Ken Griffin, Citadel at CNBC’s Delivering Alpha, Sept. 28, 2022.
Scott Mlyn | CNBC
Citadel’s billionaire CEO, Ken Griffin, is one of Wall Street’s biggest political donors in the 2022 midterms, giving more than $100 million toward state and federal candidates across the country since April 2021, campaign finance records show.
The $50 million Griffin has donated to Republicans running in federal races alone make him the party’s single biggest individual donor from the finance industry and the third-biggest political donor to federal candidates in this election cycle, according to data tracked by campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets.
Only Soros Fund Management founder George Soros and shipping magnate Richard Uihlein have given more to candidates running for the U.S. House or Senate. Soros has donated over $128 million to Democrats while Uihlein has given $53 million to Republicans, according to OpenSecrets.
Griffin, however, has spent another $50 million during this election cycle — which runs from Jan. 1, 2021 through the end of this year — on the failed Illinois gubernatorial campaign of Aurora, Ill., Mayor Richard Irvin, who lost in the Republican primary, according to state campaign finance records.
Citadel announced plans this summer to move its headquarters from Chicago to Miami, as the Windy City struggles to stop a rise in crime. Griffin has previously said part of his feud with Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker is over the Democratic leader’s record on crime. Griffin said at a DealBook conference last year that when he brought up the crime issue to Pritzker, “he took the moment to call me a liar.”
Zia Ahmed, a spokesman for Griffin, told CNBC in a statement that the Citadel CEO is aiming to “broaden the tent of the Republican Party.”
“Ken wants to elevate talented candidates and broaden the tent of the Republican Party to make it more representative of our country,” Ahmed said. “He supports leaders who will focus on education, job creation, public safety and a strong national defense so that every individual has access to the American dream.”
Democratic political operatives have taken aim at Griffin, especially as he’s tried to make an impact on elections.
The Democratic Governors Association, an outside group that backs Democrats, organized opposition research on Griffin as he was deciding who to support in the Illinois Republican primary for governor. The research, which was reviewed by CNBC, is titled “Ken Griffin Has Been Playing Kingmaker In IL Politics With No Consequences.” It’s a compilation of public documents and reporting that included a focus on Griffin’s divorces. Pritzker, who has an estimated net worth of $3.6 billion, donated $24 million to the group as Griffin moved to back Irvin, according to records filed to the IRS.
In a statement to CNBC, the Democratic governors’ group compared Griffin’s contributions to those of Charles Koch and his brother, the late David Koch. They said that Griffin deserves scrutiny due to him becoming a major donor for Republicans.
“Much like when the Koch Brothers were the Republican Party’s number one donor it was important for the public to understand how they were trying to use their money to further their own special interests,” a Democratic Governors Association spokesperson said after being asked about the opposition research. “Ken Griffin is now the largest donor in the GOP and deserves the same kind of scrutiny.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other GOP leaders have privately courted Griffin as one of their most important and lucrative donors this cycle, as Republicans try to take back both the U.S. House and Senate, according to people familiar with the conversations.
Democrats control the House and Senate, but by slim margins. The Senate is split 50-50 with Democrats relying on Vice President Kamala Harris to break any ties. Cook Political Report labels Senate seats held by Sens. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., as toss-ups. In the House, Democrats have a nine-seat majority. But the Cook report projects that 30 of the chamber’s 435 seats are up for grabs.
Data from AdImpact shows the general election fight for control of the Senate has cost over $1 billion with almost 30 days left to go until Election Day. In total, federal candidates and PACs have spent in excess of $6.4 billion on the 2022 midterms, putting them on track to be the most expensive ever.
Republican leaders are turning to Griffin to take the lead after two of the GOP party’s most influential donors have died: former executive vice president of Koch Industries David Koch at 79 in August 2019 and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson at 87 in January 2021.
CEO and chairman of casino company Las Vegas Sands Sheldon Adelson (L) listens as US President Donald Trump delivers remarks at a Keep America Great rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, on February 21, 2020.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images
“He likes being a player” in politics, a Koch political advisor told CNBC when asked about Griffin’s efforts to sway the midterms. Griffin said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Tribune that he knew David Koch and his brother Charles for “a number of years” and regularly went to the Koch network seminars, where business leaders would huddle with the group’s donors.
The Koch’s policy network has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past decade on campaigns.
Carlo Allegri | Reuters
Griffin, 53, has “youth on his side and probably $35 billion,” the Koch advisor said. “He could step up but those are big shoes to fill.” Forbes estimates Griffin has a net worth of $30.5 billion.
Among Wall Street executives, the next biggest GOP donors include Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman with $20 million in contributions and Paul Singer, the founder of Elliott Management, who’s donated $14 million during this election cycle. Jeffrey Yass, the co-founder of Philadelphia based trading firm Susquehanna International Group, has contributed over $30 million.
McConnell and party officials this summer were expecting Griffin to cut a multimillion-dollar check to the Senate Leadership Fund, according to those familiar with McConnell’s thinking. Though McConnell doesn’t run the super PAC, which is dedicated to helping Republicans get elected to the Senate, it’s closely aligned with the senator and run by his former chief of staff, Steven Law.
Griffin donated $10 million to the PAC in two evenly split checks sent in December and March, Federal Election Commission filings show. Griffin cut another check to the PAC in the third quarter, according to a person close to the billionaire, but they wouldn’t say how much and the PAC doesn’t need to disclose its most recent fundraising records to the FEC until Oct. 15.
Griffin also recently donated to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC backing House Republican candidates, that person said, declining to say how much. FEC records show Griffin donated over $18 million to that group from Jan. 1, 2021 through June.
A representative for McConnell did not return a request for comment.
Griffin gave $5 million last year to a separate political action committee backing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 2022 reelection bid and an additional $5 million to the Republican Party of Florida in August, according to state campaign finance records.
During CNBC’s Delivering Alpha Conference, Griffin indicated that he’s become so close to DeSantis that his team told the governor that Griffin didn’t agree with DeSantis’ decision to fly two planes of Central and South American migrants to Martha’s Vineyard.
“I don’t agree with what he did,” Griffin said when asked at the conference about DeSantis shipping migrants to Florida. “I’m certain that my team’s communicated that to him,” he added. He also said he was open to becoming Treasury secretary if the country was experiencing an economic crisis. DeSantis hasn’t ruled out running for president in the upcoming 2024 election.