How the Top Donors in 2016 Line Up
Robert Mercer and family: $3.8 million
A computer programmer by training, Mercer made a fortune at Renaissance Technologies, a Long Island, New York, hedge fund that uses algorithms to spot market patterns. His middle daughter, Rebekah, oversees much of his philanthropic and political activity. That includes an ownership stake in Breitbart News, the fervently pro-Trump media outlet, and in a company that sells data to campaigns. The Mercers backed Ted Cruz in the Republican primary, but after he dropped out, they redirected the PAC's resources to focus on running anti-Clinton messages, and publicly rebuked Cruz for refusing to back the nominee. One of Mercer's pet issues: returning the U.S. to the gold standard.
Bernard Marcus: $3 million
The son of a cabinetmaker in New Jersey, Marcus co-founded the Home Depot chain of home-improvement stores and made billions. Since stepping down from the company, he's focused on philanthropy and politics. He spoke out against the Occupy Wall Street movement as a founding member of Job Creators Alliance, which advocates for free enterprise and entrepreneurship. In June, he endorsed Trump, citing the importance of appointing conservative judges and of cutting government regulation. According to a report in Politico that cited an unnamed source, he recently contributed $3 million to a pro-Trump super-PAC. A representative for Marcus declined to comment on the report.
Geoffrey Palmer: $2.1 million
Palmer is a third-generation developer in Southern California, known for his faux-Italianate Los Angeles apartment buildings with names like the Da Vinci and the Medici. He's often been at odds with the Democrat-dominated city government. Palmer appears to be new to big-money politics; prior to this election, he had never written a million-dollar check to a political committee. His scuffles with Los Angeles officials may give a hint about his priorities; he's often chafed at government regulations and once called an affordable-housing policy "immoral."
Phillip Ruffin and family: $1.5 million
According to an official biography, Ruffin has owned a dairy, a bank, and casinos. He grew up in Wichita, Kansas, and entered business with one convenience store which soon grew to 65, the bio states. He's a big wheel in Las Vegas, where he controls the Treasure Island casino, and he is a partner with Trump in the Trump International Hotel & Tower. The $1 million that Ruffin gave to a pro-Trump super pac last year appears to be by far the biggest political bet he's made. But it didn't last. After Trump disavowed the group, it disbanded and returned Ruffin's money. More recently, he and his wife gave $500,000 to a committee that collects money for Trump and for the Republican party. Last week, he spoke to the Republican National Convention about his long friendship with Trump.
"Papa" Doug Manchester and family: $948,800
Manchester is a real-estate developer in San Diego who has reshaped portions of that city's waterfront, but he's even better known in Southern California for his onetime ownership of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Under his ownership, the newspaper moved to promote the city and advocate for a "pro-business, pro-military" agenda. The newspaper named Barack Obama the worst U.S. president and predicted there would be an effort to remove "In God We Trust" from the currency if he won a second term.
Haim Saban and family: $10.1 million
Egyptian-born Haim Saban started out promoting tours in Israel, ran a French record label and, after moving to Los Angeles in the 1980s, brought the children’s Power Rangers television show to the U.S. Saban partnered with Rupert Murdoch to form Fox Family Worldwide, which they sold to Walt Disney in 2001 for $3 billion. Saban used the proceeds to start Saban Capital Group, which has partnered on deals to acquire majority stakes in Israeli telecom firm Bezeq and Univision, the largest U.S. Spanish language television network. Saban, who’s worth about $3.6 billion, first donated to Bill Clinton in 1995 and has been a loyal supporter of the Clintons ever since, including more than $10 million in donations to the Clinton Foundation. Since 2003, the Sabans have contributed $15.5 million to federal candidates and committees.
J.B. Pritzker and family: $8.3 million
An heir of the Pritzker family hotel and manufacturing empire, Jay Robert Pritzker runs the Chicago-based Pritzker Group, a private equity and venture capital firm, with older brother Tony. It's invested in more than 75 companies, including SMS Assist, a leading provider of maintenance services to businesses, and Shiftgig, a tech company that connects service industry workers with employers. Pritzker has a net worth of $3.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The Pritzker's family foundation has co-sponsored Clinton Global Initiative meetings and gave more than $10 million to the Clinton Foundation, which tapped J.B. Pritzker to serve on the leadership council of Too Small to Fail, an early childhood health project launched by Hillary Clinton. The Pritzkers have contributed $9.7 million to federal candidates and committees since 2003, with the bulk of their giving coming in the current election cycle.
Donald Sussman: $8.1 million
Donald Sussman operates Connecticut-based hedge fund Paloma Partners, which he started in 1981. Early investors included members of the Tisch family, owners of the CBS Television Network, Lollilard Tobacco and Loews Corporation. Sussman didn't become a major political donor until 1996, but his giving accelerated after marrying Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who was president of campaign-finance watchdog Common Cause before representing Maine's 1st district. Sussman and Pingree announced they were divorcing in 2015, but he remains active as a donor, a member of the Democracy Alliance network of progressive donors and on the board of the Center for American Progress, the liberal think tank. John Podesta, Clinton's campaign chairman, also serves on the board. Sussman has given $21 million to federal candidates and committees since 2003.
George Soros: $7 million
Financier George Soros founded what would become the Quantum Fund in 1969 with $12 million. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, he's now worth $24.7 billion and continues to invest through Soros Fund Management, a family firm. As a political donor, Soros has been mercurial. In 2004, he contributed $23.5 million to organizations opposing George W. Bush's reelection effort. In 2008, he donated $2,300 to both Clinton and Barack Obama, and that was it. Soros's Open Society Policy Center, the advocacy arm of his philanthropic network, spent $8.2 million on lobbying Washington in 2015. It focuses on international human rights, immigration, foreign aid, public health and criminal justice reform, among other issues. Since 2003, Soros has contributed $54 million to federal candidates and committees.
James Simons: $7 million
Mathematician James Simons founded Renaissance Technologies, the same Long Island hedge fund that made the fortune of conservative donor Robert Mercer. Renaissance Technologies lobbies Congress on tax issues affecting hedge funds; it spent $460,000 in 2015 on a pair of K Street firms. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Simons argued against greater regulation of hedge funds before Congress. Simons, who's worth of $15.5 billion, and his wife Marilyn have given $33.7 million to federal candidates and committees since 2003.
Fred Eychaner: $5 million
Fred Eychaner has made his fortune with his company Newsweb, which publishes alternative and ethnic newspapers and owns television and radio stations in Illinois and Indiana. Newsweb has never registered to lobby in Washington, but Eychaner has given $42.8 million since 2003 to party committees, candidates and outside spending groups. Eychaner is a major supporter of marriage equality, LGBT rights and AIDS prevention and awareness, and supports them through his Alphawood Foundation. The Clinton Foundation is among the charitable organizations he supports. He's given it more than $25 million.
Photo Illustration by 731; Photos: Getty Images (9); Fred Eychaner: AP