By July 1999, George W. Bush had won the “money primary,” amassing what The New York Times described as “an enormous $37 million war chest.” In July 2015, Jeb Bush’s campaign announced that it and the Right to Rise super-PAC had raised $114 million.
The “money primary” continues, but it is becoming a “billionaire primary,” in which each candidate must secure the backing of at least one billionaire. The winner of the “billionaire primary” will be the beneficiary of a $900-million Koch brothers coordinated pledge to elect a Republican to the White House in 2016.
He hasn’t disclosed donors to his Right to Rise super-PAC, but early reports indicate a wide swath. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been spotted, private-equity managers Lewis Eisenberg and Henry Kravis have sponsored fundraising dinners, as have Silicon Valley venture capitalists Bill Oberndorf and Bill Draper. Johnson & Johnson billionaire Woody Johnson is also officially backing Bush.
Robert Mercer, who often joins forces with David and Charles Koch, is the force behind Cruz. Other wealthy donors include Houston investor Toby Neugebauer, who has committed $10 million; Houston Texans owner Bob McNair; and Florida entrepreneur John W. Childs. The Cruz campaign has claimed it had over $37 million in commitments, though official disclosures have yet to be filed.
The “money primary” continues, but it is becoming a “billionaire primary.”
Billionaire auto dealer Norman Braman is Rubio’s long-time patron. He has financed Rubio’s campaigns, and sometimes covered his personal finances since Rubio’s political career began. Braman has committed at least $10 million to Rubio’s super-PAC for 2016. Rubio is aggressively courting Las Vegas hotel magnate Sheldon Adelson.
By mid-July, Paul had no billionaire donating to RandPAC, though it is expected that Silicon Valley donors will line up behind him. These include PayPal co-founder Peter Theil; Palantir Technologies co-founder Joe Lonsdale; and hedge fund mogul Kenneth Garschina. Paul also enjoys close ties to conservative libertarian nonprofit organizations such as Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity, funded by Charles and David Koch, among others.
Walker is a favorite of the Kochs. His super-PAC has promised access to the candidate in exchange for donations of $250,000 to $1 million. He is also a favorite of Wisconsin billionaire Diane Hendricks, who is focused on union-busting. Hardware store owner John Menard Jr. has also thrown his support behind Walker’s campaign, who also enjoys the support of Wisconsin Club for Growth. A recent investigation into Walker’s campaign-finance activities revealed Menard reportedly donated $1.5 million to the Club for Growth to back Walker’s 2014 gubernatorial bid.
Uncommitted billionaires could be the key to the 2016 Republican Party’s primary
David and Charles Koch consider the top five Republican candidates to be viable. According to public statements, they are waiting to see which message resonates with the most voters before putting their weight behind any one of them.
Sheldon Adelson is reported to be waiting in the wings, though he leans toward Marco Rubio as his first choice. Adelson will put the most weight on the candidate who backs Israel aggressively.
Paul Singer, the hedge-fund magnate, is a free agent. He is unlikely to support any candidate who opposes gay marriage, and may reserve his full support until after the primaries.
Joe Ricketts, founder of Ameritrade, is still playing the field. He heads up the Ending Spending PAC, which spent heavily in 2014 on conservative candidates. Ricketts has met with all of the super-PACs for the top contenders, as well as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Annette Simmons, heir to the Contran Corporation, has not signaled her support for a candidate. Her late husband Robert Simmons was a prolific donor to GOP candidates. As a primary underwriter of the Swiftboat campaign that undermined John Kerry’s 2004 bid for the presidency, Simmons spared no expense. It’s assumed that Simmons’ widow will continue the tradition, but she has not indicated where she will put her money.