In the last presidential election, the first with super PAC proliferation, the mega-donors sometimes received nearly as much attention as the candidates they were bankrolling. Names like Sheldon Adelson, Foster Friess, Harold Simmons, the Koch brothers, and others quickly became prominent figures in national politics, thanks to their overwhelmingly generous investments in GOP candidates.
The Oprah joke was apt: you get a billionaire benefactor; and you get a billionaire benefactor; everybody gets a billionaire benefactor!
Four years later, the dynamic is similar, though as the New York Times noted over the weekend, some of the names have changed.
The two men share a passion for unbridled markets, concerns about the Internal Revenue Service and a skeptical view of climate change. Now the two – Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, and Robert Mercer, a Wall Street hedge-fund magnate – share another bond that could link them through November 2016: Both want to see Mr. Cruz elected president.Mr. Mercer, a reclusive Long Islander who started at I.B.M. and made his fortune using computer patterns to outsmart the stock market, emerged this week as a key early bankroller of Mr. Cruz’s surprisingly fast campaign start. He is believed to be the main donor behind a network of four “super PACs” supporting Mr. Cruz that reported raising $31 million just a few weeks into his campaign.
Trevor Potter, a campaign finance lawyer who served as a Republican member of the Federal Election Commission, told the Times that just one low-profile donor can make an enormous difference in transforming a presidential candidate in a competitive, top-tier challenger.
“It just takes a random billionaire to change a race and maybe change the country,” Potter said.
Take a moment to pause, read that sentence again, and consider its weight. The idea of one random person having the power to possibly change the world is enshrined in the American ethic, but this isn’t quite what the myth is all about. Potter isn’t describing a “ripple of hope” narrative, so much as he’s describing a “one guy can buy the White House for his friend” kind of story.
As for Mercer, the Times story is worth checking out, though it’s worth highlighting the fact that some Democrats are already aware of recent activities.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon, remembers with some bitterness Mr. Mercer’s opposition to his re-election campaign in 2014 when he spent about $650,000 on attack ads and other efforts in support of a conservative challenger.“I don’t think the guy had ever even been to Oregon,” Mr. DeFazio said. He said he believed Mr. Mercer targeted him in part because of legislation Mr. DeFazio sponsored that threatened higher taxes for hedge funds like Mr. Mercer’s fund, Renaissance Technologies.“He’s a patron for ultra-right-wing causes,” Mr. DeFazio said, “and in a Republican presidential race, being an ultra-right-wing millionaire from Wall Street isn’t going to hurt you.”