The Dark Money King


The New Republic, May 17, 2023

A few months before the midterms, with pollsters spewing red wave predictions and post-Roe conservatives planning to force raped children to give birth, a bit of political news added to progressives' gloom. A Chicago billionaire had gifted anti-abortion Supreme Court fixer Leonard Leo the largest known tranche of dark money in U.S. history: $1.6 billion. The sum is staggering; it will finance at least a generation of extreme right-wing political proselytizing. And almost no one--except for the conservative cabal that bagged the whale--had heard of him.

The gift from nonagenarian electronics magnate Barre Seid (pronounced Barry Side) is effective altruism in reverse: a fire hose of cash aimed at destroying American liberal culture through lawsuits and support for politicians challenging gay rights, unions, environmental protection, voting rights, and public education. The money will last a good long while. Philanthropic recipients usually follow a 5 percent rule: They try not to spend more than 5 percent of the endowment per year. Seid's pile is so large that it could return an average $136 million a year, or north of $230 million on a good year, to influence U.S. law and policy. Without ever having to touch the nut. For a sense of how enormous that is, consider this. The Heritage Foundation and its affiliates spent about $86 million in 2021. Heritage is a huge, and hugely influential, conservative think tank. Leo could create two Heritage Foundations and one more sizable organization on the side--all, again, without having to dip into the principal at all.

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