Robert L. Mercer
The final numbers are not yet in, but the 2014 elections were on track to be the most expensive midterms in history.
The Center for Responsive Politics estimated the midterms would cost $3.67 billion -- slightly more than $3.63 billion in 2010 and nearly as much as the $4 billion spent in the last presidential race.
But it wasn't just candidates and parties spending the cash. After the 2010 Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, the floodgates opened, allowing outside groups to spend record amounts.
Four years ago, outside spending came to more than $300 million. This year that figure is expected to triple, according to the CRP.
This includes money spent by groups such as super PACs, which are legally allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts as long as they don't donate directly to candidates or coordinate with their campaigns. Some argue this money creates "shadow campaigns" that can dominate the election dialogue.
So who gives to these outside groups? Corporations, unions and associations can all contribute, as can individuals.
Using data gathered by the CRP, CNN looked at the top individual donors giving to liberal and conservative outside groups.
Not all of these outside groups are required to disclose their sources of income -- which explains why people like the Koch brothers and Karl Rove aren't listed here.
Those who are, however, have a good bit in common: Many are hedge fund managers and real estate investors who went to Harvard, contribute significantly to charities and sit on nonprofit boards. Most are self-made billionaires.
But they also have unusual stories:
One sold bedpans before he made it big, another managed vending machines, and one put himself through school working as a waiter and a parking lot attendant.
Another pretended to be a Christian boy named Sandor Kiss to escape the fate of millions of his countrymen murdered by the Nazis.
Two worked as code breakers to help the government. Several have interesting outside “hobbies,” having owned race horses or professional sports teams.
One has jammed with the rocker Meatloaf on stage.
Take a look behind the numbers and learn more about these big donors and how they made their money.
First are the top 10 donors to liberal outside groups, followed by the top 10 donors to conservative outside groups.
Thomas Steyer is the biggest individual donor in this midterm election.
He’s spent more than $73.7 million on the midterms so far, with much of the money going to his NextGen Climate Action super PAC, which bills itself as a progressive, pro-environment counterbalance to the wealthy oil industry. He’s pushed to defeat Republican “science deniers” in this year’s midterms.
The super PAC has run more than $18 million worth of ads and ground efforts mostly against Republicans. Rep. Cory Gardner in the Colorado race for Senate has been a target, as have Republican Senate candidates Joni Ernst in Iowa, Terri Land in Michigan and Scott Brown in New Hampshire.
Steyer also has given $5 million to Senate Majority PAC and other left-leaning super PACs.
The retired San Francisco hedge fund owner is worth more than $1.62 billion, according to Forbes. He and his spouse, Katherine Taylor, are considered an atypical West Coast power couple. She has at least six tattoos, and he drives an old Honda hybrid, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The couple are passionate about the environment and philanthropy. Saying they want to leave “the campground better than they found it,” they signed the Giving Pledge in which they promise to give away their fortune to charity.
Steyer went to Yale as an undergrad and got his MBA from the business school at Stanford, where he met Taylor. In 1986, he started his hedge fund, Farallon Capital, which focused on investing in penny stocks and “special situations” such as buying distressed debt. Returns were high.
Taylor started in the middle market lending department at Wells Fargo but left to take care of the couple's children. By 2004, when the children were more independent, she and Steyer started One PacificCoast Bank in Oakland to gives loans and invest in low-income neighborhoods.
Steyer sold his hedge fund in 2012 and now focuses on politics, the environment and philanthropy full-time.
Michael Bloomberg is the second most generous individual contributor in the midterm elections this year. He’s spent more than $20 million, mostly on Democratic or liberal causes. About $500,000 has gone to Republican candidates.
Bloomberg is best known as the three-term mayor of New York City and as head of the communications company Bloomberg LP, but he came from humble beginnings. He was born on Valentine’s Day 1942 and grew up in Medford, Massachusetts. He went to Johns Hopkins for undergraduate school, working as a parking attendant and taking out student loans.
After he graduated from Harvard Business School in 1966, he took an entry level job at Salomon Brothers. But he rose through the ranks quickly to oversee the Wall Street firm's sales and trading equity departments. It was there that he improved the company’s information system.
After Salomon laid him off in 1981, he started Bloomberg LP, hoping to supply information that would bring “transparency and efficiency to buying and selling of financial services.” What started as a one-room office now has offices in 73 countries and employs more than 15,000 people.
During Bloomberg’s time as mayor, New York City saw a decline in crime and an increase in business growth and development. He became known for his efforts to improve public health through a strict smoking ban, a soda tax, and for his war against high-calorie foods. His other pet issues have included gun control and climate change.
Fred Eychaner is consistently one of the biggest donors to Democrats. He was one of the biggest donors in the 2012 presidential election, giving more than $12 million to super PACs. The 69-year-old has spent more than $7.9 million on this year's midterms so far, the majority of it going to liberals and democrats.
He is one of Chicago's richest and more generous men, but prefers to stay out of the spotlight. He donates to a number of nonprofit AIDS charities, the Joffrey Ballet and Northwestern's Medill Innocence Project, which works to free the wrongly convicted. In 2010 President Obama appointed Eychaner to a coveted seat on the board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Eychaner made his money running the business side of media companies. According to the Chicago Tribune, he got his start while still at Northwestern University, where he noticed how much the university was spending to print its publications. He ended up working as a broker between the university and less expensive printers he found in the suburbs.
Five years after graduation he bought his own printing press. His company, Newsweb, went on to publish the majority of the city's ethnic and alternative newspapers. In the 1970s he invested in radio and TV stations that he later sold for millions. Chicago's channel 60 went to the Home Shopping Network for $25 million, according to Broadcasting & Cable. He sold WPWR to Rupert Murdoch in 2002 for $425 million.
Eychaner was raised a Republican, but grew more liberal as he came out as gay. He said watching so many friends die of AIDS became "the most important issue in my life."
“Remember, it was just our last president, George W. Bush, who was elected with the drumbeat of a constitutional amendment which would have banned marriage equality, demonizing us yet again for overt, political, partisan advantage," Eychaner said after receiving a Lambda Legal award at an event in Chicago this spring.
“Our victories today are real. They are sweet. But let's always remember and never forget that our progress has been won at the cost of many lives, much time, money, sweat and many, many tears.”
George Soros is probably most closely associated with his many high-profile efforts to back liberal causes.
He’s worth an estimated $24 billion, making him the 25th richest person in the world, according to Forbes.
This election cycle, the retired hedge fund manager has spent $3.56 million on liberal-leaning super PACs like the Senate Majority PAC, Planned Parenthood Votes and Friends of Democracy. Looking ahead to 2016, he’s even written a $25,000 check to the Ready for Hillary PAC.
Soros was born in Hungary in August 1930. His family went into hiding as soon as the Nazis took over power there in 1944, when some 440,000 Jews were deported -- most to Auschwitz.
His father, Tivadar, was a lawyer and acquired false papers for the family. George lived with a family friend as his godson under the name Sandor Kiss. He fled Hungary in 1947 after the Communists occupied his country. He was 16.
He moved to London where he worked as a railway porter, waiter and traveling salesman to put himself through the London School of Economics. He graduated in 1952 and became a financial analyst and a highly successful trader in New York. In 1973 he set up a private investment fund that became the Quantum Fund, one of the country’s first hedge funds.
He made headlines for betting against the British pound, making $1 billion in 1992. Newspapers famously said Soros “broke the Bank of England.” In 2013, he shorted the Japanese yen, earning an estimated $1 billion and putting him on Forbes’ list of the highest earning hedge fund managers.
Soros spends hundreds of millions annually to support democracy in the former Soviet bloc. He supported ballot measures in the 1990s in California and Arizona to legalize marijuana. Over the years he has donated significant amounts to support Democrats at federal, state and local levels. He was an early supporter of Barack Obama when he first ran for Senate in Illinois, was an initial donor to the Center for American Progress, and provided half of a $5 million challenge grant to MoveOn to encourage small donors to make contributions.
James H. Simons and his spouse, Marilyn, have donated $3.05 million to Democrats and liberal candidates in the midterms so far.
Simons is a theoretical mathematician by training. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at 17 and graduated in three years. He then earned his Ph.D. at University of California at Berkeley in another three years. He decided to become a mathematician late one night at a dinner when he saw two famous mathematicians “doing math over coffee and cigarettes,” which he thought “was the coolest thing,” according to a speech he gave at MIT.
He got his professional start as a code-breaker during the Vietnam War but was fired for making anti-war statements to the press. He went on to teach math at MIT and Harvard University and run the math department at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. After 20 years he decided to make a switch. He had some success with investments and decided create mathematical models to help him invest on the theory that it would remove emotions from the decision-making process.
Called black box investing, his hedge fund Renaissance Technologies lets his secret algorithm make trades automatically without human intervention. To continue to create the best models, Simons didn’t hire MBAs; instead he hired statisticians, theoretical physicists, astronomers and even philosophers.
Renaissance became one of the most successful hedge funds in history. He retired in 2009 after 30 years as its CEO. His fortune is estimated at $12.5 billion. Forbes ranks him as the country’s 37th richest person -- ahead of Eric Schmidt of Google and Elon Musk of Tesla Motors.
Because so little was known about the mechanics of black box investing, Congress called Simons and several other hedge fund managers to a committee hearing in 2008. Congress thought about further regulating the practice. But Simons argued the economic downturn was not due to hedge funds, noting none needed government bailouts when banks did.
"In my opinion,” he told Congress, “the most culpable (are) the rating agencies which allowed sows' ears to be sold as silk purses.”
Outside of hedge funds, Simons is interested in philanthropy. He and his wife started the Simons Foundation. Their focus is autism research and basic math and science education. They signed a pledge promising to give away their fortune.
Marilyn Simons has a Ph.D. in economics. The two met in the 1970s when she was a graduate student and he ran the math department at Stony Brook. Their foundation has become one of the country’s leading private funders of basic scientific research, particularly in underserved communities, giving away $185.5 million in 2012, according to Inside Philanthropy.
Marilyn Simons has also served on the board of Planned Parenthood of Suffolk County and contributes to Planned Parenthood PAC.
Donald Sussman has been a donor to Democrats for years. For the midterms, he has given $2.05 million to left-leaning super PACs like House Majority PAC, Women Vote! and League of Conservation Voters.
He’s also thinking ahead to the 2016 election with a $25,000 donation to Ready for Hillary, the super PAC that supports a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.
A hedge fund chief who mentored many successful people in the field, he lists both Maine and Connecticut as his addresses with the Federal Elections Commission. According to his board of trustees profile at Skidmore College, where he studied as an undergraduate, he earned an MBA from New York University and then went into the world of finance.
He’s long been interested in finance and tells the story of when, as a 12-year-old boy, he invested $300 in stock in a Michigan sugar market. The stock took off when the Cuban revolution that year restricted sugar supplies.
As the founder of Paloma Partners Management in 1981, Sussman was one of the first hedge fund managers to develop a securities lending capacity. It quickly became a global business. In 2013 he was inducted into the Institutional Investor’s Alpha Hedge Fund Hall of Fame.
He typically tries to stay out of the press but owns a couple newspapers in Maine. He generated his own headlines when Republicans accused him of using his connection with his then-fiancé, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, for financial gain. Republicans accused her of using Sussman's private plane to attend campaign events, saying it was an ethics violation. This was only after she had complained about lawmakers catching rides on influential donors’ jets. The House ethics committee ultimately approved Pingree's plane rides. Sussman and Pingree are now married.
According to a profile in Businessweek, he is also a co-founder and director at New China Capital Management LLC and established the Sussman Center for Chinese Antiquities at the Capital Museum of Bejing in 1995. He is a trustee of the Carnegie Hall Corporation and the University of the Virgin Islands. He is also known as a generous philanthropist, having contributed to more than 50 Maine organizations, including museums, libraries, historical societies and health care facilities.
The owner of Solil Management, a New York City property management firm, Amy Goldman contributed $3.4 million to left-leaning super PACs in 2012, including the House Majority PAC, Planned Parenthood Votes and the Obama-focused Priorities USA Action. This election cycle she has given more than $1.99 million to left-leaning groups like Planned Parenthood Votes and the Seante Majority PAC and House Majority PAC.
According to a profile in The New York Times, Goldman has a doctorate in clinical psychology and ran her own practice for a while, but her real passion is for preserving heirloom fruits and vegetables and keeping this country's agricultural heritage alive.
Her company website says she pursues that passion in practice and on paper. She owns a 200-acre farm in Rhinebeck, New York, about a two-hour drive from Manhattan. On the farm she carefully cultivates endangered and exotic plant species.
She's written three books on the topic: "Melons for the Passionate Grower," "The Compleat Squash," and "The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table." She has been a frequent guest on Martha Stewart's television shows and "The Victory Garden." She has been the chair of Seed Savers, a nonprofit that protects endangered plants, and sits on the board of the New York Botanical Garden.
Goldman comes from family money. Her father, Sol Goldman, had a vast New York real estate empire and once owned the Chrysler Building. When he died in the 1980s, his fortune was estimated to be at least $1 billion. Goldman's mother was a well-known philanthropist. In an interview with NPR, Goldman said her mother was a patient of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood -- hence her support of the organization.
George Marcus has spent $1.75 million on the election so far, giving all of it to liberal leaning Democratic super PACs like the House Majority PAC and Senate Majority PAC.
Marcus is known as an highly successful serial entrepreneur who made the bulk of his money in real estate. He was born George Moutsanas in Greece in 1941 and immigrated with his family to the United States in 1945. He graduated in 1965 from San Francisco State University, earning a degree in economics in only two and a half years. He went on to study at Harvard Business School and Georgetown University.
He started Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services in 1971 along with William A. Millichap, and Palo Alto-based Essex Property Trust, a publicly traded real estate investment trust that owns thousands of apartments in California and in Seattle. Marcus & Millichap manages a group of development, real estate, investment and service firms. The group was successful in large part because it took more of an analytical approach to the business, according to a rare profile in Palo Alto Online.
“Real estate was almost a fraternity club,” Marcus told Palo Alto Online. "Your uncle or your father or someone in the community knew you and your family and you sat at some real estate office and they told you they want to sell this building or that building and you brought them some offers. There wasn't an analysis or appraisal, really. There wasn't exclusive representation, really. There wasn't coordination of the sale by the company, really."
Since then he has gone on to own shares in popular Greek restaurants Evvia Estiatorio in downtown Palo Alto and Kokkari Estiatorio in San Francisco’s Financial District. He served as an appointed regent for the University of California and is on the Policy Advisory Board of the University of California at Berkeley Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics.
Marcus' spouse, Judy, graduated from San Francisco State University in 1962 with a physical education degree and taught for seven years before she left teaching to start a family. She and George Marcus have four children. While raising her children, she became a leader in several nonprofit organizations including the Community Services Agency, Families in Transition and Breast Cancer Connections and has been active with the Humane Society, Montalvo Arts Center and Avenidas Senior Center, according to Los Altos Patch. In 2013 she was inducted into the San Francisco State University Alumni Hall of Fame.
The Los Altos Hills, California, couple are passionate Democrats and are friends with Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Jerry Brown.
Herbert Sandler has spent at least $1.7 million on this midterm election, giving $1 million to NextGen Climate Action, $500,000 to the Senate Majority PAC and $200,000 to the House Majority PAC.
Sandler and his late wife, Marion, made their money launching Golden West Financial Corp., a California-based savings and loan company and mortgage portfolio lender that started with two branches and ended up employing more than 11,000 people in 39 states. Its subsidiary, World Savings Bank, became the second largest savings and loan in the country at the time. They ran Golden West from 1963 to 2006, when they sold it to Wachovia for $25 billion and turned their attention to philanthropy.
Through the Sandler Foundation, which they set up in 1991, they’ve given away more than $1.3 billion. They fund science initiatives, higher education programs, asthma research and human rights efforts, including Human Rights Watch. They launched ProPublica, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative news entity. They have signed onto the Giving Pledge, promising to give away their fortune.
Sandler grew up on the Lower East Side of New York. He went to City College of New York for his undergraduate degree and Columbia Law School, where he graduated in 1954. He worked for the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor and later as a lawyer at a small firm. He met his wife in the Hamptons. Marion Sandler came from Maine, the daughter of a hardware store owner, and was one of the early female pioneers on Wall Street, working as a senior analyst.
After they married in 1961, the Sandlers moved to California where they were convinced they could run their own savings and loan more effectively than others. They stayed in California ever since. Marion Sandler died in 2012.
Jeremy and his spouse, Hannelore, spent at least $1.65 million in this midterm election, giving that amount to the League of Conservation Voters in October. The league is a group working to elect pro-environment candidates.
Robert Jeremy Grantham is the co-founder and chief strategist of GMO LLC, a global investment management firm that employs more than 550 people and manages more than $124 billion in client assets. The firm is based in Boston.
Grantham and his fellow founders started the firm in 1977. He was educated at the University of Sheffield in England and, according to a profile in the Independent Investor, once sold bedpans for his stepfather’s medical equipment business. He then went to work as an economist with Royal Dutch Shell and left for the United States to get an MBA from Harvard Business School. He grew up in Doncaster, England, and was raised a Quaker.
He now “occupies a legendary place in the world of finance,” according to Business Insider, for predicting all the major stock market bubbles of recent decades.
Grantham and his German-born wife, Hannelore, run the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, which they founded in 1997. Through the foundation, they support numerous organizations, including the Center for Public Integrity, the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, the World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy, Imperial College’s Grantham Institute for Climate Change and London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.
A New York-based hedge fund manager, Paul Singer has given more than $9.33 million to conservatives and Republican-leaning super PACs this midterm election.
Singer is worth $1.86 billion, according to Forbes. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1969 and worked in corporate law firms, but then went on to become what Fortune called one “of the smartest and toughest money managers in the business.”
In 1977 he founded Elliot Management, which currently manages over $25 billion. The company is known as an “activist” investor that demands changes at the companies in which he invests.
Singer has made a fortune betting against countries like Congo and Peru when their debt defaults. After betting against Argentina, the President called him a “vulture” for trying to “extort” money from the country. Most of those who hold Argentina’s bad debt agreed to take only a fraction of what they were owed, but Singer wouldn’t settle. Three courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled in his favor. The fight is ongoing.
While a backer of Republican causes and deeply distrustful of government interference in financial issues, he is a supporter of a more liberal issue, same-sex marriage. In 2012 he started his own super PAC, American Unity PAC, to help elect conservatives in favor of same-sex marriage. Singer said he had a change of heart about the issue after his son came out to him in 1998.
In his spare time, Singer plays classical piano – he started taking lessons when he was 10 -- although Fortune says he also loves rock ‘n' roll and once jammed onstage with Meatloaf. The magazine says he lives in Central Park West in the same building as comedian Jerry Seinfeld and actress Glenn Close.
Hedge fund manager Robert L. Mercer has spent more than $8.07 million in this election so far.
The East Setauket, New York, resident took over as co-CEO for Renaissance Technologies when founder James Simons -- also one of the biggest midterm spenders this year -- retired.
While Simons supports Democrats and liberal candidates, Mercer favors conservatives, giving $1 million to Ending Spending Action Fund, $2.5 million to B-PAC Freedom Partners Action Fund and more than $1 million to Club for Growth Action.
According to his biography in American Men & Women of Science, Mercer grew up in San Jose, California, and went to the University of New Mexico for his undergraduate work. He got a Ph. D. from the University of Illinois in computer science. Like Simons, he got his start working as a kind of code-breaker. He pioneered a computer program that does real-time speech recognition.
Forbes magazine ranks him as the 16th highest-paid hedge fund manager, earning $125 million at the helm of Renaissance Technologies. In addition to backing conservative candidates, he made headlines for investing in a campaign to oppose the opening of an Islamic center near ground zero.
According to a 2010 profile on Dealbreaker.com, he is a card-carrying member of the NRA, is known for whistling during meetings, doesn't talk to employees unless he absolutely has to, and has a huge model train layout in his basement.
Joe Ricketts has spent $6.595 million on the midterm elections so far. He and his spouse, Marlene, got heavily involved in politics in 2006 after their son Pete unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in their home state of Nebraska. The Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent Joe Ricketts has targeted his donations to conservative candidates.
Ricketts, worth $1.59 billion according to Forbes, grew up in Nebraska, the son of a carpenter. He got his first job in third grade as a janitor’s assistant, according to Fortune. He worked to put himself through Creighton University, where he graduated in 1968 with an economics degree. He started his professional life as a stock broker, working as an investment adviser for Dean Witter and a branch manager at Dun & Bradstreet.
Ricketts made his fortune running what eventually became the world’s largest online brokerage. In 1975 he founded TD Ameritrade, originally called First Omaha Securities, with three other partners. At first it was a traditional firm that offered negotiated commissions, but improvements in technology allowed people to buy stocks themselves through his service. In 2013 the company generated $2.8 billion in revenue.
He ran his company for 35 years. While still a large shareholder, he’s turned his attention more to philanthropy. He’s involved in several conservation efforts like saving the common loon, the cutthroat trout and trumpeter swans. His Opportunity Education Foundation provides school supplies for children in 11 countries.
In 2009 the Ricketts bought a controlling interest in Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs, which hasn’t won a World Series since 1908. They did that through a trust he and his wife set up on behalf of their four children. The couple also have 12 grandchildren.
Ricketts made headlines in 2012 when plans for a controversial $10 million ad campaign aimed at defeating President Obama leaked to The New York Times. Both Ricketts and Mitt Romney's campaign distanced themselves from the project after the story ran.
Ricketts' support of conservative candidates opposed to same-sex marriage has also received attention. His only daughter, Laura Ricketts, is known as the first openly gay woman to be a baseball team owner. She started her own super PAC, LPAC, that aims to make "a true impact for lesbians in politics.”
Sheldon Adelson and his spouse, Miriam, have spent at least $5 million in this midterm election, giving it to the conservative Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC in October.
The “casino king” and his spouse are no strangers to politics. In the 2012 presidential election, they gave a record amount, more than $100 million, to try to put a Republican in the White House. The couple has given lots of money to Republican-related causes over the years, spending $30 million on the 2008 election. In March, Sheldon Adelson hosted an event in his hometown of Las Vegas that he called the “Adelson Primary,” feting Republican leaders who may decide to run for president.
The Adelsons are worth $31.9 billion, according to Forbes. Sheldon Adelson is totally self-made. He says he grew up sleeping on a tenement floor in Boston; his father was a cab driver, and his mother ran a knitting shop out of the family’s tenement. When he was 12, he borrowed money from his uncle to sell newspapers from a street corner, and in high school owned his own company, the Vend-a-Bar Candy Company. Instead of college, he went to court reporting school. He did a stint in the Army and then went into sales. By his late 30s, he was worth $5 million. He made it running vending machines, developing condos, selling newspaper ads and helping small businesses go public.
In 1979, he launched Comdex, an independent trade show that was a huge success and boosted Las Vegas' convention business. He sold it for $862 million in 1995.
He bought and blew up the Sands Hotel to build the luxury hotel-casino The Venetian. (Venice, Italy, is where he honeymooned with his spouse.) His casino company, the Las Vegas Sands, has done well through Asian expansion.
Miriam Adelson is an Israeli-born doctor who works at a medical clinic researching the genetic component of addiction. The two also run the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Research Clinic in Las Vegas, which they founded in 2000. It treats adults and teens.
The two are also known for their philanthropic work, particularly involving pro-Israel focused charities.
Richard Uihlein has given more than $4.23 million in this midterm election to Republican and conservative causes.
Uihlein and his spouse, Elizabeth, made their fortune in bubble wrap, packing peanuts and mailing labels by founding Uline, one of the country’s largest shipping supply companies.
Richard Uihlein comes from family money. His father, Edgar, owned General Binding Corp., one of the leading manufacturers of plastic binding equipment in the United States. His family helped found Schlitz Brewing.
Richard Uihlein grew up in Illinois and went to Stanford University, where he studied history. After graduation he went to work for his father in international sales at General Binding. In 1980 he and his wife, Elizabeth, saw the need for a better shipping supply distributor and borrowed money from Edgar Uihlein to start their company out of their basement. Today the company employs more than 4,000 people and has several distribution centers throughout North America.
The Lake Forrest, Illinois, couple moved their company’s headquarters from Illinois to Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, just outside of Kenosha after the state heavily recruited them, offering significant tax incentives. They received $18.6 million in government help over nine years, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Elizabeth Uihlein, who shares her conservative views on the company's website, compared Wisconsin to Illinois, arguing that they “escape(d) to Wisconsin” in part because Wisconsin had a fully funded pension system and the repercussions “of unfunded state pension liabilities, the costs of the Affordable Healthcare Act and politicians who seem inept at voting responsibly are looming beyond large” in Illinois.
Richard Uihlein told Crain’s Chicago Business that he is a big donor to conservative Republicans because “I’m trying to help people who believe as I do in limited government and free markets.” That same article labeled him "the Koch of conservative politics in Illinois."
A publicity-shy builder of high-end homes, Robert J. "Bob" Perry was one of the Republicans' most reliable individual donors before he died in April 2013 at 80 in his home in Nassau Bay, Texas, near Houston.
He gave $3.1 million for this election: $2 million to Texans for a Conservative Majority, $1 million to Senate Conservatives Action, and $100,000 to Kentuckians for Strong Leadership -- a super PAC that supports the re-election of Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Perry was born in Bosque County and graduated from Baylor University. At first he taught high school history and coached, according to an obituary in the Texas Tribune. He left the classroom to work in the construction and homebuilding industry, founding Perry Homes in 1967. The company became the eighth-largest private homebuilder in the nation, according to a news release. It’s built more than 45,000 homes in Texas.
Perry’s money built much of the modern Texas Republican Party and funded George W. Bush's campaigns as far back as when he ran for governor.
The Perry Homes owner faced criticism for it in the 1980s, when Texans for Public Justice charged that Perry's many donations to Republican justices on the state Supreme Court tainted a ruling that went in his favor. A couple had sued Perry Homes, for defective construction. In 2008, the buyers won an $800,000 arbitration award, but the state Supreme Court overturned it and sent it back to the trial court. Eventually, a jury ordered Perry Homes to pay $58 million in damages.
Perry was an old friend of conservative strategist Karl Rove. Democrats so mistrusted Perry's money that John Kerry invoked his name in a fund-raising letter in the last presidential election.
Perry backed the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" group in the 2004 election, which attacked Kerry's military record in Vietnam. In the letter sent to raise money to re-elect Obama, Kerry said: "Their multi-million dollar smear tactics were new in 2004; in 2012 we know their playbook, and shame on us if we don't tear it into shreds. Join me and we will stop the 'swiftboating' of President Obama."
The chair and founder of the NFL’s Houston Texans NFL, Robert C. McNair has donated $3.05 million this midterm to conservative causes, much of it in September to super PACs backing Republicans in some of the tightest races.
McNair is worth $2.4 billion, according to Forbes. He made the bulk of his fortune back in the late ‘90s when he agreed to sell his power generator company Cogen Technologies to Enron for $1.5 billion.
He was born in Tampa, Florida, but grew up in Forest City, a town in western North Carolina, where his dad worked in sales for Sunshine Biscuits, according to Houston Lifestyles.
He graduated in 1959 from the University of South Carolina, where he studied psychology and was the student body president. He had his dad’s knack for sales and sold life insurance while still in school. After graduation, he sold advertising to soda bottling companies and started a car leasing company after he moved to Houston in 1960.
In 1984, he created Cogen Technologies Energy Group, which became the largest privately owned cogeneration company in the country. Enron bought it in 1999. After that, he started the McNair Group, which oversees investments, and Palmetto Partners and RCM Financial Services. In 1998, he formed Houston NFL Holdings to bring an NFL team to the city. His Texans started playing football in 2002. He keeps a close eye on the team and also plays a big role in the NFL itself as head of the finance and audit committees.
McNair created a 2,000-acre thoroughbred farm and racing stable in 1994. His horses have run in the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup. He sold the Kentucky farm in 2008.
McNair is known as a generous philanthropist. The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation has been honored nationally for its efforts to improve education, literacy and create medical and scientific advancements. It’s also a generous donor to the arts and universities.
A. Jerrold "Jerry" Perenchio, the former owner of Univision, has been a consistent conservative donor for decades – and the 2014 midterms are no exception. So far this election, he’s donated $3 million to right-leaning super PACs like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.
The Sunlight Foundation, which monitors the influence of money in politics, estimated in 2012 that over his lifetime, Perenchio had given some $50 million – mostly to conservative candidates and causes.
The notoriously media-shy donor once told his employees to avoid media attention, saying: "Stay out of the spotlight -- it fades your suit."
Perenchio is said to be one of the largest private landowners in Malibu, California. He also owns an estate in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles that was used in the opening credits of the TV show "The Beverly Hillbillies." Forbes estimates his net worth is estimated $2.7 billion.
Perenchio first worked in Hollywood as a talent agent. His company, Chartwell Artists, represented big-name actors like Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor and produced the popular comedies “The Jeffersons” and “Diff’rent Strokes.” He also promoted major sports events like the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight and the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
Perenchio's first communications company was co-owned with producers Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear. It sold to Coca-Cola for $485 million in 1985. Despite not understanding Spanish, Perenchio bought Spanish-language stations and then tiny Univision, which was owned by the Hallmark Channel, and created a vast Spanish-language communications empire that went public in 1996. When it sold in 2007, he took away $1.3 billion for his part of the company.
Perenchio’s Chartwell Charitable Foundation has been generous, particularly to Los Angeles-area charities, including the American Red Cross, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Free Wheelchair Mission, Homeboy Industries, the Los Angeles Opera and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The foundation also has given generously to AIDS charities, gay service organizations and environmental groups, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
Perenchio and his wife, Margaret, have three children.
The Griffins have given more than $2.82 million to conservative super PACs this midterm election, sending $950,000 to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and donating to super PACs playing big roles in high-profile races in Iowa, New York and Kentucky.
Kenneth Griffin is the 45-year-old founder of Citadel, a hedge fund with $24 billion in assets. He is worth $5.5 billion, according to Forbes.
Griffin helped launch his first business as a senior in high school. EDCOM provided low-cost educational software to professors, according to the Harvard Crimson.
He went to Harvard, graduating in 1989. He started trading stocks using a fax machine, a phone and a satellite dish he rigged to his dorm roof in 1987. The money for the initial stocks he traded came from family and friends. His efforts caught the attention of a Chicago leader of hedge funds, Frank Meyer, who helped Griffin early in his career.
Outside work, he is a big backer of educational initiatives and is on the board of directors for the Chicago Public Education Fund. He has donated to universities, including the University of Chicago, and his $150 million donation to Harvard made headlines. He said the bulk of it had to go to student aid. And he is a big backer of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he is a member of the board, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
He and his wife, Anne, had a high-profile split this year. The divorce has been playing out in the Chicago newspapers for months as they fight over a prenuptial agreement and the custody of their three children.
Anne Dias Griffin, 43, is the founder and managing partner of the hedge fund Aragon Global Management. She graduated summa cum laude from Georgetown with a degree in foreign service and has an MBA from Harvard Business School.
She worked as an analyst for Goldman Sachs, an analyst and portfolio manager for Soros Fund Management and an investment analyst at Viking Global Investors. She then started Aragon Global in 2001. She also co-founded the Kenneth and Anne Griffin Foundation. She is a trustee with the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Whitney Museum of Modern Art and serves on the Harvard Business School board of dean’s advisors.
Arkansas financier Warren Stephens has spent more than $2.68 million on the midterms so far. His biggest contributions have gone to the John Bolton Super PAC and Karl Rove's American Crossroads super PAC.
Stephens is worth $3 billion, according to Forbes. He runs Stephens Inc., a private equity and financial services firm based in Little Rock. It supervises assets of about $4 billion.
Stephens became CEO when his father handed him the reins in 1986. It was his 29th birthday.
His uncle W.R. Witt Stephens started the firm in 1933 after borrowing money to buy Arkansas highway bonds for 10 cents on the dollar. Witt Stephens had only sold Bibles and belt buckles until then, but the bonds paid off, earning him a solid reputation for his bond expertise.
Witt’s brother Jack, Warren’s father, came on board in 1946. He expanded the firm’s scope and led Stephens to become “the largest investment banking firm in the country located off Wall Street,” according to the company website. It went into private equity, investing in Tyson Foods and Alltel and helping take Wal-Mart public. The company also underwrote municipal bonds to help build the Louisiana Superdome.
Warren Stephens has invested the firm’s money in a wide range of businesses -- everything from newspapers to convenience store equipment to “genetic improvement services for the livestock industry.”
Following the Great Recession, he has been critical of other financial institutions. In an opinion piece in the The Wall Street Journal in 2012, he argued for banking reform and suggested that the big banks should never have been bailed out. “Some banks are simply too big – for their own good, as well as that of investors, the economy and their customers,” he wrote.
He was a bundler for John McCain's 2008 Republican presidential campaign and is against Obamacare, according to an interview with Talk Business Arkansas.
When he’s not investing in politics, he is spending it on high art, private jets and his own private golf course, Alotian, which became the first Arkansas course to make America’s 100 Greatest and is ranked No. 15 in the country by Golf Digest. Its membership is invitation only.
Stephens and his wife, Harriet, have two sons -- one in business school, the other with the company’s asset management business in Houston. His daughter works in the fashion industry in New York.