Why you should care
Cash fuels U.S. elections. These people are helping to shape the election of the politicians who’ll represent us in Washington.
In America’s campaign system, big political donors are a little bit like the Wizard of Oz, the faceless characters pulling the levers behind the curtain to make sure their favored candidates and causes get the exposure and airtime they need to win.
Their clout’s gotten even bigger thanks to Supreme Court decisions lifting restrictions on how much money political groups can raise and spend and, this past April, how much money an individual can donate, in total, to political candidates and groups in a given election cycle.
Fortunately, the U.S. also has disclosure rules that help shine a little light on the donors behind the curtains, some of whom have familiar last names, but plenty of whom don’t. With an assist from federal campaign finance data compiled by nonprofit group Open Secrets, OZY takes a look at the Americans who have doled out the most cash in the 2014 elections thus far.
1. Tom Steyer, hedge fund manager, San Francisco: $20.5 million
This billionaire finance whiz and environmentalist and his wife, Kathryn, are just getting started. The couple reportedly plans to spend $50 million or more helping to elect environmentally friendly Democrats in the 2014 election.
2. Michael Bloomberg, former mayor, New York: $9.5 million
The country’s best known ex-mayor, political independent and gun-control advocate has taken stances in line with both Democrats and Republicans over the course of his career. But his donations so far in the 2014 cycle lean distinctly to the left, with 95 percent of his contributions going to Democratic candidates or causes.
3. Fred Eychaner, chairman of Newsweb Corp., Chicago: $5.8 million
The openly gay media mogul and longtime Democratic donor is known to be something of a recluse. But he has opened up recently about his coming out, his family and their collective fight for gay rights.
4. Paul Singer, founder of Elliott Management, New York: $5.1 million
The hedge fund manager and billionaire has been active player in the Republican civil war, backing business-friendly candidates against more populist, anti-Wall Street Tea Party foes. He’s also an ardent supporter of Israel and a booster for some social policies, like gay rights and immigration reform, that are anathema to hard-core conservatives.
A supporter of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, most of his donations in the 2014 election cycle have been to political committees supporting the Republican establishment like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and his own American Unity PAC, which supports pro-business, pro-gay marriage Republicans.
5. Richard Uihlein, CEO of Uline, Lake Forest, Illinois: $4.3 million
The founder and owner, along with wife Elizabeth, of a successful shipping supply business, Uihlein is also known to shun the limelight. Instead, the conservative Republican from the Chicago ’burbs is letting his political donations — to small-government, anti-tax campaigns, often aligned with the tea party — do most of the talking.
What, no Koch brothers among the top five political givers of 2013 to ’14? The two conservative brothers who run Koch Industries, a favorite punching bag of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, are wayyy down Open Secrets’ list this cycle.
David and his wife, Julia, clock in with $382,000, ranking 90th. Charles doesn’t even crack the top 100.
But don’t count them out. Most of the money the Kochs give isn’t directly to candidates. Instead they give to nonprofit groups that don’t have to disclose donors but can still be active in some forms of political advocacy. If patterns of past elections hold, the Kochs will likely end up as the biggest political spenders in 2014.