Which donors are giving the most ahead of 2020?

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It’s only August, but as the 2020 election season is already well underway, billionaire donors are finding themselves in demand earlier than usual.

The top 10 donors of the 2020 cycle so far have already given a combined $47 million to federal candidates, parties and groups. Most of that money — $39 million — is going to powerful super PACs and other outside groups that can solicit unlimited contributions from wealthy donors. 

As candidates on both sides of the aisle increasingly try to attract coveted small donors, wealthy individuals continue to flex their influence in the post-Citizens United landscape where independent groups spend millions on TV ads and other communications to bolster candidates in crucial races.  

Top 10 donors (August 2019)
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Most of the top donors from last year’s midterms are already back for more. Maine financier Donald Sussman, the fifth most prolific donor in 2018, holds the top donor spot through the first half of 2019.

One of Hillary Clinton’s top supporters in 2016, Sussman kicked off 2019 cycle by giving $2 million to each of the three biggest Democratic super PACs — House Majority PAC, Senate Majority PAC and Priorities USA. 

Sussman has already given more than $7.5 million to Democratic candidates and groups. He gave the maximum $5,600 — $2,800 for both the primary and general elections — to nearly every vulnerable Democrat running for House and Senate. He also gave $5,600 to Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) presidential campaign. 

Richard Uihlein, founder of shipping giant Uline, and his wife Elizabeth, together hold the second place spot by giving $6.9 million to Republican candidates and groups. The Illinois billionaire gave his largest single contribution — $2.5 million — to conservative super PAC Club for Growth Action. The group has already spent more than $430,000 backing Republican Dan Bishop in North Carolina’s 9th District special election. 

The Uihleins also gave a combined $1 million to pro-Trump super PAC America First Action. Despite giving nearly $40 million last cycle, it’s the first time they’ve backed America First Action, which President Donald Trump has designated as his only “approved” super PAC among a sea of questionable groups masquerading as pro-Trump organizations.

Tom Steyer owns the unusual honor of making the top donor list while also running for president. He funneled $6.5 million to his liberal super PAC NextGen Climate Action, accounting for effectively all of the group’s cash. The California native contributed $5,600 to several House Democrats, including Golden State Reps. Karen Bass and Katie Porter. 

With plenty of money leftover to spend on his own presidential run, Steyer has already shelled out millions on TV and digital ads, helping him reach the 130,000 donor requirement needed to make the September debates in just over a month. 

Democratic megadonor George Soros makes the list despite giving just $14,000 to three Democratic candidates. He gave $5.1 million to a new group called Democracy PAC, which he will reportedly use as a conduit to give to other pro-Democrat organizations. 

Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, a vocal supporter of President Trump, rounds out the top five. He and his wife Billi have already given more than $1.8 million to candidates and parties, contributing more hard money than any other donor in the early 2020 cycle. Marcus retired from Home Depot more than a decade ago, but that didn’t stop social media users from pushing for a Home Depot boycott.

The Georgia couple has given to hundreds of Republican congressional candidates and shelled out the maximum combined $11,200 to Republican leaders Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Marcus gave $2 million to the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund and $500,000 to the McCarthy-linked Congressional Leadership Fund, the top-spending group during last year’s midterms. 

Absent from the top 10 list are the top donors of the 2018 cycle — Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Sheldon and Miriam Adelson gave $466,900 to Republican candidates and parties through the first half of 2019, but they haven’t delved into the world of unlimited spending groups yet. The two gave the maximum $11,200 to several senators up for reelection in 2020, including Susan Collins (R-Maine), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and McConnell. 

Bloomberg has only contributed to a handful of New England candidates, giving $5,600 to Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.). But he also reported in-kind contributions to his super PAC Independence USA totaling less than $10,000 for “project management,” indicating he still has his sights set on 2020. Independence USA spent $38 million backing Democrats in 2018 and had one of the best success rates among outside groups. 

Bloomberg’s team floated the possibility that he could spend more than $500 million to defeat Trump in 2020. In June, Bloomberg announced he would spend the same massive figure on a campaign meant to encourage clean energy. 

Which presidential candidates are megadonors backing?

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is the most popular 2020 Democrat popular with top 100 donors, receiving $42,100. Despite writing off private fundraisers with wealthy donors, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) comes in second with more than $41,000. 

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg also pulled in more than $41,000 from these top donors, including large gifts from Indiana megadonor Deborah Simon and James Murdoch, son of conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch. 

Some megadonors chose to share the wealth among presidential candidates. Walt Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and his wife Marilyn together gave $5,600 to a whopping 14 Democratic presidential candidates. California physician Karla Jurvetson contributed to four other presidential candidates — Sens. Warren, Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Jurvetson reportedly helped Warren pay for access to the Democratic National Committee voter file with a $100,000 contribution to the DNC. 

Booker ($36,339) and Harris ($29,900) found success with these wealthy donors. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) each received $25,200. 

Trump is the top recipient of megadonor money, taking home more than $130,000. Trump has courted millionaire and billionaire donors himself by headlining lavish fundraisers, including one in the Hamptons Friday where he reportedly raised $12 million in one day. Trump’s wealthy donors give to his joint fundraising committee Trump Victory, which then transfers the money to the Trump campaign and various accounts within the Republican National Committee. 

Nearly two-dozen donors have already given more than $300,000 to Trump Victory. Those large contributions have gotten some top donors in trouble. Marvel Entertainment chairman Isaac Perlmutter was criticized for making a maximum $360,600 contribution, while some are boycotting companies owned by Stephen Ross over the billionaire’s Hamptons fundraiser for Trump. Ross contributes to members of both parties — he gave $5,600 each to Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). 

Trump’s big-dollar fundraisers have helped power the RNC — it currently has $43 million cash on hand compared to the DNC’s $9 million. The fundraisers also boost the Trump Organization’s bottom line. Trump Victory reported spending nearly $345,000 at the Trump-owned Mar-a-Lago through the first half of 2019.

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