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Rubio Reeled In A Big Catch From The Donor Pool, But Many Are Still Swimming

Billionaire Paul Singer has endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., for President. He's well-respected among Republican donor circles.
Thos Robinson
Getty Images
Billionaire Paul Singer has endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., for President. He's well-respected among Republican donor circles.

No political consultant could write an ad as glowing as billionaire Paul Singer's email for Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio.

"He is ready to be an informed and assertive decision-maker," Singer wrote in the email, which was first published by the New York Times. He went on for nearly two pages about Rubio: "his youth and vigor.... his unmatched ability to articulate a public argument.... the best explainer of conservatism in public life today."

What makes Singer's email noteworthy is its author. Singer was the Republicans' top individual donor in the 2014 elections, giving $11.5 million, based on federal data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. A cornerstone of Wall Street conservatism, he founded the cautious and successful hedge fund Elliott Management Corp.

So far this year, the Federal Election Commission has logged $3.4 million in Singer money. He's given to dozens of congressional campaigns, plus $250,000 to Future 45, a new anti-Clinton superPAC, and another $250,000 to the opposition-research superPAC America Rising.

Most notably, Singer this year has sent more than $1 million to American Unity PAC, which he established three years ago as a pioneering voice among conservatives for LBGT rights.

But there's something he hasn't done, nor have many other top donors. He hasn't started pumping money into the superPAC of a chosen presidential contender. Now, however, the crowded field of candidates has begun to thin out, and the Iowa caucuses are less than three months away. Singer's endorsement of Rubio may mark the awakening of the upper-echelon donor class.

"Paul Singer is a real opinion leader," said Darrell West of the Brookings Institution, author of the book Billionaires. "He's someone with lots of political experience. People respect him within Republican circles. He's been very active."

And he has that email list, reaching others in the Republican establishment.

Singer declined to comment for this story. But his move isn't a complete surprise. Last April he gave Rubio's campaign committee $2,700, the legal limit for the primaries.

Other top donors from the 2014 cycle have also given small sums to presidential candidates. Marlene Ricketts, wife of Joe Ricketts, founder of AmeriTrade, gave $4.9 millon to a superPAC for Scott Walker, who has since withdrawn. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam have written checks to Lindsey Graham and Rubio, plus an earlier PAC for Rubio – just over $20,000 in all.

Their totals from the last presidential race, in 2012, give a hint of what might come: The Adelsons gave $93 million, mainly to the superPAC backing Newt Gingrich's White House bid, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Joe and Marlene Ricketts gave $13 million.

Singer's more cautious giving totaled $3.7 million.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.