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The Multi-Billion Dollar Gambling Addiction of GOP & Club for Growth Megadonor Jeff Yass

Alex Constantine - March 25, 2024

by Aliya Schneider and Joseph N. DiStefano - Philadelphia Inquirer, Mar. 25, 2024

Philly-area billionaire Jeff Yass is again making headlines. This time, the deep-pocketed GOP donor has drawn attention for his investment in a company that merged with Truth Social, and his financial interest in TikTok.

Jeff Yass, 65, is the richest man in Pennsylvania. He lives in the Philly suburbs and has been a prominent local and national campaign donor, often to Republicans in recent years. He pours money into politics in Philadelphia and across the country, and while his candidates of choice have often been unsuccessful, his spending power could have implications in this year’s presidential election.

Yass was an early investor in the China-based start-up that created and runs TikTok, giving him a big stake in what’s now one of the world’s most valuable social media apps — and in Congress’ attempt to either ban TikTok or end its ties to China.

As of December, Yass’ firm held shares in Digital World Acquisitions Corp., a company that is merging with Truth Social, former President Donald Trump’s social media company. In a statement, Susquehanna said it “has zero economic interest” in Digital World, saying it had offset the value of those purchased shares by taking an equal number of short positions so it could act as market-maker and oversee trading of options in the merged company, once it begins.
Who is Jeff Yass?

Yass is among the most successful of a coterie of proprietary traders — meaning they mostly bet their own money — who have become billionaires through digital-fast, high-volume trades of stocks, futures, and many other assets, and investing the profits in companies around the world.

He heads Susquehanna International Group (SIG), a Bala Cynwyd firm that is well known for short-term bets on every asset from stock options to municipal bonds, commodities to currencies, and sports bets to Bitcoin. SIG is a major market maker in stocks and other assets traded worldwide.

What is his net worth?

Forbes ranked Yass as the richest person in Pennsylvania and the 28th richest in the country last year.

It’s difficult to say his exact net worth, since it’s hard to locate and value private assets, which might not be publicly appraised or sold for years. But based on his known assets, Forbes estimated Yass’ fortune at $27.6 billion, as of March 25. Bloomberg estimated his net worth at $40.9 billion, as of March 24.

ProPublica reported in 2022 that Yass paid a lower income tax rate than most Americans despite making more than $1 billion a year.

How did he make his money?

Yass and his SIG cofounders went to State University of New York at Binghamton, now known as Binghamton University, in 1979. The son of two New York accountants, Yass and his friends used advanced math to bet on racehorses and poker, and incorporated gambling into SIG’s training. He and his partners went to work as options and future traders at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange (PHLX) in the early 1980s, which is based at the FMC Tower.

In 1987, they set up Susquehanna on the stock exchange options-trading floor — the cheapest to join of the nation’s stock markets — and later moved to Bala Cynwyd in Montgomery County, escaping Philadelphia’s wage and wealth taxes.

During Susquehanna’s first summer, Yass’ group bet the stock market was overpriced, and they collected big when it crashed that fall. As Susquehanna grew, it added trading stations in New York and around the world.

Susquehanna recruited chess masters, engineers, and math graduates, and taught them to play casino poker, among other skills. Its traders were a fixture in the former PHLX basement trading floor on Market Street before expanding worldwide.

What are his connections with Philadelphia?

Yass lives on Philadelphia’s Main Line, and works in a City Line Avenue office in Montgomery County.

He has funded opponents of progressive candidates for city office in Philadelphia.

Sometimes Yass’ investments make news locally, like when a real estate lending firm he backs took over the Divine Lorraine Hotel on Broad Street and Ridge Avenue.

What is Jeff Yass’ involvement in politics and what causes does he support?

While Yass is a Republican megadonor, he has financed candidates of both parties who support school choice, including public support for private education, as well as charter schools. His wife, Janine Yass, a cofounder of Boys’ Latin Charter School, is also a school choice advocate. She is the founder and chair of the Yass Prize for Sustainable, Transformational, Outstanding and Permissionless Education.

A longtime supporter of libertarian politics, Yass champions private and charter schools, and has showered millions on politicians who take positions he supports. His school advocacy has drawn the ire of public-school teachers unions, and his support for conservative groups in Israel has also made Yass a target of Jewish liberals.

Yass’ support hasn’t guaranteed victory, however. He backed four of President Donald Trump’s failed Republican opponents in this year’s quickly decided primary season. His early backing failed to make State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, (D., Philadelphia) Philadelphia’s mayor in the 2015 and 2019 elections. He backed David McCormick, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, in his failed 2022 primary challenge of Mehmet Oz, and Carolyn Carluccio, a Republican who lost the Supreme Court election in November.

That being said, Yass backed Republican State Sen. Jarrett Coleman’s successful campaign in 2022, ousting the teachers union-friendly State Sen. Pat Brown (R., Lehigh). He also backed Democratic City Councilmembers Cindy Bass and Quetcy Lozada, who both successfully warded off progressive challengers last year.

What are his connections with TikTok and Truth Social?

Yass’ firm owns a 15% stake — worth about $21 billion last year — in TikTok, according to the Wall Street Journal. SIG was ByteDance’s earliest U.S. backer in 2012, putting in $3 million of the company’s initial $5 million investment round.

He ostands to lse from a TikTok ban that passed the U.S. House and is being considered by the Senate. He has spent more than $60 million in support of Club for Growth, a conservative super PAC pushing against the ban.

As of December, Yass’ firm was the largest institutional shareholder in Digital World Acquisition Corp., a company that merged with Truth Social, Trump’s social media company. Trump, who faces mountainous legal fees and fines stemming from legal cases against him, stands to net more than $3 billion from the sale, which was green-lit on Friday by shareholders, according to SEC filings.

Why does Yass matter in the 2024 election?

Yass is the biggest donor in the 2024 election so far. He spent $46 million on unsuccessful Republican rivals of Trump and groups who support school-choice.

In the 2022 midterm elections he donated $47 million to help Republican causes, making him the third-largest conservative donor in the country, NBC News reported. Yass and his wife donated just over $5 million in the entire 2016 election cycle, in contrast, Reuters reported.

Yass has not endorsed Trump, nor has he donated to his campaign.

Yass’ interest in TikTok got attention this month after Trump had an about-face on the prospect of a TikTok ban.

Trump, who previously tried to institute a ban himself, came out against the idea days after meeting with Yass and speaking at a Club for Growth donor retreat. Trump spoke with Yass about school choice, according to a person familiar with the matter, and the former president said on CNBC that the two didn’t discuss TikTok. But the timing of their meeting has led to speculation that Trump is trying to court the wealthy donor.

Additionally, according to Bloomberg, Yass’ name has come up in discussions about whom former President Donald Trump would want in his cabinet if he wins the 2024 election, underscoring his potential political power. But people close to Yass said they can’t imagine him agreeing to serve in any president’s cabinet.

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