When it comes to mega-donor giving and the 2022 election, Republican billionaires hold a clear advantage.
According to data compiled by Opensecrets.org, seven of the campaign’s top 10 donors to federal elections are Republicans who have given somewhere around a quarter of a billion dollars to GOP causes.
And the influence of the ultra-rich is even more widely felt. A recent report from a group called Americans for Tax Fairness finds that a total of 465 billionaires from both parties have dumped about $881 million into federal elections this campaign.
But perhaps most significantly, these billionaires from both parties are signaling big plans for 2023 and beyond. They are already taking sides in big clashes to come over issues like regulating big tech and cryptocurrencies, the GOP’s relationship with corporate America, and — of course — the 2024 presidential campaign.
Here's a look at some of the top donors and their causes:
George Soros appears to be a lock as the biggest donor of the 2022 election. He has given over $128 million to Democratic candidates and causes.
The Hungarian-born American businessman made his money in hedge funds and has already donated most of his fortune to his civil society group the Open Society Foundation, which sends grants around the world.
But the billionaire has made his presence felt in the 2022 elections as well. He's made over a hundred contributions, spreading his money far and wide from the Democratic National Committee to individual candidates. But his biggest giving is for a fund that won't be fully felt for years.
Soros, who has become a prominent boogeyman for Republicans and is often subjected to anti-semitic attacks, wrote a whopping check for $125 million (over 97% of his giving) to his own political action committee, Democracy PAC. According to FEC data, the group has only distributed a fraction of that money but it will clearly have plenty of money for the 2024 campaign and beyond.
Richard & Elizabeth Uihlein
The second biggest giver this election are the Uihleins, a longtime power couple when it comes to giving to Republican causes. In 2018, the New York Times called them the “Most Powerful Conservative Couple You’ve Never Heard Of,” though that has clearly changed in recent years.
They made their fortune with a cardboard and paper goods company called Uline that says it is “North America's leading distributor of shipping, packaging and industrial supplies.” The couple has directed millions to Republican candidates, with much of the money going to far-right Republicans who, like former President Donald Trump, deny the results of the 2020 election.
A recent investigation of the couple by ProPublica found that they spent at least $121 million in total this election, for both state and federal candidates in recent years.
The targets of their largesse include the likes of Doug Mastriano, the candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania who attended the Jan. 6 rally-turned-riot, and other figures who still oppose the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in 2020, citing baseless claims of fraud.
Number three on the donor list is noted hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, who has donated almost $50 million to Republican causes. And the founder and CEO of Citadel LLC has already signaled he wants to move even higher in the mega-donor ranks.
“Do I get a bronze medal?” he recently quipped in an interview with Politico, adding that he had already picked his 2024 candidate: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The billionaire has already given millions to DeSantis for his likely re-election this year and seems ready to give more in the years ahead.
And in a comment which surely won’t sit well among former Trump’s political advisers, Griffin told Politico that “for a litany of reasons, I think it’s time to move on to the next generation” while discussing the Republican presidential field.
Fourth on the list is a new figure to the mega donor game: Samuel Bankman-Fried, who has given around $37 million primarily to Democratic causes this election cycle.
The billionaire founder and CEO of FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange, has given the lion’s share of his money to his own PAC, which has in turn supported a host of lesser known Democratic candidates like Carrick Flynn in Oregon and Jasmine Crockett in Texas who, if they win, could be players in a debate close to Bankman-Fried’s heart: cryptocurrency regulation.
He has also given millions to groups backing Democratic candidates overall while also cutting checks for a few Republican causes, notably a PAC called America United which is headed by Maryland’s outgoing Republican Governor, Larry Hogan. Hogan is discussed by some as a possible Trump and DeSantis rival in 2024.
Rounding out the top five is Peter Thiel. The billionaire venture capitalist and co-founder of PayPal has put nearly all his 2022 contributions and influence behind just two candidates. He is backing Blake Masters and J.D. Vance — his former employees who are running for U.S. Senate seats in Arizona and Ohio, respectively.
Both candidates have been riding the surge in support for Republicans in recent weeks and victories from one or both of them would set Thiel up for newfound influence in Washington next year on one issue in particular: Big Tech.
Thiel has also become a lightning rod for many on the left, particularly for past comments that have even questioned democracy, once writing, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”
An open question is how Thiel might decide to wield his influence in the coming years. The unpredictable billionaire was a key supporter of Trump in 2016 but then took a pass on the him during the 2020 campaign before returning to the political fray this year.
Other major givers
Other top donors include Susquehanna International Group co-founderJeff Yass (about $28 million), Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman (about $22 million), former Oracle CEO Larry Ellison (about $ 21 million), and the co-CEO of FTX Digital Markets Ryan Salame (about $17 million)— key Republican contributors with an array of interests.
Yass has been investigated by ProPublica for questionable tax avoidance strategies and contributions to election deniers. Salame is focused on cryptocurrency issues, while Schwarzman and Ellison have been close to Trump in the past but haven't yet made their 2024 plans known.
The only other Democrat-focused mega donor in the top 10 is Fred Eychaner, chairperson of Newsweb Corporation, who has given over $20 million to Democratic causes.
In total, the 2022 campaign will go down as the most expensive midterm campaign in history. OpenSecrets.org recently estimated the cost of state and federal elections this cycle to be a whopping $16.7 billion (at least).
Ben Werschkul is a Washington correspondent for Yahoo Finance.