Ken Griffin, the founder and CEO of global hedge fund Citadel, earned $1.7 billion last year, making the $8.4 million he has made in political donations this election cycle so far look like peanuts. He is just one of a number of hedge-funders fueling the 2016 campaign season.
According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the hedge fund industry has made more than $92 million in political contributions so far this election cycle, already about double the amount it gave in the entire election cycle in 2012. Republican candidates have received $10.9 million, twice the $5.3 million brought in by Democratic contenders. But the vast majority of funds -- upwards of $76 million -- has gone to outside groups, like super PACs and similar entities. (Hedge funds are likely contributing to under-the-radar dark money groups, too.)
Institutional Investor's Alpha Magazine recently released its annual list of the highest-paid hedge fund managers of 2015, which Griffin tops. Data gathered by the Center for Responsive Politics from Federal Election Commission filings reveal a number of those top-earners are putting portions of their gains toward funding politics.
Griffin, who according to Forbes has a net worth of $7.6 billion, is a supporter of largely Republican candidates and committees. He made his biggest donations this election cycle to Conservative Solutions PAC, the group backing Marco Rubio's presidential bid. He gave $5.1 million to the group, making his first contribution of just $100,000 in June 2015 before making two separate $2.5 million contributions in December and February.
The billionaire wasn't shy about his feelings for Rubio -- he announced in December that he was backing the Florida senator after choosing him over former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. "I think Marco Rubio has the vision of where America needs to go," he told CNBC at the time.
Rubio, who suspended his campaign in March, isn't the only candidate or cause Griffin is bankrolling. In November, he gave $2 million to Freedom Partners Action Fund, a group backed by the Koch brothers that pledges to "support candidates who promote free markets and a free society." He has also given $500,000 to the End Spending Action Fund, which is dedicated to supporting candidates "regardless of party affiliation who favor enhancing free enterprise, reducing the size of government, and balancing our nation's budget," and $250,000 each to the Fighting for Ohio Fund and Future45, both of which lean right.
Griffin has also given thousands of dollars to the Republican National Committee and other GOP committee as well as individual candidates, including Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson and Arizona Senator John McCain.
Renaissance Technologies founder James Simons, who like Griffin made $1.7 billion in 2015, has been making his donations on the opposite end of the political spectrum. He has given $7 million to Priorities USA Action, the super PAC supporting Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
In fact, Clinton's super PAC seems to have cleaned up among a handful of hedge funders. David Shaw, who made $750 million in 2015, has given $1.5 million to Priorities USA. He has also backed Ready PAC, a group created to draft Clinton before she announced her candidacy, and donated to the Clinton campaign directly. Billionaire investor George Soros has given Priorities USA at least $7 million.
Simons has donated to numerous other liberal causes as well this cycle, including giving $1 million to the House Majority PAC and $800,000 to the Senate Majority PAC, both of which are dedicated to helping Democrats win congressional seats.
It is worth noting that one of Simons' successors at Renaissance (he stepped back from managing day-to-day operations in 2010), Robert Mercer, appears to lean in the opposite direction of his predecessor, politically. Mercer is a major Republican donor, this election season giving millions of dollars to a super PAC backing Ted Cruz.
Appaloosa Management's David Tepper, who earned $1.4 billion, has backed candidates on both sides of the aisle this season, including Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer and Republican and former Speaker of the House John Boehner. His biggest check, however, has gone to Right to Rise USA, Bush's super PAC, to which he gave $250,000.
John Overdeck and David Siegel of Two Sigma Investments have kept their contributions local and small, with each giving $10,000 to the New Jersey Republican State Committee and Overdeck contributing $2,700 to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. They earned $500 million each in 2015.
To be sure, not all of the top hedge fund earners are pouring money into politics at the moment.
Bridgewater Associates' Ray Dalio, who made $1.4 billion in 2015, doesn't appear to have made any contributions so far this election cycle, nor does Millennium Management's Israel Englander, who earned $1.15 billion, or Perceptive Advisors' Joseph Edelman, who earned $300 million.
And two top-earning hedge fund managers cannot donate their money to influence to American politics. Viking Global's Andreas Halvorsen, who made $370 million, is a Norwegian citizen and therefore cannot contribute to federal campaigns. The same goes for British citizen Christopher Hohn of Children's Investment Fund Management.