Fueled by billionaires, political spending is breaking records again

Fueled by billionaires, political spending is breaking records again

But Mr. Bankman-Fried’s largest donation, at least $27 million, went to the Protect Our Future PAC, ostensibly dedicated to supporting candidates who will advocate for protections against the pandemic. That in turn sunk more than $11 million into Oregon’s failed Democratic primary candidate, Carrick Flynn, as well as other primary efforts in solidly Democratic districts.

Unlike Republican megadonors, Mr. Bankman-Fried also tries to maintain bipartisanship, giving at least $45,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee and thousands more to Republican senators such as Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, John Boozman of Arkansas, Susan Collins of Maine and John Hoeven of North Dakota.

Rounding out the top 10 donors for 2022 are Stephen A. Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group, a giant investment firm; Peter Thiel, a tech investor who personally financed the Senate campaigns of two protégés, JD Vance in Ohio and Blake Masters in Arizona; Fred Eychaner, media executive and major Democratic donor; and Larry Ellison, the billionaire founder of software giant Oracle, who has funneled millions of dollars into Republican campaigns through the super PAC Opportunity Matters.

Only Mr. Griffin returned requests for comment among the top 10 donors.

Campaign finance figures are notoriously difficult to track accurately. An adviser to former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said his total giving to Democrats for the 2022 term was about $70 million, which would put him at the top of the list. But because Mr. Bloomberg saw threats to democracy concentrated at the state level, his donations focused on races for governor and secretary of state in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada. Those contributions do not appear in the federal campaign database.

Indeed, none of the figures tabulated by The New York Times or Open Secrets can be considered complete; all of which are likely to underestimate the total contributions. That’s because a complicated shell game — giving to political organizations that in turn give to other political organizations — masks exactly who gives how much to whom.

Because some of these organizations are considered tax-exempt “welfare” organizations — groups organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code — they may never disclose their donors. And because much of the spending is on highly targeted online advertising that is far less regulated than television ads, total spending may be impossible to determine, Ms. Krumholz said.

For a state like Wisconsin, where two megadonors, Mr. Uihlein and Diane Hendricks of the Hendricks Holding Company, are spending heavily to re-elect Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican, and oust Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, voters can feel besieged by an impenetrable political force , said Eleanor Neff Powell, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin.

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