Why are there no black Koch brothers?

There are many rich nonwhite Americans, but a lack of nonwhite megadonors could hamper Democratic hopes of winning back Congress.
by Lateshia Beachum /
Image: FILE PHOTO: Oprah Winfrey with her Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 75th Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills
Oprah Winfrey poses backstage with her Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 75th Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills on Jan. 7.Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

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The full version of this story was originally published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey is worth nearly $3 billion.

Basketball legend-turned-businessman Michael Jordan's net worth is a reported $1.65 billion.

Businessman and philanthropist Robert Smith is worth more than both of them with an estimated net value of $4 billion-plus.

All three black billionaires are known as generous philanthropists, but not big political givers — they are rarely mentioned in the same breath as political megadonors Charles and David Koch, George Soros and Tom Steyer.

Michael Jordan
Former NBA star and current owner of the Charlotte Hornets, Michael Jordan, smiles at reporters in Chicago on Aug. 21, 2015. Charles Rex Arbogast / AP

Winfrey, Jordan and Smith aren’t anomalies, either. The nation’s wealthiest African-Americans are decidedly reluctant campaign contributors, almost completely ceding the rarefied rank of "political megadonor" to older, white men, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission and Center for Responsive Politics data.

Since 2010, when the Supreme Court decided Citizens United v. FEC and opened floodgates to unlimited spending in elections, minority donors have been all but absent from every federal election’s top 100 political spenders list, the analysis found.

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Critics of the nation's campaign money system say lawmakers are increasingly beholden to a very small pool of aging white donors who don't reflect a country that's becoming younger, blacker and browner.

The success of Democrats' mission to retake control of the U.S. House and Senate in the 2018 midterm elections depends heavily on convincing people of color to vote in a post-Barack Obama era. Democrats recently announced a new campaign aimed at turning out nonwhite voters. In addition, a new cluster of left-leaning super PACs and grassroots political groups — with names such as BlackPAC, Black Economic Alliance and Asian American Victory Fund — have sprung up in support. Some of these groups depend heavily on funding from white donors.

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 23: Portrait of billionaire philanthropist Robert Smith
Portrait of billionaire philanthropist Robert Smith, after an interview by Lonnie G. Bunch III, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington on August 23, 2016.Ricky Carioti / The Washington Post/Getty Images file

Quentin James, founder of The Collective PAC, whose mission is to help elect African-American candidates to office, said black donors don’t prioritize political giving, thwarting their impact on the political process.

"We've been told the biggest lie in politics, which is that the only thing that matters is your vote," James said, citing the ramifications of the Citizens United decision. "If our community wants to be fully taken into account in this political system, our dollars have to matter as much as our votes."

Take billionaire and Las Vegas Sands Corp. owner Sheldon Adelson, a fervent advocate for Israel.

Adelson, together with his wife, Miriam Adelson, contributed almost $82.6 million to mostly Republican or conservative political causes during 2015 and 2016 alone. Trump initially painted Adelson as a political puppet master, but Adelson subsequently became a top Trump backer anyway.

Adelson's reward? Trump heeded his calls to ditch the United States' nuclear agreement with Iran and move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

There's no black analogue to Adelson. Not even close.

Oakland-based real estate investor and developer Wayne Jordan is the only African-American to appear in the top 100 donors list since 2009, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. The Rock the Vote founder and his wife, M. Quinn DeLaney, have together given Democratic political candidates and committees more than $6 million since 2007, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Jordan, who contributed to Obama's 2013 inaugural committee, declined requests for comment.

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The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.

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