With four weeks until Election Day, congressional candidates are on track to break midterm fundraising records, having raised nearly $2.5 billion so far this cycle. That’s already 70% more than what was raised during the 2014 cycle and just $200 million shy of the total raised during the full 2018 cycle.
This cycle has also seen record-shattering outside spending, topping $1 billion through the beginning of October, according to an OpenSecrets estimate.
The increase in spending and fundraising is due in large part to the involvement of millionaire and billionaire megadonors who have sought to influence the outcome of an election in which both chambers of Congress are in play.
“When megadonors pump millions of dollars into super PACs, they get to help call the shots,” said Michael Beckel, research director at Issue One, a nonpartisan political reform organization. “Massive spending from a megadonor can influence what issues are talked about on the campaign trail and in Congress.”
Super PACs are independent political action committees that can raise unlimited sums of money but are not allowed to coordinate with a candidate or campaign. Due to contribution limits, such as those restricting individuals’ candidate contributions to $2,900 per election per candidate, most megadonor spending goes to super PACs.
A MarketWatch analysis of Federal Election Commission data through the end of September shows that these 10 business moguls and philanthropists are the biggest federal-level donors this cycle.
Top federal-level megadonors this cycle
Source: MarketWatch analysis of FEC data as of Sept. 30, 2022Note: Partisan breakdown includes non-party affiliated PACs with over 95% of their spending benefitting one party, data has been rounded to the nearest thousand
Big spending by itself doesn’t automatically mean winning. There have been notable instances of the financially strongest candidates losing (such as crypto-backed House candidate Carrick Flynn earlier this year and billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s self-financed presidential bid) — but money can certainly help put a candidate on the right track.
“Money alone doesn’t guarantee electoral success, but every candidate prefers to be the one with more money to spend,” Beckel said. He added: “Outside spending on behalf of a candidate isn’t a silver bullet that’s going to guarantee electoral success. But it goes a long way to boosting somebody’s name recognition, and to presenting them as a viable candidate — somebody who has the resources to run a competitive campaign.”
Information about the spending by the top 10 donors this cycle has been compiled from MarketWatch’s analysis of FEC data and filings, super PAC websites and previously reported comments. Read on to find out who are the top 10 biggest donors this cycle.
10. Ryan Salame — $19 million
Ryan Salame, the co-CEO of FTX Digital Markets, a subsidiary of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, founded a hybrid PAC earlier this year called American Dream Federal Action. The vast majority ($15 million) of the $19 million Salame has spent this cycle has gone into bankrolling the PAC, which has spent $2.4 million in independent expenditures supporting Illinois Republican Rep. Rodney Davis, $2 million supporting Republican Senate candidate Katie Britt from Alabama, and $1.2 million each supporting Arkansas GOP Sen. John Boozman and Brad Finstad, a GOP congressional candidate in Minnesota.
On its website, the PAC describes itself as “organization dedicated to electing forward-looking candidates — those who want to protect America’s long term economic and national security by advancing smart policy decisions now.” A representative for Salame didn’t respond to a request for comment.
9. Lawrence Ellison — $21 million
The co-founder of Oracle
has similarly bankrolled a PAC this election cycle — giving a total $20 million to Opportunity Matters Fund Inc. The super PAC has largely held onto its funds so far, recent FEC records show, having $17 million cash on hand as of the end of August. Of the independent expenditures it has made this cycle, it spent the most on Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker ($1.3 million), Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson ($1.3 million) and North Carolina Senate candidate and current Republican Rep. Ted Budd ($1.1 million). A representative for Ellison didn’t respond to a request for comment.
8. Stephen Schwarzman — $22 million
Billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of private-equity giant Blackstone
is the eighth biggest donor at the federal level this cycle. In March, Schwarzman gave $10 million to both the Senate Leadership Fund and Congressional Leadership Fund, super PACs aimed at obtaining a Republican majority in the Senate and House, respectively. A representative for Schwarzman didn’t respond to a request for comment.
7. Fred Eychaner — $22 million
Fred Eychaner has also contributed $22 million so far this cycle, but unlike most of the spending on this list, his has been directed toward Democratic causes. The chairman of Chicago-based Newsweb Corporation has given $9 million to the House Majority PAC and $8 million to the Senate Majority PAC, as well as just under $1.5 million to the Democratic National Committee and several hundred thousands to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. A representative for Eychaner didn’t respond to a request for comment.
6. Peter Thiel — $30 million
Venture capitalist Peter Thiel was heavily involved in backing Ohio Republican J.D. Vance’s primary bid, giving $15 million in the spring to the Vance-aligned Protect Ohio Values PAC.
The massive primary investment was “historic” and record-setting, according to Beckel, who added that Thiel’s involvement in the Ohio Senate primary could mark “a new chapter of how mega donors are choosing to play in politics.”
“I think it’s become clear for a lot of megadonors that there are high stakes to a lot of primaries, and by spending in the primary, where there is typically lower turnout than in say, a statewide general election, they can get a lot of bang for their buck by investing in a primary election,” Beckel added.
Thiel has indicated that he doesn’t intend to put any more money toward Vance’s bid as he reportedly believes the Ohio candidate is on track to win, and instead will focus his funding on Arizona Republican Blake Masters’ bid to oust Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in the final weeks leading up to the midterm election.
Thiel, known for his roles in PayPal
has also given a total $15 million to the Masters-aligned PAC, Saving Arizona, with his most recent contribution in July. Both Vance and Masters are venture capitalists, but Masters has worked with Thiel. He served as chief operating officer of Thiel Capital and president of the Thiel Foundation, and he co-authored a book on startups with Thiel in 2014. A representative for Thiel didn’t respond to a request for comment.
5. Jeff Yass — $33 million
Options trader Jeff Yass, who founded trading firm Susquehanna International Group, has contributed about $33 million on a federal level this cycle. Yass has given $15 million to the School Freedom Fund, or the equivalent of 97% of the PAC’s total fundraising. The group focuses on the issue of school choice, and its website states that some bureaucrats “hindered the development and education of our youth through school closures, mask mandates, critical race theory, and more.”
Aside from the School Freedom Fund, Yass’ other biggest contributions are to the conservative Club for Action ($6.5 million), Kentucky Freedom ($5 million), Protect Freedom ($2 million) and Crypto Freedom ($1.9 million). A representative for Yass didn’t respond to a request for comment.
4. Sam Bankman-Fried — $40 million
Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder and CEO of FTX, is the main funder behind Protect Our Future PAC, giving it $27 million of the $28 million it raised this cycle.
The organization says on its website that it focuses on promoting Democratic candidates championing pandemic preparedness and prevention “so this is the last time in our lifetime, and our children’s lifetimes, that we will face the devastation that has gripped communities across the U.S. since 2020.”
The group spent more than $10 million supporting Democrat Carrick Flynn’s House bid in Oregon. Flynn lost his primary in May by 18 points despite his massive outside spending advantage. In addition to Flynn, the group has made over $1 million in independent expenditures each supporting Democratic congressional candidates Lucy McBath, a current representative from Georgia; Jasmine Crockett of Texas, Adam Hollier of Michigan, Valerie Foushee of North Carolina and Shontel Brown, a current representative from Ohio.
Most of the other $10 million Bankman-Fried spent this cycle has gone to the House Majority PAC ($6 million) and the crypto PAC GMI ($2 million).
While the vast majority of his spending has supported Democratic candidates and causes, Bankman-Fried does not classify himself as an exclusively Democratic donor — for instance he gave $105,000 to the Alabama Conservatives Fund in June and $45,000 to the NRCC in July.
He told Politico in August that he is “legitimately worried about doing things that will make people view me as partisan when it’s not how I feel … because I think it both misses what I’m trying to do and makes it harder for me to act constructively.” A representative for the FTX boss didn’t respond to a request for comment.
3. Richard Uihlein — $49 million
Richard Uihlein is the founder of the shipping and business supply company Uline, and is a longtime conservative donor. This cycle has seen nearly $50 million in political spending by him, with just over half of it going to Club for Growth Action. Uihlein has also given about $14 million to Restoration PAC, an organization that says it is “dedicated to strengthening the foundations that made America the greatest nation in the world: God, family, education, and community.”
Uihlein’s next largest contributions are to the conservative Team PAC ($2.5 million) and the Arkansas Patriots Fund ($2.2 million), which earlier this year made ad buys favoring Republican Sen. John Boozman’s primary opponent. A representative for Uihlein didn’t respond to a request for comment.
2. Ken Griffin — $51 million
With $51 million in federal-level political spending, Ken Griffin, CEO of hedge fund Citadel, is the second most prolific donor this cycle.
The biggest beneficiaries are the Republican-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund with $18.5 million in contributions, the Senate Leadership Fund with $10 million and Honor Pennsylvania, a super PAC that backed Republican Dave McCormick’s Senate bid. McCormick lost in the primary to Mehmet Oz by less than a thousand votes.
While Griffin spent about $64 million during the last cycle, his $51 million figure this year marks by far the most he has spent during a midterm cycle. During the 2018 cycle, his contributions totaled less than $8 million.
A spokesperson for Griffin told MarketWatch that Griffin “supports leaders who are committed to protecting the American Dream and pursuing policies that will create a better future for the United States.”
“The right policies will focus on creating rewarding jobs, prioritizing public safety, and investing in a strong national defense,” his spokesperson said. “Preserving the American Dream will require that every child is well educated, can access great healthcare, and has the opportunity to succeed.”
1. George Soros — $129 million
Not one donor comes close to matching the sum that billionaire philanthropist George Soros has contributed this cycle: $129 million. However, much of that money hasn’t actually been put to work this cycle.
The majority of those on this list have focused their funding on Republican causes, but Soros’ money has gone to Democratic groups — specifically Democracy PAC II, whose $125 million in contributions comprises 99% of its fundraising. The super PAC spent more than $80 million on Democratic groups and candidates during the 2020 election.
A representative for Soros pointed MarketWatch to a Politico article from January, in which Soros said the $125 million is aimed at supporting pro-democracy “causes and candidates, regardless of political party” who are invested in “strengthening the infrastructure of American democracy: voting rights and civic participation, civil rights and liberties, and the rule of law” and called his contribution a “long-term investment” that will support political work beyond this year.
So far this cycle, Democracy PAC has spent very little and holds $113 million in available cash. Contributions the PAC has made this cycle include $5 million to the Senate Majority PAC, $2.5 million to One Georgia and $1 million to both Care in Action and House Majority PAC.