Billionaire Cornell benefactor Seth Klarman ’79, namesake of Klarman Hall, is on track to be one of the biggest donors to the Democratic party this election cycle and expects to spend upwards of $20 million in total political contributions, reversing years of giving primarily to Republicans.
According to advance copies of FEC filings obtained by The New York Times, Klarman has already given $4.9 million to approximately 150 candidates and liberal super PACs this cycle, including the maximum personal contribution of $2,700 each to New York Democratic Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer in December 2017.
Klarman’s spending since Trump’s election is high even compared to his past substantial givings. According to data from opensecrets.org, Klarman donated over $7 million over the course of the Obama administration, but said that he expects to spend “between $18 and $20 million” for the election in November in an interview with The Times.
Klarman has a reputation for keeping a low profile, according to The Times, despite controlling the Baupost Group, a hedge fund with $30 billion in management. Recently, however, he has opened up regarding his opposition to President Trump’s politics and policies, telling Bari Weiss of The New York Times in an interview that “we need to turn the House and Senate as a check on Donald Trump and his runaway presidency.”
Spending millions of dollars on political campaigns is not new for Klarman, but his focus on electing Democrats over Republicans is a dramatic shift from past patterns. According to The Boston Globe, Klarman was the biggest political donor in New England for the 2014 election cycle, spending $2.95 million in total, over 90% of which went to Republicans, despite his registration as an independent.
The flip-flop in giving reflects Klarman’s expressed distaste for aspects of both sides of the political spectrum. In the past he has said most Republicans are “neanderthals” on gay marriage and that a Bernie Sanders presidency would be “appalling.” In his interview with The Times, Klarman lamented that “Republicans have abandoned the middle.”
Despite being among the nation’s top political donors, Klarman’s philanthropic giving and charity work far outweigh the money spent on candidates and PACs. According to The Times, the Klarman Family Foundation gave away about $40 million in 2016 alone, as compared to about $1.5 million of political spending.
Klarman’s hedge fund connections, however, soon became a source of contention on campus, The Sun reported.
Last semester, Klarman drew the ire of students for Baupost’s holdings of $911 million of Puerto Rico debt in COFINA bonds backed by sales taxes in Puerto Rico. At the time, Klarman rejected calls for holders to cancel debt obligations, claiming that doing so would impede the territory’s ability to borrow money in the future, according to CNBC.
In March, the Student Assembly passed a resolution that called on Cornell to “conduct a due diligence investigation of its holdings with The Baupost Group and divest from any and all Puerto Rican debt obligations.”
Last month, Reuters reported that the COFINA Senior Bondholders Coalition, which includes Decagon Holdings, a shell company Baupost used to purchase the debt, reached an agreement with the government of Puerto Rico to reduce the COFINA sales-tax-backed debt by more than 32 percent.