This article reflects Federal Election Commission filings as of Dec. 31, 2019. Go here to see the latest billionaire donor count.
As Democratic candidates drop out of the race, more billionaires are jumping in. By the end of 2019, about 20% of American billionaires had donated—either directly or through their spouse—to at least one Democratic candidate running for president, according to a review of the latest Federal Election Commission filings. At least 100 billionaires donated in their own names. And at least 25 did not give any money directly, but are married to people who did.
Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg lead the pack of beneficiaries. Forbes found that Biden had received support from 60 billionaires or their spouses by the end of 2019. Buttigieg had 56 such backers. The two billionaire candidates, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, outspent both Biden and Buttigieg with their own resources. By the end of the year, Steyer and Bloomberg had each shelled out over $200 million on their campaigns.
Sixteen new donors supported Biden in the last three months of 2019, according to a Forbes analysis. Biden’s largest donor appears to be real estate billionaire George Marcus, who gave $1 million to a super PAC supporting the former vice president in December. Marcus also hosted a fundraiser for Biden in the fall. His wife, Judy, pitched in another $2,800 to Biden, her first contribution to a presidential candidate this cycle, in October.
Forbes also found 16 new donors to Buttigieg’s campaign, including Walmart heiress Christy Walton and Kleiner Perkins legend John Doerr, along with the spouses of hedge funder Steve Cohen and Google cofounder Sergey Brin. Brin’s wife, Nicole Shanahan, reportedly cohosted a fundraiser for Buttigieg in December in concert with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Wendy Schmidt, the wife of ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Earlier in the race, Shanahan donated $2,800 to the now-defunct campaign of Marianne Williamson.
Buttigieg likely has even more billionaire support. Forbes found two other donors whose names match the names of billionaire spouses, but we could not independently verify whether they were in fact the same people. The Buttigieg campaign also received a lift from VoteVets, a PAC that has paid for ads supporting Buttigieg and in August raised $100,000 from private equity billionaire Brian Sheth.
Forbes found eight new donors to Amy Klobuchar’s campaign. All but one of her new supporters had also contributed to Biden, Buttigieg—or both. Notable new backers include hedge funder Stephen Mandel, Laurene Powell Jobs and Nicole Systrom, the wife of Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom. Powell Jobs—who sits atop a $25 billion fortune she inherited from her late husband, Steve, the cofounder of Apple—has also contributed to the campaigns of Biden, Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Michael Bennet.
While Buttigieg, Biden and Klobuchar’s groups picked up new billionaire backers—and Steyer and Bloomberg bankrolled their own operations—three other candidates got virtually no love from the upper crust. After Forbes reported that Marta Thoma Hall, who is married to a billionaire self-driving car pioneer, donated to Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator returned the money in November. No other billionaires have sent him funds since, according to a Forbes analysis. Elizabeth Warren had previously received support from six billionaires and their spouses. But she upped her proposed wealth tax from 3% to 6% during the final quarter of 2019, which might explain why no other billionaires got behind her campaign. Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard—who had previously received just one billionaire donation from Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey—also did not pick up any new support from the richest of the rich.
Even the most recent campaign dropouts—Andrew Yang, Deval Patrick and Michael Bennet—received donations from new billionaires during the last three months of the year. But as Sanders has shown, success at the voting booth does not necessarily require support from the billionaires.
Despite having support from more billionaires than any other Democratic candidate at the end of 2019, it’s not a sure thing that they’ll stick with Biden through the rest of the primary season. When asked about his contribution to Biden (and his wife’s contribution to Buttigieg), private equity billionaire Thomas Lee made it clear his family has a new favorite, writing to Forbes in an email, “All pre Bloomberg!!!”
Buttigieg is getting new support from the money capitals of America—Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Private equity titan Barry Sternlicht of Starwood Private Equity Group and venture capitalist John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins are now backing Buttigieg. So are at least three members of the Chicago-based Pritzker clan, heirs to the Hyatt hotel fortune.
After contributing to Kamala Harris’ campaign more than a year ago, Laurene Powell Jobs spread her support around during the last three months of 2019, giving to the campaigns of Klobuchar, Biden, Bennet, Booker and Buttigieg.
Steyer doesn’t need much from others, having shelled out more than $200 million of his own money. But fellow hedge fund billionaire Julian Robertson, who founded Tiger Management, pitched in $5,600 nonetheless.
In November, Warren announced that she would double her proposed wealth tax from 3% to 6% to fund Medicare For All. Not a good way to attract the billionaires. Zero donated to her campaign in the last three months of 2019, according to a Forbes analysis.
Why ask anyone else for money when your personal net worth is nearly 1,000 times more than the amount Donald Trump’s campaign spent in 2016?
Gabbard’s only billionaire donor remains Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who gave $5,600 in June, maxing out the amount he can contribute to her campaign through the general election.
Sanders received $470 in contributions from the spouse of a billionaire over the summer. After Forbes notified his campaign of the contributions, he returned the funds to her last November.
Additional reporting by Giacomo Tognini
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