A Free-spending Hedge Fund Industry Divided

From the largest to the smallest political contributors, hedge fund managers are split pretty evenly along party lines.


As the race for the presidency has narrowed — Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination at the GOP’s convention in Cleveland last week, and Hillary Clinton took the Democratic nomination this week in Philadelphia — major hedge fund donors continue to spend more than ever supporting presidential and congressional candidates through so-called super PACs, political action committees in which contributors can make unlimited donations. Total political contributions from individuals in the hedge fund industry during this election cycle are nearing $120 million, as of July 21. This figure is already more than twice the $53 million donated in 2012 — and still growing, of course — and almost six times 2008’s $21 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Current and former hedge fund managers aren’t the only ones giving in record amounts, but they are some of the largest and most-watched donors in this year’s races. Clinton and Trump have both criticized hedge fund managers in tweets and speeches. But both have also benefited from hedge fund contributions.

Of the top ten individual donors in this election cycle, which began in early 2015, six have accumulated their fortunes from managing hedge funds. Two got their considerable wealth from the same firm: James Simons, founder of the East Setauket, New York–based quantitative hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, and Robert Mercer, the firm’s co-CEO, have together donated more than $30 million over the past 18 months.

They’re not working in concert, however. Mercer donated more than $13 million of his running total of $19.2 million to the Keep the Promise I PAC, which supported Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign. After Cruz dropped from the race in early May, Mercer channeled $500,000 to the Fighting for Ohio Fund, a PAC supporting Rob Portman, the incumbent Republican Senator from Ohio. In June, Mercer gave $50,000 to the Defend Rural Arizona PAC, whose mission is to “secure” the U.S. border with Mexico.

Mercer’s former boss, the now-retired Simons, has given $7 million of his $11.5 million in donations to Priorities USA, the massive super PAC supporting Clinton. Much of the rest has gone to the Senate and House Majority PACs, both of which support Democratic congressional candidates. Adding contributions from Henry Laufer, Renaissance’s former vice president of research, who gave $5 million to Democratic candidates, roughly evens the scales.

Among the ten hedge fund donors who have given the most money this cycle, party lines are drawn pretty much down the middle (see chart). Despite hedge funders’ reputation for big spending, many of this year’s major donors have earmarked funds for small and often uncontested congressional races. In November, 34 of the 100 Senate seats will be up for grabs, as will all 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

Hedge Funds DividedThe top ten largest individual donors from the hedge fund industry diversify their contributions.
Donors Contributions to Presidential Candidates or PACs Contributions to Congressional Candidates or PACs Undisclosed
Thomas Steyer $5,079,082 $308,214 $26,133,836 $31,521,132
Robert Mercer $13,515,000 $1,138,700 $4,530,300 $19,184,000
Paul Singer $8,505,400 $4,399,003 $3,625,627 $16,530,030
Donald Sussman $8,100,000 $5,889,500 $1,361,280 $15,350,780
George Soros $7,000,000 $618,000 $5,351,936 $12,969,936
James Simons $7,005,400 $3,223,500 $1,313,500 $11,542,400
Ken Griffin $5,440,990 $3,691,710 $1,351,890 $10,484,590
Steven Cohen $6,000,000 $5,400 $11,709 $6,017,109
Henry Laufer $2,505,400 $1,325,239 $1,099,191 $4,929,830
Julian Robertson $1,014,559 $1,267,200 $1,919,983 $4,201,742

Donors in red signify whole or majority of their contributions given to Republican PACs/candidates.

Donors in blue signify whole or majority of their contributions given to Democratic PACs/candidates.

* Undisclosed contributions represent money given by donors where recipients were not specified or were not easily traceable, according to resources provided by the Center for Responsive Politcs.

** Figures were compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics based on data released by the Federal Elections Committee on July 21, 2016.

“It’s unlikely that if a Democrat wins the presidency, the Democrats would also take back control of the House,” says Kyle Kondik, director of communications at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. Kondik wonders about the fate of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, formed out of 2010’s Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, if Republicans end up controlling the White House and Congress. In fact, much could change in financial regulation depending on the composition of a newly elected legislative branch, which may explain why many hedge fund managers are diversifying their contributions.

Paul Singer, the founder of New York–based Elliott Management Corp., has spent at least $4 million supporting Republican congressional PACs like Independent Voice for Illinois, Fighting for Ohio Fund, and the Congressional Leadership Fund, in addition to bankrolling his own American Unity PAC, which backs Republican members of Congress who support pro-LGBT legislation.

In addition to donating $7 million to Priorities USA, Donald Sussman, the founder of Greenwich, Connecticut–based multistrategy hedge fund firm Paloma Partners, contributed to Women Vote!, a liberal super PAC supporting female candidates for the House and Senate. Sussman’s former wife, Chellie Pingree, is a Democratic Representative from Maine’s 1st district.

Citadel founder and CEO Kenneth Griffin has given $350,000 to the Independent Voice for Illinois, which has yet to contribute to either incumbent Republican Senator Mark Kirk or Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth. The Chicago-based fund manager is known as Illinois’s richest person and tied for No. 1 (with Renaissance’s Simons) in Institutional Investor’s Alpha’s Hedge Fund Rich List this year, having earned $1.7 billion in 2015.

A number of alternatives investors, who manage millions rather than billions and don’t make top ten lists, have to tread carefully. “Most companies are risk-averse and looking for a plan to comply,” says Michael Long, a partner at Roseland, New Jersey–based law firm Lowenstein Sandler. One concern: that their political contributions don’t jeopardize their ability to attract investments from state pensions.

Some, like former hedge fund investor Tom Steyer, have moved on to other causes. Founder of the San Francisco–based hedge fund firm Farallon Capital Management, Steyer has donated most of his $31 million so far this election to the NextGen Climate Action PAC, his environmental advocacy organization focused on encouraging climate change legislation.

Follow Jen Werner on Twitter at @jenwernerr.