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Wealthy blow millions on long-shot presidential candidates: ‘So much money on second-raters’

wealthy-blow-millions-on-long-shot-presidential-candidates:-‘so-much-money-on-second-raters’
Wealthy blow millions on long-shot presidential candidates: ‘So much money on second-raters’

Wealthy donors are shelling out millions of dollars to presidential candidates who — polling suggests — don’t stand a chance of winning.

Billionaires and scions of the Mellon and Rockefeller families are throwing Super PAC cash at Independent Robert Kennedy Jr. and Democrat Dean Phillips — so much so that Kennedy could buy a $7 million Super Bowl ad slot Sunday. 

“Never before has so much money been blown on such second-rate candidates,” one fundraising source said. 

This new era, sources say, is a direct result of the deep disenchantment with both major political parties — and the candidates those parties are positioned to renominate.

“People don’t feel comfortable in their social circles supporting Trump or Biden,” the source says of the need to support candidates outside the Republican and Democrat establishment.

“Neither candidate hits the 50% approval mark,” Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf says.

Supporting an outside candidate is a way to either spoil the election or highlight more niche issues, like artificial intelligence regulation, that wouldn’t normally have a spotlight on the national stage.

Men standing in front of American flag: Chamath Palihapitiya, David Sacks, and Robert Kennedy Jr. at a fundraiser for Kennedy that had a bipartisan turnout.

Chamath Palihapitiya, pictured with David Sacks, posted on X, “I would encourage anyone that has even a small shred of skepticism about the Establishment or mainstream media to find an opportunity to hear RFK speak and come to your own conclusion.”

Dean Phillips speaking at the South Carolina Democratic Party's First-in-the-Nation Dinner, with microphones and flags in the background.

Dean Phillip’s campaign released an AI bot, Dean.Bot, that messages with voters about Phillip’s policies. AP

Half of RFK Jr.’s $50 million haul is thanks to just two donors: 81-year-old heir to the Mellon fortune Timothy Mellon and security specialist to the stars Gavin de Becker, Rolling Stone reported.

The reclusive grandson of Gilded Age banker Andrew Mellon previously funded the search for Amelia Earhart’s aircraft and gave $53.1 million to Texas to help build the wall.

De Becker has worked with Jeff Bezos, John Travolta, Jane Fonds and Cher. Meanwhile longtime far-left donor Abby Rockefeller, a scion of the Standard Oil dynasty, gave RFK Jr. $100,000.

In previous elections long-shot candidates have failed to bring in mega donors, such as 2016 Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who raised a total $11.5 million during her ill-fated run. Ross Perot self-funded his 1992 bid with $12 million.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s Super Bowl ad screenshot showcasing American values, including a diverse group of men.

RFK Jr.’s Super PAC American Values shelled out $7 million on a Super Bowl ad modeled on his late uncle JFK’s ads.

A screenshot of a man standing in front of a podium.

RFK Jr. apologized for the ad after aired. “I’m so sorry if the Super Bowl advertisement caused anyone in my family pain,” RFK Jr. posted on X Sunday evening.

RFK Jr.’s top donor, Mellon, is also a longtime Trump supporter and has already donated $10 million to the former president this cycle. Given his existing allegiance to Republicans, some strategists have suggested Mellon is trying to spoil the race for Biden.

“These are setups to make sure someone fails,” Sheinkopf adds. “But it’s a gamble because no one really knows who he will take votes from.”

RFK Jr. is currently polling at 16% in Wisconsin and 8% in Michigan — key swing states where he could swing the race either direction. 

Others suggest the two could feel a familial bond — RFK Jr.’s daughter Kick Kennedy dated Mellon’s distant cousin Matthew before the troubled banking heir’s death.

Matt Krisiloff wearing a black t-shirt

OpenAI co-founder Matt Krisiloff is one of RFK Jr’s Silicon Valley backers. matt krisiloff/X

Paul Buchheit, holding a microphone and wearing a black shirt and a red badge

Paul Buchheit, who created Gmail, is also backing the Kennedy scion.

Sam Altman, in open-necked blue shirt and blue suit speaks into a microphone in front of World Economic Forum sign

Dean Phillips has been discreet about most sources of his funding. He has had multiple phone calls with OpenAI founder and CEO Sam Altman. AFP via Getty Images

Phillips has been quieter about how much money his Super PAC has brought in but his campaign has raised more than $5 million and he loaned it an additional $4.2 million, according to election filings.

Bill Ackman, the outspoken activist hedge fund founder notably gave Phillips $1 million, according to reports.

Along with RFK Jr., Phillips has gotten cash from Silicon Valley titans including Gmail creator Paul Buchheit and OpenAI co-founder Matt Krisiloff.

Phillips has also had multiple phone calls with the man behind ChatGPT, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.

Venture capitalists Chamath Palihapitiya and David Sacks both hosted a fundraiser for RFK Jr. and gave their own donations.

Jill Stein with grey hair standing in front of a microphone at a board of elections meeting in Philadelphia.

Jill Stein didn’t win a single college electoral vote in 2016 and also failed to reel in mega-donations for her Green Party on the scale that RFK Jr. is bringing in for his Super PAC. AP

Ross Perot gesticulating in front of a Perot branded lectern

Ross Perot self-funded his 1992 run as a third-party candidate. It was the most significant showing by a third-party candidate in modern times. Getty Images

The upside of supporting Phillips, who is still battling to secure the Democratic nomination, is less clear.

Phillips was the only name on the ballot in New Hampshire but still managed to lose to Biden — who secured 63% of the vote as a write-in candidate.

But tech insiders say throwing some cash at an unlikely candidate is a way to shape the debate and get a presidential candidate to start embracing your talking points.

“Because Phillips is a marginal candidate $1 million goes a long way,” the tech source adds.

New York Magazine notes that after Phillips got backing from those close to OpenAI he started highlighting the importance of not regulating AI.

Taking a chance on a person or an idea is also central to starting companies and making venture investments

“It’s like angel investing: these people have lots of money and they throw a little bit at someone to see what happens,” one tech source said.

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