A few dozen billionaires are spending tens of millions of dollars on the 2022 midterm elections—mostly to support Republican candidates, including many who have parroted the dangerous lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen—in a bid to ensure that Congress is full of lawmakers willing "to make their wealthy benefactors even richer," according to a fresh analysis.
"What's good for billionaires—including cutting taxes on the rich and corporations—is bad for working families."
Titled Billionaires Buying Elections, the report from Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) details how "billionaires are increasingly using their personal fortunes and the profits of connected corporations to drown out regular voters' voices and elect hand-picked candidates who further rig the nation's economy—especially the tax system."
A pair of super PACs tasked with securing Republican majorities in the House and Senate—the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) and the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF)—raised a combined $188.3 million through the first 16 months of the 2022 campaign cycle, according to ATF. Nearly half—$89.4 million, or 48%—came from just 27 billionaires. A whopping 86% of the GOP's billionaire money came from "Wall Street tycoons" who are arguably the biggest beneficiaries of glaring loopholes in the tax code.
The Democratic counterparts of those two super PACs—the House Majority PAC and the Senate Majority PAC—raised a combined $154 million over the same time period. A smaller share—$25.8 million, or 17%—came from 19 billionaires. A majority of billionaire contributions to Democratic candidates also came from the finance and investment sector (35%), but other industries were also well-represented, including cryptocurrency (26%), and tech (18%).
"Unlike candidates and party committees, super PACs can raise unlimited donations from individuals and corporations," ATF explained. "In return they are not supposed to coordinate activities with the campaigns they support but instead act independently, though that rule is often flouted."
Top billionaire donors to congressional super PACs include hedge fund magnate Ken Griffin, who has given more than $28.5 million to CLF and SLF, and private equity mogul Stephen Schwarzman, who has pumped $20 million into the GOP's two super PACs.
"Anti-democratic vote-buying," ATF wrote, "has been facilitated by—and is facilitating—the accelerating wealth growth of the billionaire class and the record profits of the corporations they own."
The combined net worth of the nation's roughly 750 billionaires surged by $2 trillion, or 70%, during the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic. The collective wealth of the 27 billionaires bankrolling the GOP's super PACs alone soared by $82.4 billion over that time period, meaning that the $89.4 million they have donated to CLF and SLF constitutes less than 0.1% of their overall pandemic-era gains.
Meanwhile, the return on that modest investment could amount to billions of dollars if Republicans take back Congress in November and preserve their 2017 tax cuts or further slash taxes on superrich people and the corporations they own.
Over a recent nine-year period, the 400 wealthiest people in the U.S. paid an average effective federal income tax rate of just 8.2% when the increased value of their stock holdings is included in their income. That is a lower rate than the nationwide average of 13.3% in 2019.
As ATF explained, focusing on contributions to congressional super PACs fails "to capture the full political influence of billionaires, who in addition to personal donations also steer money to favored candidates from related corporations and organizations."
Billionaires are among the ultrawealthy Americans who control corporations through their extensive stock holdings. Many corporate giants have been distorting the upcoming midterms, ATF pointed out, by spending tens of millions to help GOP candidates who have vowed to defend special tax breaks for the top 1% get elected, including 144 far-right members of Congress who voted to overturn President Joe Biden's electoral victory.
According to the report, seven powerful corporations—AT&T, Chevron, ExxonMobil, FedEx, GM, Merck, and UPS—have collectively given nearly $1.5 million to dozens of election deniers and various Republican PACs and election committees this campaign cycle. The companies' demonstrated lack of concern for democracy, ATF noted, likely stems from their desire to keep dodging taxes. In 2021, these firms paid an average federal income tax rate of just 2.7% on a combined $78.4 billion in profits.
"We need to rein in billionaire political and economic power through campaign finance reforms and tax reforms such as a billionaires income tax."
Notably, Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal who is worth about $5 billion and openly opposed to democracy, has been spending big on his preferred Republican candidates but not through the GOP's congressional super PACs.
Thiel "has so far spent almost $30 million through super PACs supporting the 2022 senatorial bids of two former employees who share his anti-democratic and anti-tax beliefs," ATF found. "J.D. Vance won the Ohio Republican U.S. Senate primary thanks in part to Thiel's $15 million in spending. Blake Masters has a fighting chance in Arizona's GOP U.S. Senate primary in August due to Thiel's $13.5 million in contributions."
Another source of "billionaire dominance of campaign financing, especially on the Republican side," wrote ATF, are so-called "dark money" groups, which are not required to disclose the identity of their donors. Some dark money groups—including Club for Growth, which has received $32 million from billionaire Wall Street trader Jeffrey Yass over the years—are "notorious for having bankrolled insurrectionist members of Congress" like Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), ATF noted.
According to the report:
Politically active billionaire Charles Koch has not personally donated to either GOP super PAC this cycle, but his corporation—Koch Industries—has so far given them a total of $1.75 million.
Two of the biggest "dark money" groups, which do not disclose their donors, are essentially sister groups to the two congressional GOP super PACs. American Action Network gave at least $26 million to CLF in the 2020 cycle and $18.7 million so far this cycle. One Nation donated $77.5 million to SLF last cycle and has given $16.5 million so far this cycle.
The ability of the nation's wealthiest individuals to translate their disproportionate economic power into political clout has increased exponentially since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision eliminated effective limits on campaign contributions.
According to the report:
- Billionaires pumped $1.2 billion into the 2020 elections, almost 40 times more than the $31 million they donated in 2010, when the Citizens United rules were first in effect. In the 2020 election cycle, billionaires contributed nearly $1 out of every $10, while making up just 0.01% of all donors contributing more than $200.
- Billionaires donated almost $240 million to the combined campaign efforts of Donald Trump's two runs for president. Over half came from just one billionaire household, that of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson (who has since died).
"Billionaires, who are used to buying whatever they want, have increasingly dedicated their almost unlimited resources to buying American elections," Frank Clemente, executive director of ATF, said in a statement.
"The problem is what's good for billionaires—including cutting taxes on the rich and corporations—is bad for working families," said Clemente. "We need to rein in billionaire political and economic power through campaign finance reforms and tax reforms such as a billionaires income tax."
Several legislative proposals have emerged to tax the increased value of assets owned by the nation's wealthiest households each year regardless of whether they sell or keep them, which would ensure that income derived from wealth is taxed more like income earned from work.
Biden's plan would raise an estimated $360 billion over 10 years, while Sen. Ron Wyden's (D-Ore.) plan would raise an estimated $550 billion over a decade, and Rep. Jamaal Bowman's (D-N.Y.) proposal possibly even more.
Billionaire-backed Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), however, has joined Senate Republicans in opposing such a measure.