An explosive report from The New York Times this week outlines how a Swiss billionaire has become a top player in influencing U.S. politics in a manner that helps Democrat politicians win elections even though it is not clear whether the individual is a U.S. citizen.
The report said that Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss has donated massive amounts of money “through a daisy chain of opaque organizations that mask the ultimate recipients of his money.”
“Newly obtained tax filings show that Mr. Wyss’s foundations donated $208 million from 2016 through early last year to three nonprofit funds that doled out money to a wide array of groups that backed progressive causes and helped Democrats in their efforts to win the White House and control of Congress last year,” the report said. “Mr. Wyss’s representatives say his foundations’ money is not being spent on political campaigning. But documents and interviews show that his foundations have come to play a prominent role in financing the political infrastructure that supports Democrats and their issues.”
In addition to donating heavily to the three non-profits, Wyss’s foundations also directly donated tens of millions of dollars throughout the Trump-era to groups that “opposed former President Donald J. Trump and promoted Democrats and their causes.”
Wyss donated to far-left groups that organized grassroot campaigns to increase the turnout of Democrat voters, created media organizations that publish pro-Democrat news, pushed for Trump’s impeachment, and sought to cause other problems for the Trump administration. Officials from his organizations have also worked on the Biden transition or have joined the administration.
Wyss’s political profile gained noticeable attention recently after he was one of the top bidders for the Tribune Publishing newspaper chain before dropping out.
“Born in Switzerland and living in Wyoming, he has not disclosed publicly whether he holds citizenship or permanent residency in the United States,” the report noted. “Foreign nationals without permanent residency are barred from donating directly to federal political candidates or political action committees, but not from giving to groups that seek to influence public policy — a legal distinction often lost on voters targeted by such groups.”
The report comes as Democrats have pushed to rein in dark money in politics, despite the fact that they spent more than double the amount of dark money that Republicans did — $514 million vs. roughly $200 million — during the 2020 election cycle.
Democrat strategist Rob Stein told the Times that Wyss and his advisers have built a “strategic, evidence-based, metrics-driven and results-oriented approach to building political infrastructure” to “create measurable, sustainable impact” on U.S. politics.
Wyss’s foundations have increased their donations to organizations that champion other Democrat causes, including abortion, and have become more involved in “partisan political debates” after Trump won in 2016.
A spokesperson for Wyss claimed that Wyss’ donations were not meant to help Democrats and that he was only focused on issues important to him. Wyss refused to be interviewed for the report.
The Wyss Foundation, located in Washington, D.C., registered under a section of the U.S. tax code that bans it from giving money to support partisan political campaigns. “But it can, and does, donate to groups that seek to influence the political debate in a manner that aligns with Democrats and their agenda, including the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank where Mr. Wyss sits on the board,” The Times added. “The organization was started by John D. Podesta, a top White House aide to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. A foundation that Mr. Wyss led as chairman and that has since merged with the Wyss Foundation paid Mr. Podesta as an adviser, and the two men remained close, according to associates.”
Another Wyss foundation — the Berger Action Fund — shares office spaces with The Wyss Foundation and is registered under a section of the U.S. tax code that allows it to “spend money supporting and opposing candidates, or to donate to groups that do.”
The Berger Action Fund donated more than $135 to the Sixteen Thirty Fund, which the Times notes is “among the leading dark money spenders on the left.” The Sixteen Thirty Fund donated more than $63 million to PACs promoting Democrats or opposing Republicans in 2020, including pro-Biden groups and “the scandal-plagued anti-Trump group Lincoln Project.” Tax filings for the Sixteen Thirty Fund do not specify how it spent the money it received from Wyss’s foundations.
A California-based group — Fund for a Better Future, which works to shape political processes in a way that helps Democrats — “has received the majority of its funding, nearly $45.2 million between the spring of 2016 and the spring of 2020, from the Berger Action Fund.”
The spokesperson for Wyss said that Berger Action Fund had its own internal policy banning it from funding “political candidates or electoral activities.” The report noted that the “voluntary restriction” was especially newsworthy given the questions that surround Wyss’s citizenship. Wyss also gave $70,000 to Democrat candidates and leftist PACS from 1990 to 2003 before appearing to halt the spending.