With the election just around the corner and their party on the defensive, Republicans have railed against Democratic billionaires pouring big money into this year’s midterm. But the top political donors of the closely watched battle for control of Congress are a bipartisan and varied lot.
Of the top dozen individuals or family donors, half fund Democrats, five support Republicans and one, Jeff Bezos, has chosen to put nearly all of his contributions toward nonpartisan groups, according to data compiled by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.
The amount of money flowing in this year’s election is jaw-dropping. Driven mostly by seven- and eight-figure amounts from super PACs, spending has already surpassed $5.2 billion, making it the most expensive midterm election in American history.
The massive contributions, particularly from ultra-conservative donors such as Las Vegas billionaires Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, are helping even the playing field for Republicans in a year in which a wave of Democratic energy has fueled record fundraising for candidates on the left.
“A $50-million contribution can go a long way in covering some of the gaps in fundraising we see in these local races,” says Alex Baumgart, a researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics.
Here are the top 12 political donors of 2018, based on total personal and trackable contributions they made to candidates, committees and outside groups.
(These figures do not include dark money, or money contributed to and spent by nonprofits like 501(c)(4)s, which sometimes disclose their donors in annual Internal Revenue Service filings. Those filings won't be due until months after the election, and the Trump administration recently relaxed requirements on such groups to disclose donors.)
1. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson — $113 million
Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his physician wife are two of the most prominent Republican super-donors, with an estimated net worth of $34 billion. Adelson is chairman and chief executive of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns the Venetian casino and hotel and the Sands Expo and Convention Center.
This year, the Adelsons have broken the record for the largest sum any individual or family has spent on federal elections. The largest chunk, $50 million, went to the Congressional Leadership Fund, the biggest conservative group trying to help the GOP retain control of the House. The previous record was theirs, too: They dropped $92 million on GOP candidates and committees in 2012. Despite expressing initial reservations about Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, the Adelsons wound up contributing $20 million toward the main super PAC supporting his presidential bid.
The Adelsons, who are Jewish and staunch supporters of Israel, have been credited with pushing President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Two years ago, Sheldon Adelson helped launch a multimillion-dollar effort to promote Israel on college campuses, starting with six California schools. In 2015, Adelson purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper in a secret deal that was later revealed.
2. Michael Bloomberg — $61.3 million
The businessman and former mayor of New York City is a Democrat turned Republican turned Democrat again.
Bloomberg made his fortune through his namesake media company and is worth an estimated $46.1 billion. He has donated billions to gun control efforts and to fighting climate change.
Most of his money this year has gone to Independence USA PAC, a group he is bankrolling that recently dropped $9.5 million for ads supporting Democrats running against Republican Reps. Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa and Steve Knight of Palmdale.
Bloomberg has said he would spend $100 million on this midterm election, which includes spending from Independence USA — the political action committee has spent $45.2 million in independent expenditures as of Nov. 2
3. Tom Steyer and Kathryn Ann Taylor — $59.8 million
Steyer is an environmentalist and former hedge fund manager at Farallon Capital who made his fortune “picking diamonds out of the dust,” as one magazine put it. In 2012, Steyer walked away from his company to focus full time on political activism and philanthropy. He and his wife, Taylor, have an estimated net worth of $1.6 billion and have become top Democratic donors.
Steyer launched an online petition urging Trump’s impeachment that has garnered 6.1 million signatures and made establishment Democrats uneasy. He opted not to donate any money to Democratic Party committees this year after Democrats in Congress voted to reopen the government despite failing to reach an immigration deal.
Steyer has pledged to spend nearly $120 million in the 2018 midterm campaign, including $70 million to NextGen America, his nonprofit focused on climate change that is helping register and turn out young voters and people of color. Speaking to a student on the Cal State Fullerton campus this fall, Steyer said, “You can change this world, or it can be run by a bunch of arrogant, entitled, rich white old men.”
A spokesman for Steyer says much of the money he spends won’t be documented by campaign finance filings submitted to the Federal Election Commission but in IRS filings due next year.
4. Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein — $39.1 million
Richard Uihlein is founder and CEO of shipping supply giant Uline. The Uihleins have been longtime donors to conservative politics in their home state of Illinois and nationwide, particularly aimed at achieving a more conservative judicial system.
The couple were major backers of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and failed U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, and they bankrolled Janus vs. AFSCME, a Supreme Court case that succeeded in banning mandatory fees funding public employee unions.
The candidates and groups the Uihleins have backed are among the most conservative in the GOP, opposing abortion and transgender rights.
Uihlein and his wife maintain a low profile, rarely giving interviews.
5. S. Donald Sussman — $22.9 million
A Florida native, Sussman founded New China Capital Management and the Paloma Fund, which was described in 2016 as a $4-billion hedge fund.
Sussman is a longtime donor to Bill and Hillary Clinton and was a prominent donor to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. This cycle, his biggest contributions have gone to Democratic behemoth Priorities USA PAC and the Senate Majority PAC, which is working to flip control of the Senate. He has also given to efforts to expand voter access and has said he is driven by a desire to elect candidates who will bring about campaign finance reform.
“It’s very odd to be giving millions when your objective is to actually get the money out of politics,” he told the Washington Post in 2016.
6. James and Marilyn Simons — $18.9 million
James Simons was a mathematician and onetime U.S. code-breaker who founded hedge fund giant Renaissance Technologies in 1982. He’s estimated to have a net worth of $16 billion.
He has been a major donor to Democratic groups and candidates and has also backed environmental efforts. The Simons family is the biggest donor this cycle to the House Majority PAC, a group with ties to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that is spending millions to flip California House districts.
Simons retired in 2010 but still plays a role in the fund, which manages an estimated $57 billion.
7. George Soros — $17.4 million
Soros, who has pumped billions of dollars into progressive foundations, campaigns and causes, is a favorite bogeyman of the far right.
He was one of several prominent Democrats who recently received pipe bombs at their homes or offices or had such packages addressed to them. Days later, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) deleted a tweet urging voters to support Republicans in the upcoming midterm, saying, “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer and Bloomberg to BUY this election.” Trump then claimed he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Soros was funding a caravan of Central American migrants making its way to the border between the U.S. and Mexico; he offered no evidence.
Soros was born in Hungary and is a survivor of the Holocaust. After working in London as a railway porter and waiter, he moved to the U.S. in the 1950s and made his fortune as an investor.
Most of his philanthropic and political advocacy runs through his Open Society Foundations, which supports education and refugee relief programs worldwide.
8. Stephen and Christine Schwarzman — $12.8 million
Stephen Schwarzman founded the global private equity firm Blackstone Group with fellow billionaire Pete Peterson and still serves as its chairman and CEO. His wife, Christine, is an intellectual property lawyer. The New York couple gave $3.4 million this cycle to the Congressional Leadership Fund, one of the main super PACs dedicated to protecting the GOP majority in the House.
Stephen Schwarzman contributed to a PAC supporting presidential candidate Jeb Bush and later became a generous donor to Trump, who has granted him such access as an advisor that he has been called the president’s “de-facto China whisperer.”
9. Fred Eychaner — $12.2 million
Eychaner is the chairman of the Chicago-based Newsweb Corp. The multimillionaire owns radio stations and a printing press that produces alternative, college and ethnic newspapers. He has been one of the top donors in the country to Democratic campaigns, gay rights groups and arts organizations.
The media executive supported Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid over his home-state senator Barack Obama. He later contributed money to Obama’s campaign and held a fundraiser for him at his home. This year, Eychaner was found to be part of a tiny group of wealthy donors who have contributed more than one-fifth of the $4.5 billion collected by super PACs since their inception in 2010, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the Federal Election Commission.
Eychaner, who is openly gay, helped fund pro-gay-marriage groups in a successful battle for the right to marry in Illinois. He is the founder and president of the Alphawood Foundation, which provides grants to nonprofits dedicated to gay rights, AIDS and HIV issues and other causes.
10. Kenneth and Anne Griffin — $11.1 million
Kenneth Griffin, the founder and CEO of the global investment firm Citadel, is one of the highest-earning hedge fund managers in the world and a Republican mega-donor. He was previously married to another hedge fund manager, Anne Griffin, founder and CEO of Aragon Global Management.
Kenneth Griffin, a self-labeled Reagan Republican, became more involved in politics after the 2008 financial crash and what he has decried as his industry’s falling out with government. He takes a conservative view of regulation and subsidies, particularly in the financial markets he engages in.
He has backed Democrats and Republicans, but the Griffins’ contributions this cycle have gone to the GOP. Speaking at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles last year, Griffin praised the president’s efforts in his first 100 days in office, including attempts to overhaul the tax system and repeal the Affordable Care Act.
11. Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos — $10.2 million
The founder of Amazon and his wife, MacKenzie, made their first major political donation this September to a nonpartisan fund dedicated to helping elect veterans of all stripes to Congress. They have since tried to toe the middle road, handing $10,800 to Democrats and $16,200 to Republicans this cycle. Their top individual recipients have been Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.).
Bezos, the world’s richest person, has faced criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. Trump has attacked him via Twitter over his ownership of the Washington Post; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) criticized him over the wages he pays his Amazon warehouse employees.
The Bezoses’ other top financial contributions this cycle have been to nonpartisan political action committees connected with Amazon and Blue Origin, his rocket company.
12. Timothy Mellon — $10.1 million
The chairman of Pan Am Systems, a transportation company based in New Hampshire, is a member of the influential Mellon family tied to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. The investor, now in Wyoming, made a surprising $2,700 donation to New York Democratic House hopeful Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from the Bronx and gave the rest to the GOP, including $10 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund.
Mellon, who first developed a computer-programming business in the 1960s, has in the past contributed $1.5 million to a legal fund set up by then-Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, to defend a controversial state law on immigration. It permitted law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of anyone they suspected to be in the country illegally; the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately struck down provisions that raised civil rights violations.