Independent political spending groups are readying their arsenals to flood the airwaves with 2020 election ads praising their preferred candidates or attacking those they don’t like. Right-wing millionaires and billionaires and fossil fuel corporations are helping them do so.
Leading the pack are Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, the midwestern executives of shipping supply giant Uline, having donated a total of $19.4 million to seven super PACs from January 2019 through January 2020.
Oil and materials conglomerate Koch Industries has donated the most of any corporation so far, giving nearly $5.3 million to three super PACs, including $4 million to AFP Action, which is the sister group of Charles Koch's flagship political nonprofit, Americans for Prosperity. Also funding AFP Action is the group's predecessor, Freedom Partners Action Fund, which gave nearly $6.5 million.
Conservative super PACs owe thanks not just to Koch Industries but to a number of other fossil fuel companies, a trade group, fossil fuel executives and their spouses, and heirs to fossil fuel fortunes. Fossil fuel interests donated nearly $18.8 million to conservative super PACs and hybrid PACs--committees that operate both a super PAC and a traditional PAC--from January 2019 through January 2020.
Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Valero all gave over $1 million to GOP super PACs. Executives such as Western Refining Chairman Paul Foster, Midland Energy CEO S. Javaid Anwar, and coal producer Alliance Resource Partners CEO Joe Craft gave six- or seven-figure sums.
Richard Uihlein has emerged as a key Republican megadonor in the last several years. In 2010, he was 36th on the list of top donors to outside political spending groups at the federal level. Over that decade, he inched up the ladder until he vastly increased his spending in 2018, giving nearly $38 million to outside groups.
In the current election, Uihlein's giving appears to be continuing this upward trend. Since last year, Richard and his wife, Elizabeth Uihlein, have given the most money--$12.5 million--of any donor to Club for Growth Action. But they also gave large amounts to the pro-Trump America First Action ($1.5 million), Americas PAC ($1.5 million), House Freedom Action ($1 million), Kentucky Tomorrow ($250,000), Restoration PAC ($2.5 million), and Senate Conservatives Action ($125,000). In total, the couple has delivered $19.4 million to conservative super PACs.
In May 2016, Elizabeth Uihlein landed on the Trump Victory Committee, which raised money for the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, after considerable political spending.
The Uihleins have also spent heavily in state elections, boosting the 2014 campaign of Republican Bruce Rauner, who became governor of Illinois. Richard Uihlein has expressed anti-gay and anti-transgender views and has backed extremist candidates such as Alabama's Roy Moore, a right-wing evangelical accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women.
Timothy Mellon, the majority owner of transportation holding company Pan Am Systems and an heir to the Mellon steel fortune, donated $10 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, which spends money to boost Republican House candidates, for the second election cycle in a row. In addition, Mellon gave $2.5 million to Senate Republicans' main super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund.
Mellon is a big Republican Party donor who donated $1.5 million in 2010 to Arizona's legal defense fund as it fought lawsuits over its harsh anti-immigrant law SB 1070. In 2014, he put $30,000 into the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee and donated the maximum allowed amount to Carson's presidential campaign the following year. In the current election cycle, Mellon has donated mostly to GOP candidates, but gave the maximum allowed amount of $2,800 to Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard's (D-HI) campaign.
Mellon is related to the Scaife family, which, through the Scaife family foundations, is one of the biggest bankrollers of the right-wing movement, including several hate groups.
Other top donors who have given multiple millions of dollars to GOP super PACs include:
Jeff Yass, managing director of investment firm Susquehanna International Group: $4.1 million. Club for Growth Action ($2 million) and Protect Freedom PAC ($2.1 million).
Warren A. Stephens, CEO of investment bank Stephens, Inc.: $3.6 million. 1820 PAC ($250,000), America First Action ($500,000), Congressional Leadership Fund ($750,000), Security is Strength PAC ($50,000), Senate Leadership Fund ($1.5 million), Waiting for Women Action Fund ($500,000).
Paul E. Singer, president of hedge fund company Elliott Management Group: $3.5 million. Congressional Leadership Fund ($1 million), Senate Leadership Fund ($2 million), Waiting for Women Action Fund ($500,000).
Stephen A. Schwarzman, CEO of private equity firm Blackstone: $3 million. 1820 PAC ($500,000), Congressional Leadership Fund ($2.5 million).
In total, 24 individuals and couples have given $1 million or more to conservative super PACs since 2019.
Some big donors contributed individually and through their companies. Mountaire Farms CEO Ronald Camerondonated $2.8 million of his own money, including $1 million to AFP Action, while his company donated $500,000 to both the Congressional and Senate Leadership Funds.
Six members of the family of Education Sec. Betsy DeVos, including her husband, Dick DeVos, combined to donate a total of $2.3 million to super PACs: America First Action ($400,000), Better Future MI Fund ($700,000), the Congressional Leadership Fund ($450,000), and the Senate Leadership Fund ($750,000).
Koch Industries Leads Corporate Contributions
CMD tracked $23.5 million in direct corporate donations to conservative super PACs since 2019, much of which came from fossil fuel companies—most prominently, Koch Industries.
In addition to donating $4 million to AFP Action, Koch Industries gave $500,000 to the Congressional Leadership Fund and $750,000 to the Senate Leadership Fund. The company gave nearly $5.3 million to super PACs from 2019 through January 2020.
Real estate conglomerate Hillwood Development Co. gave close to $3.1 million to GOP PACs, including $1.1 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, $1 million to the Senate Leadership Fund, and $1 million to Engage Texas, a super PAC funded by Texas-based companies and business executives that launched in June 2019 "with the goal of registering hundreds of thousands of new voters and convincing them to help keep the state red in November."
Hillwood Development founder Ross Perot, Jr. gave $10,000 to Texans for a Conservative Majority, a super PAC that was founded in 2013 by a corporate lobbyist to help reelect Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and came out of hibernation last year to help the senator keep his seat again.
Oil giant Chevron added $1 million to the Senate Leadership Fund, $750,000 to the Congressional Leadership Fund, and $15,000 to Maverick PAC. ConocoPhillips ANS Marketing Company, a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips, donated $1 million to the Senate Leadership Fund and $250,000 to the Congressional Leadership Fund. Oil and gas pipeline company Energy Transfer donated $1 million to Engage Texas and $100,000 to Texans for a Conservative Majority.
Thirty-seven companies and one trade group gave more than $100,000 to conservative super PACs from 2019 through January 2020.
Fossil fuel companies accounted for nearly $11.9 million in conservative super PAC donations, or more than 50 percent of the amount that corporations gave to such PACs. None of these companies made donations to liberal super PACs. In all, fossil fuel companies, executives, or heirs gave more than $18.8 million to conservative super PACs from 2019 through January 2020.
Jan Duncan, the widow of Dan Duncan, the late co-founder of oil and gas pipeline company Enterprise Products, gave $1 million each to Engage Texas and Women Speak Out PAC, an affiliate of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List.
The trade group American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers gave $100,000 to the Congressional Leadership Fund and $10,000 to the West Virginia-based Black Bear PAC.