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How America's 20 wealthiest people have weighed in on the US election

Ben Werschkul
·DC Producer
·10-min read

The 20 richest Americans have one thing in common — billions of additional wealth accumulated during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the real-time wealth tracking from Forbes. But they diverge on how they’re using that wealth and power to impact the final stages of the 2020 presidential race.

One extreme is former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who supports Joe Biden and appears to be outspending the Trump campaign in the state of Florida. Other mega-billionaires don’t appear to have commented publicly about the race and the rest are somewhere in between.

Here’s a sampling of how the .000006 percent — it takes a net worth north of $30 billion to join this club — have been getting political in recent weeks.

In the mix without having picked a candidate

Two billionaires are currently consumed by politics whether they like it or not.

Bill Gates sits at No. 2 on the richest Americans list with a net worth of over $110 billion as a result of co-founding Microsoft (MSFT) in 1975. Gates stepped away from the company long ago to focus on the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation — the largest private foundation in the world.

That role has put Gates — along with figures like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist — in the center of the public health debate around COVID-19. He has also been targeted by those who are critical of mask-wearing and lockdowns and who believe different conspiracy theories about the ongoing pandemic.

An anti-lockdown activist carries a placard opposing software tycoon and public health philanthropist Bill Gates during a march along Oxford Street in London, England, on October 17, 2020. Today sees the first day of 'Tier 2' coronavirus lockdown measures across London, meaning 'high' alert for covid-19. Most notably the change introduces a ban on people from different households from mixing anywhere indoors, generating particular concern within the already struggling hospitality industry. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
An anti-lockdown activist carries a placard opposing Bill Gates during a march in London in October. (David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

During a conversation with Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer for this week’s All Markets Summit, Gates was not shy about pushing back against some of his critics, calling President Donald Trump’s closest COVID-19 adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, a “pseudo-expert.”

See also: Watch the entire Bill Gates interview

Atlas has gotten close to Trump by pushing for things like herd immunity, an end to lockdowns, and less testing for the virus. Atlas responded to Gates, suggesting the billionaire should stick to tech. Also in the interview, Gate suggested he wasn’t interested in hearing from politicians about the pandemic, saying one of the key questions for the months ahead is “are the experts attacked when they try and share the truth about the tough situation we still find ourselves in?”

Another multi-billionaire with a political fight on his hands is Facebook (FB) founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg — whose net worth is around $100 billion — testified before the Senate on Wednesday alongside Twitter (TWTR) CEO Jack Dorsey and Google (GOOG, GOOGL) head Sundar Pichai about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and other issues, which gives tech companies broad immunity from legal liability for content posted by third parties on their sites.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the Senate Commerce Committee on Oct. 28.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the Senate Commerce Committee on Oct. 28.

During his testimony, Zuckerberg said Congress should update the law “to make sure it’s working as intended.” He was also criticized by Senate Republicans for perceived election interference in how his platform handled allegations against Joe Biden’s son Hunter.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker opened the hearing by charging that "selective censorship is occurring in the midst of the 2020 election." Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) later added his belief that the three companies before him are "the single greatest threat to free speech in America."

In the past, Zuckerberg has given to Democrats, but he has a complicated relationship with the party. He reportedly recommended potential hires to former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg’s campaign when he was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. However, he also criticized Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former presidential front-runner, saying that she would be an “existential” threat to Facebook.

Meanwhile, Zuckerberg has also met with Trump for a dinner that Facebook later called a “constructive” conversation.

In dialogue (at least) with Biden and the Democrats

Joe Biden dropped a nugget earlier this month during a fundraiser, mentioning that he has just gotten off the phone with none other than Warren Buffett (No. 5 on the Forbes list).

Biden said they discussed how “we’re in a position, unlike we were 50, 70, 80 years ago, to lead the whole damn world in a way that no one else can.”

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett (L) plays table tennis with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates in Omaha May 5, 2013 the day after the company's annual meeting. Buffett at the meeting on Saturday gave the most extensive comments to date about the future of Berkshire Hathaway Inc after he is gone, saying he still expects the conglomerate to be a partner of choice for distressed companies.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS)
Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett and Bill Gates in 2013 (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

Buffett has been a financial supporter of Democratic causes over the years, including Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. This time around, according to the latest Federal Elections Commission data, Buffett has contributed mostly to help Democrats in Congress including Mark Kelly, the former astronaut running for Senate in Arizona.

Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft chief executive and current owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, is a billionaire who has been more politically engaged in 2020. Along with his wife, Bonnie, Ballmer gave $7 million to Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun-control group largely financed by Bloomberg.

Ballmer has supported both Democrats and Republicans over the years, but the couple appears to have upped the giving this time around and focused just on Democrats. Another contribution — coming from Connie Ballmer — was $500,000 to a Joe Biden Super PAC.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin, worth over $65 billion, also gave money to Democrats in previous years and he and his wife, Nicole Shanahan, reportedly hosted a fundraiser for Buttigieg in 2019. According to FEC data, Shanahan also gave money to Biden in June. Brin himself gave to Barack Obama during the 2012 campaign.

Brin’s Google co-founder, Larry Page, is the 8th richest American and has largely avoided political statements or contributions.

Of course the most active Democratic billionaire is Bloomberg, who sought the Democratic nomination for president himself. Bloomberg — whose current net worth is estimated to be around $55 billion — pledged to spend $100 million in the state of Florida to support Joe Biden. He’s also reportedly spending millions in Texas and Ohio to support Biden.

MILWAUKEE, WI - AUGUST 20: In this screenshot from the DNCC’s livestream of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg addresses the virtual convention on August 20, 2020.  The convention, which was once expected to draw 50,000 people to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is now taking place virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.  (Photo by DNCC via Getty Images)
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg addressed this summer's Democratic convention after running for President himself and then throwing his support to the eventual winner, Joe Biden. (DNCC via Getty Images)

Bloomberg had considered starting his own ground operation but opted to contribute to the Democratic party, prompting Trump to tweet about him often through the fall.

Fans of Trump (or at least Republicans)

All the Biden support hasn’t left Trump without a few friends among his fellow billionaires.

Oracle (ORCL) co-founder Larry Ellison, with a fortune of about $75 billion, remains one of the only tech leaders to publicly support the president and hosted a fundraiser in February at his estate in Rancho Mirage, Calif. According to a copy of the invitation, the event cost donors either $100,000 or $250,000 to attend and mingle with the president.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 16: Oracle chairman of the board and chief technology officer Larry Ellison delivers a keynote address during the 2019 Oracle OpenWorld on September 16, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Oracle chairman of the board and chief technology officer Larry Ellison kicked off the 2019 Oracle OpenWorld with a keynote address. The annual convention runs through September 19.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Oracle chairman of the board and chief technology officer Larry Ellison in 2019. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Trump has been friendly with Oracle, voicing his support for its bid to take over the U.S. operations on Chinese social media company TikTok and calling Oracle a “great company.”

Sheldon Adelson, the CEO and chairman of casino company Las Vegas Sands, has continued his status as one of the Republican party’s biggest financial backers. He recently gave $75 million to help Trump in the home stretch after of a heated phone call when Trump reportedly confronted Adelson about why he wasn’t doing more to bolster his reelection.

Another standby of Republican politics — the Koch family — have been involved but not as focused on the presidential race after years of tensions with the White House. Charles Koch’s group did reportedly back a “full-scale” campaign to Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination.

The wild-card when it comes to multi-billionaires and Trump is Tesla (TSLA) co-founder Elon Musk, whose net worth has shot up along with his company’s stock price. He is currently the 4th richest American with a net worth of over $90 billion.

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA - MAY 30: U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledges Spacex founder Elon Musk (R) after the successful launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the manned Crew Dragon spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center on May 30, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Earlier in the day NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley lifted off an inaugural flight and will be the first people since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 to be launched into space from the United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
President Trump acknowledges Spacex founder Elon Musk after the successful launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in May. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Musk has had a friendly relationship with the White House in 2020 and earlier this year Trump called Musk a “genius.” Musk has indicated there is a chance he would vote for Trump but so far has refused to say definitively one way or another.

Musk has donated to both Republicans and Democrats over the years but, according to the latest data, appears to have given a total of just $18 to political causes this election cycle. Musk could be in a good place either way as Biden has released an energy plan which promises to invest billions in clean energy — a lot of which could end up going to Tesla.

Staying out of it (for the most part)

Other billionaires on the list have stayed out of the political glare.

Three Walmart (WMT) heirs appear on the top-20 list: Alice, Jim, and Rob Walton. They have limited political donations, according to the latest FEC data, and appear to have made no public endorsements. Sam Walton’s three surviving children sit on a fortune between $60 billion and $70 billion each.

Walton family members (L to R) Jim, Rob and Alice Walton speak onstage at the Wal-Mart annual meeting in Fayetteville, Arkansas, June 5, 2015. Wal-Mart Stores Inc named Vice Chairman Greg Penner as its new chairman on Friday, replacing his father-in-law Rob Walton and cementing the founding family's influence over the board of the world's largest retailer. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Walton family members (L to R) Jim, Rob and Alice Walton at the Wal-Mart annual meeting in 2015. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

One Walton political donation of note was Christy Walton, the widow of Sam Walton’s fourth child, John. She was an early donor to Lincoln Project, the anti-Trump group founded by Republican consultants.

Other Republican-leaning billionaires have continued to give, but the money doesn’t appear to be going in Trump’s direction. Nike (NKE) founder Phil Knight has donated with a focus on control of Congress and on races in his home state of Oregon.

Dan Gilbert, the Quicken Loans founder and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, has taken a similar approach by donating to a series of Republican causes although not apparently to Trump.

Michael Dell — the founder, chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies (DELL) — has given to both parties over the years but appears to have almost completely stayed on the sidelines in the 2020 campaign.

Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, has also stayed out of the race publicly amid Trump’s personal feud with Amazon’s (AMZN) founder and CEO. The attacks from the White House have centered around Bezos and his ownership of the Washington Post as well as the rates that Amazon pays to the Postal Service.

Bezos has contributed to Republicans and Democrats over the years but reports no political contributions this election cycle.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 28: Owner Jeff Bezos, right, with wife, MacKenzie, tours the newsroom with Publisher Fred Ryan, left, and TBA, second left, after dedication ceremonies for the new Washington Post offices on January, 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Jeff Bezos, right, with his then-wife MacKenzie, during a tour the Washington Post newsroom in 2016 in Washington. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Likewise from MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Bezos, who’s now one of the richest women in the world in her own right and the 13th richest American. She appears to have also avoided commenting on the presidential race but has promised to give away the majority of her wealth and indicated the money will go to an array of progressive causes.

“Like many, I watched the first half of 2020 with a mixture of heartbreak and horror,” she wrote in July while discussing her pledge.

Watch the All Markets Summit
Watch the All Markets Summit

Ben Werschkul is a producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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