BILL CLARK/CQ ROLL CALL, GARY GERSHOFF/GETTY IMAGES, CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES, WIN MCNAMEE, GETTY IMAGES
This is the fourth installment of a four-part series exploring the money billionaires poured into the 2020 election. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.
illionaires played a bigger role in the 2020 election than ever before. Three of them—Donald Trump, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer—ran for president. A fourth, Howard Schultz, flirted with the idea.
They donated money, too. Lots of it. More than 200 chipped in to support their favorite presidential candidates. The top 20 collectively spent $2.3 billion. Or a little more than twice as much as Joe Biden’s campaign. And just one person donated more than half that sum.
Even still, the donations won’t make much of a dent in the billionaires’ fortunes, which are growing at a faster rate than campaigns’ expenditures. In fact, a number of the donations are relatively modest in comparison to their outsize fortunes.
“Buying influence, for a regular American, would be incredibly expensive,” says Robert Maguire, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington research director. “[Billionaires] get an outsize influence at what is—to them—just an incredibly affordable rate.”
To drive home this point, we compared what these billionaires spent to what the equivalent would be for someone with the median American household net worth, which was $121,700 in 2019, according to the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances.
Here are the donors Forbes found, ranked in order of how much they spent and listed with their donation converted to an equivalent sum based on the median household income.
The former New York City mayor spent more of his own money running for president than anyone in history. But even if you don’t count the billion-plus dollars that went to his own campaign, Bloomberg still would have donated more than all but two billionaires to the 2020 election. Bloomberg poured about $150 million into other Democratic campaigns and causes, including $67 million that went into his own super-PAC, which spent more than three quarters of its funds supporting Joe Biden.
The hedge fund billionaire spent $342 million on his own presidential campaign, plus another $73 million supporting left-leaning causes and voter-registration efforts. Never mind that he lost the Democratic primary—Steyer is still taking a victory lap. “For over a decade, I’ve spent all my time, energy and resources trying to address the big systemic problems we have in this country,” he said in a statement. “In particular, I have tried to do my part to address climate change, support economic and environmental justice and mobilize young voters. This cycle, those issues were front and center.”
Covid-19 hasn’t been kind to the gambling business, but you wouldn’t know that looking at the Adelsons’ 2020 donations. Sheldon, who died in January, broke his own spending records, doling out $120 million to GOP congressional super-PACs, $90 million to a pro-Trump super-PAC and about another $8 million to other conservative causes and candidates.
Hedge fund heavyweight Griffin, a Mitt Romney supporter in 2012, didn’t donate directly to Donald Trump’s campaigns in 2016 or 2020. Instead, he focused on Congress, dumping $37 million into a super-PAC supporting Senate Republicans and another $10 million to a group backing House Republicans over the last two years.
At 36, Facebook cofounder Moskovitz is the youngest megadonor on this list. He and his wife, Cari Tuna, spent $25 million in 2016, then doubled down with a $47 million donation to a pro-Biden super-PAC in 2020, helping fuel an advertising blitz in the final months of the campaign.
The richest man in private equity, Schwarzman put $35 million into a super-PAC called the Senate Leadership Fund supporting Republican senators. He also gave $2 million to a group supporting one particular Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine. Former President Trump got some love, too, with committees that support him receiving $3.7 million.
A math professor who started his own hedge fund, Simons has long been a Democratic kingmaker. For years, he has reaped huge returns through his quant firm, Renaissance Technologies—also the source of wealth for Republican donor Robert Mercer and Democratic supporter Henry Laufer (No. 18). Simons stepped down as chairman last month but remains invested in the firm’s funds. He and his wife, Marilyn, gave $10 million to SMP, the super-PAC supporting Democrats in the Senate. They also funneled more than $8 million into committees supporting Joe Biden.
The Georgia megadonor donated $10 million to a super-PAC that ran a slew of anti-Biden ads in the run-up to the election, and put $5.8 million toward a super-PAC focused on GOP Senate races. Marcus’ cofounder from Home Depot, Arthur Blank, supported Biden in 2020, but Marcus spent more than 30 times as much on Trump as Blank did on Biden.
Marvel Entertainment chairman Perlmutter has long been loyal to Trump, a neighbor in Palm Beach, Fla. About 95% of the Perlmutters’ contributions went to committees vying to reelect the president. Trump has been good to Perlmutter, too—reportedly giving him vast influence in the Department of Veterans Affairs, even though the comic book tycoon never had an official position in the administration.
Ricketts, who founded a stock brokerage firm that grew into TD Ameritrade, and his wife, Marlene, spent millions supporting Trump and GOP senators ahead of the 2020 election. They also bankrolled a super-PAC called Citizens for Free Enterprise with $7.8 million in contributions. That group spent big on congressional races in New Mexico, Virginia, California and Oklahoma. One of their sons, Todd, serves as finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, while another, Pete, is the governor of Nebraska.
The brokerage king and his wife, Helen, shied away from supporting Trump directly, while donating millions to committees and super-PACs supporting Republicans running for Congress. They also gave about $1 million to the Republican National Committee; its records show those funds went into accounts used for putting on the RNC convention and paying for lawyers.
In 2017 former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon took a cabinet position in the Trump White House, serving as head of the Small Business Administration. She left that gig in 2019 to lead the pro-Trump super-PAC America First Action and ended up pouring $15.7 million into the group.
Connecticut hedge fund mogul Mandel and his wife, Susan, poured millions into supporting Joe Biden’s election, directly and through super-PACs. They got associates to join them as well, making them official Biden bundlers. Susan Mandel also donated $1.3 million to Planned Parenthood’s super-PAC.
Arkansas banker Stephens is a longtime Republican donor. He put $3.5 million into two pro-Trump super-PACs and $6 million into the Senate Leadership Fund. He also dumped money into super-PACs that supported Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). His family founded Stephens Inc., the Little Rock investment bank, which underwrote Walmart’s public offering in 1970.
The often-pugnacious hedge fund titan, who has a history of supporting both conservative and LGBTQ political causes, staunchly opposed Donald Trump in 2016. Singer ended up donating $1 million to the former president’s inaugural committee anyway, but he didn’t spend much more to help Trump. The investor’s largest expenditure ahead of the 2020 election was the $6.5 million he gave to the pro-GOP Senate Leadership Fund.
The founder and CEO of Chicago insurance firm Ryan Specialty Group avoided donating to Trump. Instead, he and his wife Shirley put the bulk of their contributions into super-PACs that were spending big in key GOP Senate races. Among their largest contributions: $10.5 million to the Senate Leadership Fund (which in turn spent $92 million opposing Jon Ossoff), $1.75 million to Americans For Prosperity Action (which spent $13 million supporting David Perdue) and $1.5 million to Better Future MI Fund (which spent $11 million opposing Gary Peters).
Besides pouring millions into super-PACs supporting Joe Biden and other Democrats, LinkedIn cofounder Hoffman took a slightly different approach to his political spending. He spent $4.5 million to team up with a group of media firms and the Lincoln Project to produce digital ads criticizing Trump.
After working as a professor with Jim Simons (No. 7) at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Laufer joined his colleague at Renaissance Technologies, the hedge fund Simons founded. Both are now big Democratic donors. Laufer and his wife, Marsha, put $2.5 million into a super-PAC supporting Biden and another $1.8 million into a group backing Democrats in the Senate.
Las Vegas mogul Wynn stepped down as finance chair of the Republican National Committee and CEO of Wynn Resorts amid sexual misconduct allegations in 2018. Wynn, who has denied the allegations, is still spending big for Republicans. He and his wife, Andrea, put more money into the 2020 election than ever before, funneling over $10 million into super-PACs that spent big on the Georgia Senate race.
Donald Trump cleared the way for Warren’s Dakota Access Pipeline, then appointed the oil billionaire to the board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. No wonder Warren was willing to spend more than $10 million to get Trump reelected. Over the summer, Warren told Forbes that the 2020 election would be “the most important in a generation.”
Staff writer at Forbes. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Twitter @mtindera07.