New faces emerge among top political donors in 2020

SOURCE:, 2020-10-05
This page last modified: 2020-10-08 19:07:34 -0700 (PST)

  • Article by Lucia Geng.

    The political contributions of the top 10 megadonors and their spouses comprise more than $342 million during the 2020 election cycle, with the vast majority of that -- almost $328 million -- going to outside groups that can accept unlimited amounts of cash.

    These wealthy donors are helping push outside spending to record levels, already totaling nearly $1.5 billion with a month to go before Election Day. Outside spending consists of expenditures made by people or groups independently of, and not coordinated with, candidates' committees. This kind of election spending has exploded in the decade since the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling.

    More money from this cycle's top 10 donors is going to Republican committees than Democratic committees so far this cycle: nearly $203 million went to Republicans, while almost $139 million went to Democrats.

    This cycle's top megadonors includes perennial super-spenders Sheldon Adelson and former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer, as well as lesser-known donors who have boosted their contributions in recent years.

    Richard Uihlein and Elizabeth Uihlein, the Midwestern founders of the shipping and packaging supplies giant Uline, are this cycle's top megadonors so far. They've contributed over $58 million to Republicans this cycle, the most they've given in a cycle. The Uihleins, dubbed the "most powerful conservative couple you've never heard of" by the New York Times, previously gave nearly $40 million in 2018.

    Almost half of the Uihleins' $58 million went to Club for Growth Action, a conservative Super PAC that espouses values such as free enterprise and limited government. Richard Uihlein's $26.5 million in contributions comprise close to half of the money raised so far by Club for Growth Action, making it a "guardian angel" super PAC -- a type of committee that receives 40 percent to 100 percent of its money from a single wealthy individual.

    The Uihleins also gave significant amounts -- $17.6 million and $5 million, respectively -- to Restoration PAC, a conservative super PAC that advocates for small government and individual freedom, and Americas PAC, a conservative super PAC that has historically made independent expenditures with the goal of winning the support of Black and Hispanic voters.

    Top Donors, 2020 Election Cycle

    This cycle's top megadonors includes perennial super-spenders like the Adelsons and the Steyers, as well as lesser-known donors who have boosted their contributions in recent years.

    Other top donors who greatly increased their giving from past cycles include Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone Group and his wife Christine Schwarzman, who contributed $28 million this cycle, more than double what they contributed in 2018. Timothy Mellon, Chairman of Pan Am Systems and grandson of famed Pittsburgh banker Andrew Mellon, contributed over $40 million to Republican causes this cycle, but only became a top GOP donor recently.

    Mellon was once so unknown to Republican staffers that they needed to Google him when he reached out to offer cash in the 2018 elections, according to the New York Times. In that cycle, he contributed $10 million to the GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund.

    Prior to the 2018 cycle, Mellon shied away from making multi-million dollar political contributions. However, in 2010 he contributed $1.5 million to defend a restrictive immigration Arizona law later partly struck down by the Supreme Court.

    This cycle, Mellon gave $20 million to the Senate Leadership Fund, $10 million to America First Action, and again donated $10 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund.

    Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam Adelson gave about $53 million to Republican causes this cycle so far. During this cycle, the Adelsons have been "guardian angels" for Security is Strength,   Republican Lindsay Graham's super PAC [attacks Democrat challenger Jaime Harrison]. Their $1 million contribution makes up the majority of money to the committee.

    Around this time in 2018, the Adelsons contributed about $56 million, and around this time in 2016, the Adelsons contributed $47 million.

    Despite that fact, Trump reportedly berated Sheldon Adelson in an August [2020] call for not spending more to support his reelection effort, according to Politico. For his part, Adelson has told senior Republicans that he has been concerned with how Trump's America First Action super PAC has run ads targeting China, according to the New York Times. That's a problem for Adelson because he owns casinos in Macau, which could be targeted by the Trump administration in a trade war with China, according to ProPublica.

    Former New York City mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg currently sits at No. 10 on the list of this cycle's top donors, but recently committed to spend at least $100 million to support Democratic nominee Joe Biden in Florida.

    Although Bloomberg made only $19 million of political contributions this cycle so far, he spent over $1 billion to finance his own campaign. He later transferred $18 million of his campaign's leftover cash to the DNC, which some criticized as exploiting a loophole in campaign finance rules.

    Most of the $95 million that Bloomberg donated in the 2018 cycle -- over $63 million -- went to Independence USA, his super PAC. This time around, Bloomberg sent $11.4 million to the House Majority PAC, a hybrid PAC that boosts House Democrats.

    Fellow former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer and his wife Kathryn Taylor ["Kat" Taylor] are this cycle's second biggest megadonors; they've given just under $55 million in this cycle so far. Steyer also spent over $300 million of his own money to finance his presidential bid. By the end of the 2018 cycle, they donated almost $74 million. Of the couple's 2020 giving, almost $36 million went to NextGen Climate Action, Steyer's super PAC.

    The top single woman donor this cycle is Karla Jurvetson, a Silicon Valley psychiatrist who is the former wife of venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson.

    Like Mellon, Jurvetson is relatively new to the world of making multi-million dollar political contributions -- after giving about $80,000 in the 2016 cycle, she burst onto the scene with a $5 million-plus donation to Women Vote! in the 2018 cycle. Most of Jurvetson's contributions this cycle came in the form of a nearly $15 million contribution to Persist PAC  [ profile], the super PAC supporting former Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren that Jurvetson almost single-handedly funded.

    Though she has kept a relatively low profile, Jurvetson's contributions to Democrats this cycle total over $20 million, topping contributions from high profile donors such as George Soros.

    Rounding out the list of this cycle's top 10 megadonors are Donald Sussman, founder and manager of the hedge fund Paloma Partners; options trader Jeffrey Yass and his wife Janine Yass; and hedge fund manager James Simons and his wife Marilyn Simons.

    Sussman contributed $23 million this cycle to Democrats with $8 million to Priorities USA Action, a hybrid PAC supporting Democrats running for office. Sussman also contributed $4 million to House Majority PAC and $4 million to Senate Majority PAC.

    The Yasses have contributed nearly $23 million this cycle to Republicans, and the Simon couple have given close to $21 million this cycle to Democrats, with $3 million to the pro-Biden super PAC Unite the Country.

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