ($67.4 million), has already doled out $21.5 million to conservative super PACs, $11 million of which went to House Republicans’ main super PAC, Congressional Leadership Fund. Griffin gave $5 million each to the Senate GOP’s super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund, and Honor Pennsylvania, which is supporting Senate candidate Dave McCormick (R-Penn.), a hedge fund executive who worked in the George W. Bush administration, in the primary election. He donated $500,000 to American Patriots PAC, which is funded almost exclusively by Republican finance executives.
Griffin has also donated a huge amount of money to individual campaigns. In Illinois, where the the cap on individual contributions is lifted if a candidate in the race self-funds at the $250,000 limit, he gave $20 million to Richard Irvin, a Republican who is running to oust Democratic Gov. J. B. Pritzker, a billionaire. He gave $5 million to the re-election campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
3. Peter Thiel — $20.3 million
Tech mogul Peter Thiel, a major Trump supporter who is worth $4.9 billion, made huge donations to support his business associates’ Senate campaigns.
In 2021, Thiel gave $10 million to Saving Arizona PAC, a new super PAC supporting his ally Blake Masters, the chief operating officer of Thiel Capital and president of the Thiel Foundation, in his Senate bid against incumbent Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.). Thiel donated another $10 million to Protect Ohio Values, a single-candidate super PAC supporting Hillbilly Elegy author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance, the cofounder of Narya Capital, in which Thiel is an investor. In 2020, he and Narya Capital made a large investment in Rumble, an unmoderated, right-wing alternative to YouTube that is riddled with misinformation, conspiracy theories and far-right extremism. Protect Ohio Values has already spent $3.7 million backing Vance.
In addition, Thiel gave $250,000 to Save Missouri Values, the super PAC behind state Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s gubernatorial campaign, making him among its biggest donors.
4. Elizabeth and Richard Uihlein — $17.3 million
Illinois-based Uline founder Richard Uihlein and his wife, Liz, continued their generous donations to right-wing super PACs last year. The multibillionaire Trump supporters, who are fans of far-right, anti-establishment candidates, dished out over $17.3 million to nine super PACs in 2021.
Richard Uihlein donated the most to Club for Growth Action but also gave large sums to seven other super PACs:
- Restoration PAC ($7.5 million) is almost entirely funded by Uihlein. In the 2020 election, when he gave over $25 million to the PAC, it spent heavily against Joe Biden and for Donald Trump, and boosted a number of Republican congressional candidates.
- Club for Growth Action ($4.9 million), the super PAC of Club for Growth that spent $65 million on independent expenditures in 2020, has already poured $10.6 million into GOP congressional primaries this cycle, backing insurrectionist Trump diehards such as Reps. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) and Ted Budd (R-N.C.) and opposing Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), who voted to impeach the former president, and Vance’s bid in Ohio. Instead, the group endorsed his primary opponent, Josh Mandel, for Senate.
- Team PAC ($2.5 million) is supporting the Senate bid of disgraced former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned from office in 2018 amid allegations that he sexually assaulted his hairstylist. This support puts Uihlein at odds with Thiel again, and with Charles Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, which endorsed Greitens’ opponent, state Attorney General Eric Schmitt. Trump has not yet announced his pick, but Greitens has been courting his endorsement, and the ex-president’s lawyer and Rudy Giuliani, the ex-president’s lawyer and promoter of the Big Lie of voter fraud, appeared at one of his campaign rallies.
- Arkansas Patriots Fund ($1 million) is backing Republican war veteran and former professional football player Jake Bequette in his Senate race against incumbent Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), who has Trump’s seal of approval.
- House Freedom Action ($250,000) supports conservative U.S. House candidates.
- Conservative Outsider PAC ($225,000), a super PAC associated with Rand Paul, spent in favor of unsuccessful GOP primary candidate Ron Hood in a special House election in Ohio and got most of its funding from Uihlein.
- America’s Liberty PAC ($200,000) also supported Hood and got most of its money from Uihlein.
- Black Bear PAC ($50,000), based in West Virginia, has received donations from Uihlein and several fossil fuel interests, including Energy Transfer Operating, Koch Industries, and Alliance Resource Partners CEO Joe Craft.
In addition to his personal donations, Uihlein’s Restoration PAC and affiliated Restoration Action gave millions to America’s PAC and $425,000 to the Susan B. Anthony List’s Women Speak Out PAC.
Liz Uihlein gave $650,000 to the Congressional Leadership Fund.
CMD revealed that Richard Uihlein is the biggest known funder of the Tea Party Patriots, which helped organize the Jan. 6 rally and march that led to the Capitol insurrection, and The Federalist, a right-wing website that often publishes misinformation and until recently kept its donors secret.
The Uihleins have also bankrolled Republican party organizations and leadership committees with $12 million so far. Richard Uihlein donated $1 million to Illinois state Sen. Darren Bailey, another Republican vying for the governorship, and gave the maximum allowed donation to the campaign of U.S. Rep. Jody Hice (R), a top purveyor of the Big Lie whom Trump has endorsed for secretary of state in Georgia.
5. Jeff Yass — $13.5 million
Conservative Jeff Yass, a Wall Street trader and Cato Institute board member worth $12 billion, donated a total of $13.5 million to Kentucky Freedom PAC ($5 million), School Freedom Fund ($5 million), Club for Growth Action ($2.5 million), and Term Limits SuperPAC ($1 million).
Kentucky Freedom PAC, a new super PAC supporting incumbent Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), began making election expenditures in January against his likely Democratic opponent Charles Booker. Yass’ money accounts for most of the PAC’s reported revenue. Inventor and SKYY Vodka creator Maurice Kanbar gave $1 million.
School Freedom Fund is a new super PAC affiliated with Club for Growth and entirely funded by Yass. The super PAC, which first registered with the FEC in November 2021, has not reported any independent expenditures yet.
Yass is also the biggest donor to Term Limits SuperPAC, which most recently spent money attacking Democratic Senate candidates in 2018. Other significant donors to the super PAC are Daniel Rich of Warwick, N.Y. and Joseph Rich of Philadelphia, who together gave $1.3 million through their trusts and also donated to Club for Growth Action.
In the last election cycle, Uihlein and Yass were the biggest funders of Club for Growth Action, which spent money to elect 42 GOP members of Congress who attempted to invalidate Biden’s victory.
6. Patrick Ryan — $10 million
Chicago-based insurance executive Patrick G. Ryan, worth $7.8 billion, gave $10 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund last September, as well as large donations to state and national Republican groups. In 2020, the founder of the insurance giant Aon gave millions of dollars to Charles Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity Action and super PACs supporting GOP Senate candidates in Georgia and Michigan. He also spent $1 million in 2020 opposing a graduated income tax in Illinois backed by the Democratic governor.
7. Fred Eychaner — $8 million
Democratic megadonor and media mogul Fred Eychaner split $8 million last year between SMP, the Democrats’ Senate super PAC, and House Majority PAC.
In 2020, he was the 16th-biggest donor to federal outside spending groups.
8. Deborah Simon — $5.7 million
Daughter of shopping mall tycoon Melvin Simon, Indiana-based Deborah Simon is a prolific Democratic donor. In 2021, she gave a total of nearly $5.7 million to seven liberal super PACs, including AB PAC ($2.5 million), the super PAC of the liberal American Bridge 21st Century; SMP ($1.5 million); Planned Parenthood Votes ($500,000); Unite the Country ($250,000), the super PAC that spent nearly $40 million to elect President Biden in 2020; and Shield PAC ($250,000), which supports moderate Democrats.
9. Larry Ellison — $5 million
Larry Ellison, the chairman of Texas-based Oracle, is worth $102 billion and gave $5 million to Opportunity Matters Fund, a conservative super PAC that spent heavily in support of GOP Senate candidates in 2020, when he also gave $5 million to the PAC. In the current election cycle, Opportunities Matter Fund is supporting Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), and Ellison donated $15 million more to the super PAC in early 2022. In 2021, the group reported spending nearly $480,000 backing Republican Wesley Hunt, who is running for a congressional seat representing a district near Houston.
10. Craig Duchossois — $4.9 million
Big Republican Party donor Craig Duchossois, the CEO of his family’s private investment firm, contributed $4.85 million to five conservative super PACs last year. The most money went to Senate Leadership Fund and Congressional Leadership Fund, with $500,000 going to Americans for Prosperity Action, $250,000 to Opportunity Matters Fund, and $100,000 to Americans Keeping Country First, a new super PAC connected to Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and aimed at supporting the few Republican members of Congress who voted to impeach or convict Trump.
Among the other biggest super PAC donors in 2021:
- Connie Ballmer of The Ballmer Group gave $3.5 million to gun control super PAC Everytown for Gun Safety Victory Fund (by far its largest donation) and $1 million to House Majority PAC. She is married to Steve Ballmer, the former IBM CEO who is currently worth $94.3 billion.
- Virginia James, a conservative philanthropist and investor in New Jersey, gave Club for Growth Action $3 million last year. James was married to the late Richard Gilder, a successful stock broker.
- Ronald Cameron, a reclusive poultry magnate and Trump megadonor, gave close to $3.7 million to seven super PACs, including $1 million to Americans for Prosperity Action, $500,000 to Club for Growth Action, and $500,000 each to Congressional Leadership Fund and Senate Leadership Fund.
- Hedge fund manager Paul Singer gave close to $3.6 million to super PACs last year, including $550,000 to American Patriots PAC.
- Diane Hendricks, a Wisconsin wholesale distributing titan worth $10.7 billion, donated $2 million to Club for Growth Action and $225,000 to the pro-Trump Make America Great Again, Again! super PAC.
- Ohio-based food packaging executives Brenda and David Frecka made big donations to super PACs aligned with the House Freedom Caucus. They gave $1.15 million to Right Women PAC, a super PAC run by Debbie Meadows, the wife of Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows, and $1 million to House Freedom Action.
- Hedge fund manager Stephen Mandel, who is worth $3.9 billion, gave $2 million to AB PAC.
- Failed 2020 presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, worth $70 billion, donated nearly $1.6 million to his Independence USA PAC, League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund, and Women Vote!
- Jackie and Miguel Bezos, parents of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (worth $184 billion), contributed over $2 million to the With Honor Fund, a bipartisan super PAC that supports military veterans for federal office. The PAC received Jeff Bezos’ first major political donation of $10 million in 2018.
Missing from the super PAC donors so far is Miriam Adelson, who, with her late husband, Sheldon, doled out a record $173 million to outside spending groups during the 2020 cycle.
Dark money groups funded super PACs as well. On the right, American Action Network, a nonprofit linked to the Congressional Leadership Fund, was CLF’s largest donor in 2021, giving $11.5 million. Karl Rove-connected One Nation delivered $14.4 million to Senate Leadership Fund. On the left, the League of Conservation Voters ($12.9 million) and the Sixteen Thirty Fund ($2.5) helped boost liberal super PACs’ revenue.
Corporations loomed large in super PAC giving last year as well. Koch Industries was the biggest corporate donor, having given super PACs nearly $4.6 million in 2021, mostly going to Charles Koch’s Americans for Prosperity Action. Oil giants Occidental Petroleum and Chevron contributed $4 million and over $2.3 million, respectively, to conservative super PACs.
Unions were also major players. The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners gave more than any other organization, donating nearly $11.6 million to super PAC Working for Working Americans’ federal and nonfederal accounts. The National Education Association ($7 million) and groups connected to the SEIU ($5.2 million) gave large sums to liberal super PACs in 2021.
Methodology: CMD downloaded itemized and unitemized Federal Election Commission data and analyzed thousands of super PAC donations of $10,000 or more from 2021, which totaled over $660 million.
Is the Political Action Committee known as School Freedom Fund in addition to receiving donations from billionaires also on the dole from taxpayers?