Right-Wing Business Billionaires Launch Attack on Bernie Sanders

Conservative business executives launched an ad campaign against Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders yesterday, attacking the democratic socialist on his plans to provide health care to all Americans and clean up the planet with a major public works program.

The wealthy manufacturing, poultry, fast food, and finance magnates, several of whom are Charles Koch allies, have recently donated millions of dollars to Club for Growth Action (CFGA), the super PAC affiliated with the right-wing political advocacy group Club for Growth. With that money, the super PAC has bought ads backing Republican candidates and fearmongering over expanded social programs.

In December, CFGA kicked off its "The Goal Is Control" campaign, releasing six ads calling Democrats "power-hungry Socialists" out to take away all basic freedoms from Americans.

Yesterday, the group put out a new ad, "46," which hits Sanders for his plans to "[give] government health care for everyone" and "[transform] the economy to meet extreme environmental standards," as well as his age.

While many Sanders fans see Medicare for All and the Green New Deal as big positives, the policies could put a fraction of the vast wealth of CFGA's conservative funders, who would pay higher taxes under a Sanders administration, at risk.

From January through November of 2019, CFGA's top donors, several of them billionaires, were:

Richard Uihlein—$2.5 million donated to CFGA 

Billionaire owner and CEO of packing supplies giant ULINE and a prolific political donor and conservative philanthropist. Uihlein and his wife, Elizabeth, were the fourth-biggest federal elections donors in the 2018 cycle, spending nearly $40 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. During that cycle, Uihlein also fundedoutside spending groups such as the John Bolton Super PAC, the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, and multiple Wisconsin-based groups.

In 2016, Elizabeth Uihlein was named to the Donald Trump Victory Committee, which raised money from the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee. The Uihlein's family foundation is, along with the foundations of Charles Koch, Robert Mercer, and other arch-conservatives, a significant funder of the right-wing media network that helps promote the financial interests of the conservative ruling class.

Jeff Yass—$2 million

Billionaire managing director and co-founder of financial firm Susquehanna International Group. Yass was the 16th-biggest federal donor in the 2018 elections. Yass is on the board of the Koch-funded Cato Institute.

Virginia James—$1 million

New Jersey-based investor who co-founded Club for Growth. James has donated to nonprofits in the Koch political network and has attended Koch donor retreats.

Ronald Cameron—$500,000

Arkansas Chicken mogul and former Mike Huckabee supporter. Cameron is a major Koch network donor, having given $3 million to Koch's American for Prosperity Action in 2018. Cameron's Mountaire Farms, based in Arkansas but headquartered in Delaware to avoid taxes, was ordered to pay a $500,000 fine for pollution violations in December, adding to its slew of violations since 2001. One $8 million fine stemmed from wage and hour violations.

John W. Childs—$150,000

Billionaire private equity owner and major GOP donor. Childs, who was charged with illegally soliciting prostitution in connection with a sex trafficking ring in Florida, is also a donor to the pro-Trump America First Action and the Koch-backed Freedom Partners Action Fund. His donation to CFGA from last October came months after the prostitution charges. After the charges, Childs resigned as chairman of his firm, J.W. Childs Associates, which renamed itself Prospect Hill Growth Partners.

Robert D. Arnott—$150,000

Founder and chairman of asset manager Research Affiliates. Arnott is a big Republican donor but once donated to the campaign of conservative Democrat Henry Cuellar  (Texas), a favorite of Koch Industries PAC and other fossil fuel industry donors, who faces a strong primary from the left this year.

August A. Busch III—$100,000

An heir to the Anheuser-Busch beer fortune, August III is a major donor to GOP campaigns and party groups.

Additional donors of interest include Captive-Aire Systems CEO, North Carolina megadonor, and Koch donor summit attendee Robert Luddy ($50,000); longtime Koch ally and GOP megadonor C. Boyden Gray ($25,000); and Lewis Topper ($25,000), the president of Fast Food Systems who, with his wife, Margaret, made maximum campaign donations to far-right Florida House candidate Laura Loomer, whose anti-Muslim screeds got her permanently banned from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Uber, Lyft, PayPal, and Venmo.

Here are all of the donors who have given at least $5,000 to CFGA in the 2020 election cycle.


Alex Kotch is an investigative reporter with the Center for Media and Democracy. A campaign finance expert, Alex helped launch money-in-politics website Sludge, and his work has been published by more than two dozen media outlets including The American Prospect, The Nation, and Vice.com.