Jeff Yass millions to influence schools, courts and markets

Politics

A portrait of Jeff Yass.

Photo: Eddie Malluk

Inside one of the largest options trading firms in the world sits a little known charitable foundation, that has quietly donated tens of millions of dollars to influence federal policy, education and law.

The firm and the foundation are twin enterprises of Republican megadonor Jeff Yass, and a small group of allies.

A poker-playing, libertarian billionaire, Yass is the largest individual donor to federal candidates this election cycle, with more than $46 million so far in contributions, according to data from the nonpartisan OpenSecrets.

Yass has given very few interviews and largely avoided publicity. But his charitable giving offers a rare window into his priorities and goals.

The Susquehanna Foundation operates out of the same suburban office building in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, as Susquehanna International Group, the trading firm Yass co-founded, according to tax records.

The foundation is run by Yass and other veteran Susquehanna executives, according to the documents that are current through 2022.

The Susquehanna Foundation is one of two foundations that Yass and his closest friends have funded and led.

The other foundation is even less well known: the Claws Foundation. Similar to Susquehanna, Claws is the charitable arm of one person: Arthur Dantchik, a co-founder of Susquehanna International Group with Yass, is the sole listed donor to Claws Foundation.

Since 2017, Dantchik has given over $150 million to the organization, according to the records. The group’s paperwork is held at the Sterling Foundation Management firm in Virginia, over 150 miles away from Susquehanna International.

Yass and Dantchik declined to comment through a spokesman.

The Susquehanna and Claws foundations have been entirely seeded over the past decade by contributions from Yass, his wife and other allies linked to Susquehanna.

The two foundations have combined to give over $25 million to libertarian-minded nonprofit groups since 2016, according to more than a dozen tax records reviewed by CNBC.

One of the chief recipients has been the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank that advances libertarian ideals. Money from Yass run foundations has also gone to the Institute for Justice, a tax-exempt legal group that has litigated cases all the way to the Supreme Court.

Another grantee is the Atlas Network, an organization that works to advance “free market” principles.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has raised money from the Claws Foundation. The Competitive Enterprise Institute has opposed government regulations to the finance, energy and technology industries, among others.

Experts who reviewed the foundations’ donations for CNBC explained that many of the contributions go to groups which advance policies that could benefit Yass, his business and those close to him.

“Ultimately, Yass is channeling his incredible wealth through a variety of entities to push U.S. politics to the right, and in some cases — such as his recent advocacy around banning TikTok — to advance policies that benefit his bottom line,” deputy executive director of the watchdog Documented Brendan Fischer said in an email.

The Susquehanna Foundation, for instance, received over $250 million in 2020 from the “Susquehanna Growth Equity Fund III,” according to the records.

The fund is a private equity investment vehicle that Susquehanna International Group controls, according to Pitchbook.

Yass is also the only known contributor to a political action committee, the Moderate PAC, which is trying to unseat progressive Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, D-Pa., in a primary this year, according to Politico.

Lee’s Democratic opponent has tried to distance herself from the funding that the PAC has received from Yass, saying at a recent debate: “I denounce Donald Trump. I denounce Jeffrey Yass.”

A joint endeavor

Yass has a net worth of $27 billion, according to Forbes. Dantchik has an estimated net worth of $7 billion.

The two men have been friends for over 50 years, since Yass and Dantchik roomed together at SUNY Binghamton in the late 1970s. They later moved to Las Vegas to become professional gamblers before co-founding Susquehanna in the 1980s.

Dantchik and Yass are both listed as directors of the Claws Foundation. They are also held the titles of president and vice president, respectively, for the Susquehanna Foundation at the end of 2022.

As Yass surged to the top of the nation’s biggest donor list, he met in March with Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president.

The meeting was on the sidelines of a retreat for donors to the Club for Growth, a conservative organization that plans to back Trump over President Joe Biden in the coming months through their political action committee.

Yass gave over $15 million to the Club for Growth’s super PAC months before the group announced they were supporting Trump.

A logo sign outside of the headquarters of Susquehanna International Group in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania on January 3, 2016.

Kristoffer Tripplaar | Alamy

But Yass does not plan to donate to Trump’s campaign, a Yass spokesperson later told The New York TImes.

Some of the organizations that have seen money from Yass-Dantchik led nonprofits actively campaign to end or limit government regulations and alter the workings of federal agencies.

If the pushback by these groups against policy proposals are implemented, it could impact Yass and Susquehanna, including their investment into TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, according to Anna Massoglia, an investigations manager at OpenSecrets.

Dantchik is reportedly on ByteDance’s board. Susquehanna International Group owns a 15% stake in ByteDance.

“These donations represent targeted investments in organizations pushing against regulation and promoting free market policies, which could stand to benefit Yass when there is so much at stake if the U.S. government cracks down on his firm’s investments such as TikTok,” Massoglia said.

The House passed a bill in March that, if signed into law, allows the China based company ByteDance about six months to divest TikTok or the social media app would no longer be able to download in the United States.

The Cato Institute received around $6.8 million from the Susquehanna and Claws foundations since 2016, according to tax records.

Almost half of this total came from a $3 million gift from the Susquehanna Foundation in 2022, the year Yass was named vice chairman of Cato’s board.

Yass no longer holds that position, or even a seat, on Cato’s board. A Cato spokesperson did not reply to questions from CNBC about why Yass is no longer a trustee.

Cato’s policy goals dovetail with Yass’ political and financial interests.

Just this year, Cato officials have taken stances on at least two key issues that impact Yass and his firm.

TikTok creators gather before a press conference to voice their opposition to the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act,” pending crackdown legislation on TikTok in the House of Representatives, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 12, 2024.

Craig Hudson | Reuters

“Given that 170 million Americans use TikTok — or more than half the country — the specter of a ban on the popular app could rouse massive popular backlash if given time to develop. They’re correct to be concerned,” reads a Cato article published earlier this spring..

“The bill raises serious concerns for speech as well as for future government interventions into social media,” reads another Cato article that appeared around the time of the House vote.

Club for Growth has also opposed a ban on TikTok.

Yass and his firm also stand to gain from restrictions to the rule-making power of the Securities and Exchange Commission. In March, Cato’s Jennifer Schulp testified before the House Financial Services Committee, where she argued for SEC reforms.

Beyond TikTok

And it’s not just groups that have opposed a TikTok ban which have received support from the Yass-run foundations.

“This kind of spending on the part of Yass’ foundations easily puts him in a rarified world among the largest donors banking conservative causes and think tanks, with a clear libertarian bent, ” said Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics director Robert Maguire.

Millions of dollars have gone from the foundations to groups advocating for Yass and his wife’s number one priority: “School choice.”

Funded largely by libertarian- and conservative-leaning donors, such as the wealthy DeVos family., advocates want parents to have access to taxpayer funds to help pay for tuition at charter or private schools.

The Yass-led foundations have also combined to give over $5 million since 2016 to the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit legal group.

The Institute for Justice has advocated for school choice in court cases.

It has also opposed major campaign finance reforms, like rules that would require tax-deductible charities to disclose the names of their donors.

“Forcing people to disclose even the most picayune political activity and posting that information on a publicly accessible database leaves practically all political donors open to retaliation and coercion by their neighbors, bosses, customers, shop stewards, and even their family,” reads a post from the institute’s “Make No Law” website, archived by the Wayback Machine.

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