Meet the top 15 Jewish political donors in this election cycle


(JTA) – George Soros may draw some of the most vociferous criticism, but he’s hardly the biggest political donor in this cash-heavy election cycle – Democrat or Republican.

In fact, Soros is 24th of the largest givers in this cycle, and Jewish donors on both the right and left populate the list above him.

That’s according to Open Secrets, which provides the top 100 individuals or married couples donating to the 2020 campaign. Among the top 25 on the list, 15 are Jewish or of Jewish origin. Here is the list, current as of Sept. 8. With the final weeks of the campaign seeing an accelerated fundraising push, the rankings could change.

 Tom Steyer

Amount given so far: $54 million to Democrats

Steyer tops the list by far. The hedge funder, who was among the candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, has donated over $54 million to Democrats – and, intriguingly, $35 to Republicans.

Lest you think Steyer is leading this cycle because of his own campaign, he has resided in the top three since the 2014 congressional cycle, and most of his money has gone to outside groups backing an array of Democratic candidates.

Steyer, whose father was Jewish and who identifies as ethnically Jewish, is a practicing Episcopalian, although in his youth he practiced Judaism and included a rabbi in his wedding.

 Stephen and Christine Schwarzman

Amount given so far: $28.4 million to Republicans and $8,400 to Democrats

Stephen Schwarzman is CEO of Blackstone, an investment management firm, and served on one of President Donald Trump’s council of business advisers until they all shut down after the deadly neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville in 2017.

Schwarzman told Reuters he got messages calling him a Nazi.

“It was pretty clear that the country itself felt like it was going out of control,” he said at the time. “We decided there was too much pressure for too many people all running public companies.”

His first major donation to Israel was in 2018, when he gave the National Library $10 million.

Sheldon and Miriam Adelson

Amount given so far:
$28 million to Republicans

Sheldon Adelson, 87, is a Las Vegas-based casino magnate and Miriam, 74, is a physician. They are major givers to an array of Jewish and pro-Israel causes, as well as to medical research. Adelson’s endorsement of Trump in May 2016 opened the floodgates to Jewish donors who until then had been skeptical of the candidate.

Their ongoing support for Trump has been in question: Trump reportedly berated Sheldon Adelson last month for not giving enough to the campaign as Biden’s fundraising began to outpace the incumbent’s. But Adelson bellied up this month and has pledged $50 million to elect Republicans and send Trump back to the White House.

Adelson may be hedging his bets: He reportedly has paid $87 million for the residence of the U.S. ambassador in suburban Tel Aviv, possibly as a means of preventing Biden from moving the embassy back to that city.

Donald Sussman

Amount given so far:
$22.3 million, all to Democrats
save for $5,600 to Republicans

Sussman, 74, launched his investment career at age 12, in 1958, when he bet that the Cuban revolution would drive up the price of sugar. He’s known for his close ties to the Clintons – he was a major backer of Hillary’s 2016 presidential campaign. Sussman said he was dumping money into her campaign because of her pledge to take money out of politics, and he acknowledged the irony.

In his charitable giving, he appears to be particularly proud of his relationship with Israel’s Weizmann Institute, listing his position as deputy chairman of its international board of governors and his honorary doctorate from there on his official bio.

Sussman was married to a Maine congresswoman, Chellie Pingree, from 2011 to 2016 and continues to be heavily involved in the state. He has given $100,000 to groups backing Sara Gideon, who is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Susan Collins. Despite his stakes in the New England state (he is on friendly terms with his ex, and for a period owned MaineToday, a media company) Republicans there have endeavored to depict Sussman as an interloper, or in the state’s lingo, “from away.” In a radio interview, Collins singled out three “from away” Jews, including Sussman, as backing Gideon’s campaign.

James and Marilyn Simons

Amount given so far:
Nearly $21 million to Democrats

James Simons has been called one of the smartest Wall Street financiers of all time, thanks to his contributions to string theory and his application of mathematical breakthroughs to investment banking. Born to a Jewish family in the Massachusetts suburb of Brookline, Simons’ net worth is over $23 billion. He and his wife set up the Simons Foundation, one of the largest charity groups in the U.S., in 1994.

Michael Bloomberg

Amount given so far:
$19.3 million to Democrats

Bloomberg, who runs an eponymous media empire, was a three-term mayor of New York, elected as a Republican and then as an Independent. He endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 and in his speech at the Democratic convention excoriated Trump as a con man, earning the Trump sobriquet “Mini Mike.” Bloomberg, 78, mounted a campaign for the presidency this year and initially polled well – until he was eviscerated in his first debate by a rival, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who depicted Bloomberg as Trump lite.

Bloomberg said this month that he will spend $100 million in Florida, a swing state won by Trump in 2016 and critical to his reelection.

He has already donated $16 million for paying the fees of former felons. (Floridians voted overwhelmingly in a 2018 referendum to allow former felons to vote, rolling back a Jim Crow-era law. Jewish groups backed the initiative. The GOP-led legislature effectively scuttled the initiative by passing a law requiring that the ex-felons pay outstanding fines and court fees. Challenges are wending their way through the courts.) Florida’s Republican attorney general says Bloomberg’s donation may be criminal and wants the feds to investigate.

Jeffrey and Janine Yass

Amount given so far: More than $13 million, mostly to Republicans

Jeffrey Yass, a trader who co-founded the Susquehanna International Group, is the lone libertarian on the list. In the 2016 cycle he gave $2.8 million to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s campaign. Major beneficiaries of his largesse include Save the Children and the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Deborah Simon

Amount given so far:
$12.5 million to Democrats

Simon is the daughter of Mel Simon, the late billionaire businessman and movie producer who was involved in Jewish philanthropy. Deborah Simon and her sister, Cynthia Simon-Skjodt, have long given to progressive and Jewish causes such as the Anti-Defamation League.

Based in Indiana, Simon has been a longtime ideological opponent of Mike Pence, the vice president and former governor of the state known in part for his anti-abortion stance. This year, she has said she will “do anything” to unseat Trump.

Simon also donates to the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

Henry and Marsha Laufer

Amount given so far:
$11.8 million to Democrats

Henry Laufer worked closely with James Simons at his pioneering Renaissance Technologies, a quantitative hedge fund, and also became a billionaire. Marsha Laufer, his wife, was the Democratic Party chair in the Long Island, New York, town of Brookhaven for seven years. Outside of the presidential race, the Laufers have given to several individual Democratic politicians, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee. 

Joshua and Anita Bekenstein

Amount given so far:
Nearly $11 million to Democrats

Joshua Bekenstein is a co-chairman of Bain, the global finance company co-founded by Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential candidate and now Utah senator. Along with his wife, Bekenstein has given to an array of candidates and PACs this cycle, as well as to the Democratic Party.

Bernard and Billi Wilma Marcus

Amount given so far: $9.7 million, all to Republicans save for $6,900 to Democrats

Marcus, 91, co-founded Home Depot and has long been a major donor to Jewish causes, looming large in the Atlanta area. This year he took on the Jewish Future Pledge, dedicating at least 50% of his charitable giving to Jewish causes, and his eponymous foundation gave $20 million to the Jewish Education Project to help lower the cost of youth trips to Israel.

Marcus is all in for Trump. His pro-Trump posture – he gave Trump’s campaign $7 million in 2016 – has led to boycotts of Home Depot, although he retired as the hardware chain’s chairman in 2002. 

Marcus also backs congressional candidate Laura Loomer in South Florida. Mainstream GOP Jews have endeavored to ignore Loomer, who is Jewish and a self-declared Islamophobe. Trump has enthusiastically endorsed Loomer – he lives in the district.

Paul Singer

Amount given so far:
$8.8 million to Republicans

Singer, 76, is a hedge funder who eased the Republican Party (somewhat) into accepting rights for LGBTQ people (his son is gay). He has a tenuous relationship with Trump and was the initial funder of the opposition research that led to revelations about Russian attempts to infiltrate the Trump campaign. But by last year he was on the Trump train, saying Democrats posed a socialist threat to the United States.

Stephen and Susan Mandel

Amount given so far: $8.8 million to Democrats

Stephen Mandel, a hedge fund manager, and his wife both grew up in Jewish families. Their philanthropic giving has centered on education issues. This year, in addition to donating to Democratic candidates across the country, Mandel has donated $2 million to the Lincoln Project, a PAC founded by former Republicans to prevent Trump from winning reelection.

George Soros

Amount given so far: $8.2 million to Democrats

Soros, 90, is a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor who made his billions as a hedge funder. He launched his philanthropy in the 1970s, advancing democratic movements in South Africa and then as the Soviet empire began to crumble, in Central and Eastern Europe. His emphasis was the introduction of free markets, which first earned him praise from conservatives.

That dissipated once he turned his attention to liberal and Democratic politics, and especially when he spoke out against the Iraq War launched by President George W. Bush in 2003. He spent a record $27 million in 2004 to oust Bush, including millions to MoveOn, the group that along with the Howard Dean campaign set the standard that year for online fundraising.

Within the Jewish world Soros has staked out a confrontational posture, deriding AIPAC in 2007 as overly influential and the next year becoming the main funder of J Street, a liberal rival to the pro-Israel giant. His foundation, Open Society, has also funded civil society groups in Israel that are sharply critical of its government.

In July, Open Society pledged to spend $220 million over five years to fund racial justice groups, its response to the protests this summer against police brutality.

Soros’ newsworthiness this cycle has less to do with what he’s given and more to do with how he has become a target. Some on the right, including Trump, have leveled baseless slanders against Soros, accusing him of everything from being behind illegal immigration to rioting in cities, as well as having been a Nazi collaborator.

Steve and Connie Ballmer

Amount given so far:
$7.5 million to Democratic groups

Steve Ballmer is the former Microsoft CEO and current owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers. His mother was Jewish and, through her, he is related to the late Jewish comic Gilda Radner. At Microsoft, he sat on a council of world leaders convened by the Jewish National Fund and made multiple trips to Israel to ramp up Microsoft operations there.

This year, almost all of Ballmer’s giving – $7 million – went to Everytown for Gun Safety Victory Fund, the PAC associated with the gun control advocacy movement. Connie Ballmer gave $500,000 to Unite the Country, a PAC that is supporting Biden.

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