20 richest Americans’ million-dollar giveaways to candidates – what did Gates, Allen give?

The top 20 richest Americans, as identified in Forbes magazine, and their companies contributed an impressive $22.6 million to state-level candidates and political committees from 2005 through 2008. As a group, they gave nearly half ($11.2 million) of all contributions to Republican candidates and committees, with ballot measure committees gaining an impressive 35 percent of the total.

A new report, “Forbes Magazine’s ‘Richest Americans’ Influence State Politics,” issued by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, examined the giving patterns of these 20 wealthiest Americans.

Collectively, four Waltons and Wal-Mart gave the most, at $6.8 million, favoring Republicans with 72 percent of their total contributions.

Individually, Michael Bloomberg (10th-richest in 2010) led the group, giving $2.7 million, mostly to Republican candidates and committees in New York.

George Soros, 14th richest, was the next-biggest individual contributor at $2.6 million; Soros gave the bulk of his contributions to six committees working on ballot measures that addressed social issues, and Democratic candidates.

Three of the 20 richest people on the Forbes list are associated with Microsoft: Bill Gates and Paul Allen as co-founders of the company, and Steve Ballmer as the current CEO.

So where did the Microsofties’ money go? Microsoft itself gave $1.9 million from 2005 through 2008, including $1.8 million to candidates, officeholders, and parties; and $130,000 to ballot measure committees. Interestingly, Republican party committees received more than their Democratic counterparts, but Democratic candidates and officeholders received more than Republicans. Overall, though, Microsoft gave comparably to both sides of the political aisle: Republican campaigns collected $933,703; those affiliated with the Democratic Party collected $823,849.

TABLE 1: Microsoft Giving by Recipient Type and Party
Recipient Type Party Affiliation Total
Political Party Republican $531,438
Political Party Democratic $361,581
Political Party Total $893,019
Candidate/Officeholder Democratic $462,268
Candidate/Officeholder Republican $402,265
Candidate/Officeholder Non-Partisan $5,000
Candidate/Officeholder Total $869,533
Ballot Committee Not Applicable $130,000
Total $1,892,552
Graph of Microsoft State Political Giving 2005–2008

Three state political parties received more than $100,000 from Microsoft: The Virginia Republican Party received $193,809; the California Democratic Party received $122,067; and the Washington Republican Party received $103,378.

Three gubernatorial candidates received more than $40,000 from Microsoft. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, received $22,300 for his 2006 re-election bid and $25,000 in 2008 when he was not up for election, for a total of $47,300. In Virginia in 2005, Microsoft hedged its bets by giving almost $43,000 each to successful Democratic gubernatorial candidate Timothy Kaine and unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore.

Microsoft bet primarily on incumbents: 93 percent of the candidates receiving Microsoft’s contributions were incumbents running for re-election or running for an open seat. Ninety-two percent of the candidates to whom Microsoft contributed won their elections.

Most of the money Microsoft gave to ballot committees ($100,000) was spent to oppose Initiative 912 in Washington in 2005. This measure, which failed, would have repealed the fuel tax increase enacted during the 2005 legislative session.

Bill Gates

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, #1 on the Forbes list, gave $437,550 in state political contributions. Ninety-nine percent of his money, or $431,000, went to ballot committees in Washington in 2005 and 2006. Gates spent $100,000 to oppose the same measure Microsoft opposed in Washington in 2005, Initiative 912. He also spent $260,000 to oppose a 2006 measure which would have repealed state laws imposing an estate tax and which ultimately failed at the ballot box. In addition, he spent $50,000 to oppose another measure that year which also failed, that would have required compensation when government regulation damages the use or value of property.

Gates contributed only $6,550 to candidates, led by $1,550 he gave to unsuccessful Democratic state house candidate John Burbank in 2008. Gates gave $4,550 to Democratic candidates and $2,000 to Republicans.1 Like Microsoft, Gates continues to make political contributions, having given at least $271,000 so far, including $220,000 to oppose Initiative 1033 in Washington in 2009. This measure, which failed, would have limited growth of certain state, county, and city revenue to annual inflation and population growth, not including voter-approved revenue increases, with revenue collected above the limit reducing property tax levies.

Steve & Connie Ballmer

Current Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife, Connie,  gave $116,100 total in state political contributions. Like Gates, the Ballmers gave mostly to ballot measure committees, showering them with $105,500. All but $5,500 of that went to oppose Initiative 912, the same measure opposed by both Microsoft and Gates.

Of the $10,600 the Ballmers gave to candidates, $3,400 went to Democrat Jennifer Granholm’s successful 2006 re-election campaign for governor of Michigan. Overall, the Ballmers gave $8,600 to Democratic candidates and $2,000 to Republicans.

Paul Allen

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen still owns stock in the company, but is not involved in its operations. He currently maintains a variety of business and philanthropic enterprises through a holding company he created called Vulcan, Inc. Allen did not directly give political contributions, but Vulcan gave $218,147. Two of the enterprises Allen owns through Vulcan—the Portland Trail Blazers NBA basketball team and Saint Louis-based Charter Communications—also made contributions totaling $52,220 and $225,097, respectively.

Of the $389,879 these three companies gave to partisan candidates, officeholders, and committees, $251,557, or 65 percent, went to candidates and committees affiliated with the Democratic Party. The California Democratic Party received $65,000 from Charter Communications to lead this list. Ballot measure committees received $104,585 from Allen’s companies; $52,000 of that figure went to oppose Initiative 912 in Washington in 2005, the same measure opposed by Microsoft, Gates, and Ballmer.

Like Microsoft, Allen’s companies made safe bets by giving primarily to incumbents.

Like Microsoft, Allen’s companies made safe bets by giving primarily to incumbents. In fact, 91 percent of the candidates receiving money from Vulcan, Charter Communications, and the Portland Trail Blazers were incumbents running for re-election or running for an open seat. Candidates receiving these funds won their seats 90 percent of the time.

To read the full report on the richest Americans’ donations, go here.

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Fast Facts

  • Current Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife, Connie, gave $116,100 in state political contributions, including $100,000 to oppose a ballot measure in Washington. Microsoft, as well as Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, each contributed against the measure.
  • Bill Gates, the richest American on the 2010 Forbes magazine list, gave $437,550 in state political contests, $431,000 of which went to ballot committees in Washington in 2005 and 2006.
  • Microsoft gave $1.9 million in state political contributions between 2005 and 2008. Republican party committees received more than their Democratic counterparts, but Democratic candidates received more than their Republican peers.
  • Microsoft reached across the aisle in the 2005 Virginia gubernatorial race, It gave $43,000 each to Democrat Timothy Kaine and Republican Jerry Kilgore. An examination of Microsoft�s money shows that giving to both sides is a fairly standard practice.

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Appendix A: Top 20 Richest Americans and Related Company Contributions

Individual Contributor Amount Forbes 2010 Rank
Michael Bloomberg $2,728,745 10
George Soros $2,577,150 14
Sergey Brin & Anne Wojcicki $1,200,000 11
Lawrence Page & Lucinda Southworth Page $1,083,000 11
Alice L Walton $665,000 8
John T Walton & Christy R Walton $656,050 4
Bill Gates $437,550 1
Sheldon G & Miriam Adelson $390,856 13
Jim C & Lynne Walton $327,600 7
S Robson Walton $256,000 9
Michael S & Susan Dell $179,000 15
David Hamilton & Julia F Koch $152,000 5
Steven A & Connie Ballmer $116,100 16
Warren Buffett $88,000 2
Lawrence J & Melanie C Ellison $26,400 3
Charles D Koch $13,000 5
Jeff Bezos $1,000 18
John A Paulson $1,000 20
Individual Total $10,898,451
Wal-Mart $4,878,461 Walton Family
Koch Industries $2,282,288 Charles & David Koch
Microsoft $1,892,552 Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer & Paul Allen
Berkshire Hathaway $1,257,947 Warren Buffett
Oracle Corporation $568,550 Larry Ellison
Vulcan Inc. $495,464 Paul Allen
Las Vegas Sands $143,945 Sheldon Adelson
Dell Incorporated $94,750 Michael Dell
Cox Enterprises $26,065 Anne Cox Chambers
Company Total $11,640,022
Combined Total $22,538,473
  • 1. Bill Gates’ wife, Melinda, did not make contributions.  Bill and Melinda also maintain the Gates Foundation, which does not make state political contributions.
  • 2. “Initiated Measure 424,” Nebraska Secretary of State, available from www.sos.ne.gov/elec/2008/pdf/pamphlet%20424.pdf, accessed Oct. 4, 2010.
  • 3. “GEICO at a Glance,” GEICO, available from http://www.geico.com/about/corporate/at-a-glance/, accessed Oct. 2, 2010.
  • 4. “Forbes 400: record 313 US billionaires,” http://money.cnn.com/2004/09/23/news/newsmakers/forbes_400/, Oct. 14th, 2010.
  • 5. Soros gave $2,577,150 in the following states: California, Ohio, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, and Virginia. 
  • 6. The following figures reflect contributions collected by the Institute as of October 5, 2010.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics collects and analyzes campaign contribution information on state-level candidates, political party committees, and ballot committees. Its free, searchable database of contributions, as well as the full text of the report is available online at FollowTheMoney.org

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