President Joe Biden speaks during the the 59th inaugural ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
hree years ago, Joe Biden spoke onstage at a think tank event, opining on wealth in America. “I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble,” he explained. “The folks at the top aren’t bad guys. I get in trouble in my party when I say wealthy Americans are just as patriotic as poor folks. I’ve found no distinction.”
And, based on who they supported during the 2020 election, billionaires don’t think Joe Biden is such a bad guy, either. About 25% of America’s billionaires donated to his election efforts, either directly or through a spouse, according to an analysis of records filed with the Federal Election Commission. By contrast, Donald Trump received money from only 14% of American billionaires.
The 230 Biden backers include the founders of companies like Patagonia, DoorDash and Netflix, Democratic megadonors like George Soros and Henry Laufer, as well as billionaire members of some of the country’s richest families like the Waltons, the Pritzkers and the Lauders. Broadly, they tended to hail from the coasts. More than one third live in California. Another 27% are based in New York. It makes sense, then, that about a quarter of them got rich in tech and a third made their fortunes in finance. On average, the billionaires gave about $170,000 to the Biden campaign and its joint-fundraising committees, which split their receipts with the Democratic Party.
Source: Federal Election Commission filings; Forbes Real-Time Billionaires list
Some donors did more than just write checks. After losing to Biden in the primary, Tom Steyer hosted fundraisers for his former foe. Nicole Systrom, who is married to Instagram founder Kevin Systrom, joined Steyer for at least one event. Before the pandemic, these sorts of events could be held at a donor’s home. Or, in the case of billionaire real estate broker George Marcus, who hosted Biden in 2019, at a restaurant he owned in California. Eventually, the Democratic front-runner shifted his events to video calls, where he or Kamala Harris would hop on the line to make a speech and take questions. Other billionaire hosts included former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Blackstone executive Hamilton James.
“Whether that’s a high-dollar, in-person fundraising event or a high-dollar virtual event, there’s a certain amount of access that comes with making those large contributions to the joint-fundraising committees,” says Michael Beckel, the research director at a campaign finance nonprofit called Issue One.
Some of Biden’s donors also became so-called bundlers by rallying others to open their wallets. At least ten billionaires helped raise an additional $100,000, according to a list released by the campaign. Hedge funder Stephen Mandel, venture capitalist John Doerr and Chicago real estate magnate Neil Bluhm all helped gather money from associates.
At least 60 Biden donors also contributed to some of the major pro-Biden super-PACs. Those groups can’t coordinate with campaigns directly, but they can accept and spend unlimited sums. Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz gave $47 million to one super-PAC. LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman poured more than $7 million into other pro-Biden super-PACs and into ads opposing Trump. Mike Bloomberg never donated directly to Biden’s campaign, but he threw $100 million into super-PACs supporting the Democratic nominee.
Not every billionaire backer spent big, though. About 25% of Biden’s ultrawealthy donors never gave more than $5,000.
It remains unclear exactly what the billionaires will get for a return on their investments. “Biden has laid out an ambitious policy agenda, much of which wealthy people and corporations will not like,” says Robert Maguire, research director of Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington. “Now that he has had that support from so many wealthy people who are connected to so many major companies that will be impacted by his agenda, you have to wonder whether he’s going to have pause, or whether there’s going to be pushback.”
Staff writer at Forbes. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Twitter @mtindera07.