Rebekah Mercer

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Rebekah Mercer

Rebekah A. Mercer is one of two "blow-it-all-up billionaires" behind President Donald Trump's rise to power in 2016, according to multiple news reports; a key funder not only of Trump but also the institutions that put him in office, including Breitbart News.[1][2][3][4] She is a member of the wealthy Mercer family and has a variety of roles within a number of right-wing non-profit organizations.

Mercer was named as an executive on then-President-Elect Donald Trump's 16-person transition executive committee, which advised him on Cabinet appointments and organizing his White House.[5] Fellow transition team member Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, is under federal investigation for failure to acknowledge his Russian ties to the FBI and Pentagon.[6]

Donald Trump and his team have faced criticism from Republicans who contend that Rebekah Mercer has too much control over the administration, according to Politico: "It would be difficult to overstate Rebekah's influence in Trump World right now," said one GOP fundraiser who has worked with Mercer and people in the campaign. "She is a force of nature. She is aggressive and she makes her point known."[7]

President-elect Trump's campaign was led by three close associates who ran Mercer-funded enterprises: former Breitbart News executive chairman Stephen Bannon (who has also served as the family's political adviser), pollster Kellyanne Conway, and Citizens United President David Bossie.[3]

Mercer is the chairperson and president of the Mercer family's super PAC, "Make America Number 1," despite -- as CNN reported -- "having no formal political experience" (never having worked on a political campaign previously). Hogan Gidley, the group's communications director, said that Mercer had always been "the driving force behind" the super PAC's activities.[8]

Rebekah Mercer is the daughter of fellow conservative mega-donor and hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, a perennial top contributor to conservative politicians, PACs, and outside spending groups. She is the sole listed director of the Mercer Family Foundation, a 501(c)3 that has made significant contributions to an array of right-wing organizations, including the State Policy Network and its affiliate and associate members.

Robert (Bob) Mercer is co-CEO of and the Mercer family are primary investors in the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, which has aided the campaigns of many prominent Republican candidates, and the Mercer family is also heavily invested in Cambridge Analytica, a data and analytics company that uses "psychographic" models to target voters based on their personality. The Guardian called Cambridge Analytica's techniques "not just... social psychology and data analytics. It has to be understood in terms of a military contractor using military strategies on a civilian population. Us. David Miller, a professor of sociology at Bath University and an authority in psyops and propaganda, says it is 'an extraordinary scandal that this should be anywhere near a democracy. It should be clear to voters where information is coming from, and if it's not transparent or open where it's coming from, it raises the question of whether we are actually living in a democracy or not.'"[9]

Mercer Oversaw Pro-Trump Super PAC Make America Number 1

Rebekah Mercer has been chairperson of the Mercer family's super PAC, "Make America Number 1," since 2015; and when David Bossie of Citizens United left the super PAC in September to become Donald Trump's Deputy Campaign Manager (following his predecessor Kellyanne Conway, who had become his Campaign Manager), Mercer took over as its president "despite having no formal political experience" (never having worked on a political campaign previously), according to CNN. Hogan Gidley, the group's communications director, said that Mercer had always been "the driving force behind" the super PAC's activities.[10]

Make America Number 1 backed Senator Ted Cruz in the GOP primary and then Trump once his nomination was announced in the 2016 presidential race. Bob Mercer gave the super PAC $13.5 million when it supported Cruz and another $2 million once it shifted its support to Trump in the general election.[3]

(Rebekah Mercer soon "wore out her welcome" with the Cruz campaign through her "withering critiques" of his debate performances, according to Politico. She also insisted that the campaign hire the family data firm, Cambridge Analytica.[11])

Make America Number 1's Federal Election Commission filings are available here. Its profile by the Center for Responsive Politics (OpenSecrets.org) is available here.

Mercer Named to Prominent Role in Trump Transition Team

Rebekah Mercer had a seat on the 16-member executive committee of the Trump transition team. Reports indicated that Mercer had significant influence over Trump's cabinet selections. According to Ken Vogel of Politico:[7]

"But three people close to the Trump transition say Mercer also has lobbied forcefully against prospective cabinet secretaries she deems too liberal, while pushing for others she sees as true conservatives, including former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton for Secretary of State. They say she was a leading advocate inside Trump’s inner circle for the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and the appointment of Retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn as National Security Adviser."

Mercer Family Has a Financial Stake in Breitbart News

The Mercer family met Andrew Breitbart, the founder of Breitbart.com, at a Club for Growth conference in 2011, according to The New Yorker. Breitbart introduced them to Steve Bannon, who became their adviser. Later that year, Bannon "drafted a business plan for the Mercers that called for them to invest ten million dollars in Breitbart News, in exchange for a large stake. At the time, the Breitbart site was little more than a collection of blogs. The Mercers signed the deal that June, and one of its provisions placed Bannon on the company's board." Breitbart himself died nine months later.[2]

According to The New Yorker:[2]

"Under Bannon's leadership, the Web site expanded dramatically, adding a fleet of full-time writers. It became a new force on the right, boosting extreme insurgents against the G.O.P. establishment, such as David Brat, who, in 2014, took the seat of Eric Cantor, the Virginia congressman. But it also provided a public forum for previously shunned white-nationalist, sexist, and racist voices....
"By 2016, Breitbart News claims, it had the most shared political content on Facebook, giving the Mercers a platform that no other conservative donors could match. Rebekah Mercer is highly engaged with Breitbart's content. An insider there said, 'She reads every story, and calls when there are grammatical errors or typos.' Though she doesn't dictate a political line to the editors, she often points out areas of coverage that she thinks require more attention....
"The Mercers' investment in Breitbart enabled Bannon to promote anti-establishment politicians whom the mainstream media dismissed, including Trump.... 'Breitbart gave Trump a big role,' Sam Nunberg, the aide who worked on the early stages of Trump's campaign, has said."[2]

With Mercer's cash influx, The Guardian reports, Breitbart has become "phenomenally successful: the 29th most popular site in America with 2bn page views a year. It's bigger than its inspiration, the Huffington Post, bigger, even, than PornHub. It's the biggest political site on Facebook. The biggest on Twitter."[12]

2016 Political Contributions

Rebekah Mercer contributed $405,500 individually (listing herself variously as "retired," "homemaker," "not employed," "entrepreneur," "investor," etc.) to Republican parties and committees at state and national levels (including the Republican National Committee), Republican political candidates (including presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz), and super PACs/outside groups in the 2016 election cycle, according to OpenSecrets.org data analyzed by the Center for Media and Democracy.[13]

From 2008 to 2016, Bob Mercer, his wife Diana, and their middle daughter Rebekah contributed $41.3 million to support the GOP and more than 100 federal candidates, according to The Washington Post:[3]

Political donations by Mercer family, 2008–2016 (TWP 3-17-17).png

Ties to Hedge Fund Renaissance Technologies

Bob Mercer is co-CEO of and the Mercer family are primary investors in the highly profitable hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, which has aided the campaigns of many prominent Republican candidates. An early 2017 exposé by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker explained:[2]

"Renaissance was founded by James Simons [(now retired, and one of the top Democratic donors in the 2016 election cycle)], a legendary mathematician, in 1982.... [T]he hedge fund took a uniquely academic approach to high finance. Andrew Lo, a finance professor at M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management, has described it as 'the commercial version of the Manhattan Project.' Intensely secretive and filled with people with Ph.D.s, it has been sensationally profitable. Its Medallion Fund, which is open only to the firm's three hundred or so employees, has averaged returns of almost eighty per cent a year, before fees. Bloomberg News has called the Medallion Fund 'perhaps the world's greatest moneymaking machine.'...
"... [W]hen Mercer arrived at Renaissance the firm's equities division was lagging behind other areas, such as futures trading. Mercer and Brown applied their algorithms to equities trading. 'It took several years,' Patterson recalled, but the equities group eventually accounted for the largest share of the Medallion Fund's profits.... The Medallion Fund made Renaissance employees among the wealthiest people in the country.... Institutional Investor's Alpha estimates that, in 2015, Mercer earned a hundred and thirty-five million dollars at Renaissance."[2]

After graduating from Stanford in 1996 (with a degree in biology and math), Rebekah Mercer worked at Renaissance Technologies for several years, according to The New Yorker.[2]

Director of the Mercer Family Foundation

According to the Mercer Family Foundation's 2015 IRS Form 990 tax filing, Rebekah is the only listed Director of the 501(c)(3) foundation and keeps its books. As of that filing, the foundation granted $24,544,570 in 2015 and had a total of $22,729,081 in assets.[14] (The foundation's 2016 Form 990 is not yet publicly available as of the end of September 2017.)

The foundation granted $18,300,979 in 2014 and had a total of $33,733,845 in assets.[15]

The Mercer Family Foundation made the following contributions to right-wing organizations in 2015 (many of the groups are members of the State Policy Network):[14]

The Mercer Family Foundation granted nearly $58 million from 2008 to 2014, according to The Washington Post. Out of that total, "$36 million flowed to more than two dozen think tanks, policy groups and other nonprofits":[3]

Donations to think tanks and policy groups by the Mercer Family Foundation, 2008-2014 (TWP 3-17-17).png

The Mercer Family Foundation made the following contributions to right-wing organizations in 2014 (many of the groups are members of the State Policy Network):[15]

Mercer Support for Climate-Denying Heartland Institute

The Mercer Family Foundation gave the Heartland Institute -- which "has a long history of promoting 'alternative facts' about climate change as well as crank climate denialist theories that are far out of the mainstream scientific consensus," as Union of Concerned Scientists president Kenneth Kimmell has said -- more than $5 million between 2008 and 2015, according to tax filings analyzed as part of an exposé by The Washington Post in early 2017.[4]

Both Bob and Rebekah Mercer attended the 12th International Conference on Climate Change, hosted by The Heartland Institute in Washington, D.C. in March 2017, "where speakers denounced climate science as rigged and jubilantly touted deep cuts President Trump is seeking to make to the Environmental Protection Agency," joining Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast at his table. The Washington Post reported:[4]

"With Trump in office, the influential financiers appear intent on putting muscle behind the fight to roll back environmental regulations, a central focus of the new administration.... The Mercers' presence indicates that the wealthy family is continuing to support the work of the Heartland Institute -- a group that embraces views that have long been considered outlier positions by the scientific community, but that are ascendant in Trump's Washington.... Half a dozen Trump transition officials and administration advisers attended the gathering, including Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who headed Trump's EPA transition team.... But exactly where the Mercers stand on climate change -- and the scope of their environmental agenda -- remains a mystery."[4]

State Policy Network

The Mercer Family Foundation gave $100,000 to the State Policy Network itself in 2013 and 2014 and quite a bit of funding to SPN Members in 2014 and 2015 (see above).[20][15]

SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 49 states, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom. As of June 2018, SPN's membership totals 156. It is an $83 million right-wing empire as of the 2011 funding documents from SPN itself and each of its state "think tank" members. Although SPN's member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, the Center for Media and Democracy's in-depth investigation, "EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government," reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders.[21]

In response to CMD's report, SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told national and statehouse reporters that SPN affiliates are "fiercely independent." Later the same week, however, The New Yorker's Jane Mayer caught Sharp in a contradiction. In her article, "Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?," the Pulitzer-nominated reporter revealed that, in a recent meeting behind closed doors with the heads of SPN affiliates around the country, Sharp "compared the organization’s model to that of the giant global chain IKEA." She reportedly said that SPN "would provide 'the raw materials,' along with the 'services' needed to assemble the products. Rather than acting like passive customers who buy finished products, she wanted each state group to show the enterprise and creativity needed to assemble the parts in their home states. 'Pick what you need,' she said, 'and customize it for what works best for you.'" Not only that, but Sharp "also acknowledged privately to the members that the organization's often anonymous donors frequently shape the agenda. 'The grants are driven by donor intent,' she told the gathered think-tank heads. She added that, often, 'the donors have a very specific idea of what they want to happen.'"[22]

A set of coordinated fundraising proposals obtained and released by The Guardian in early December 2013 confirm many of these SPN members' intent to change state laws and policies, referring to "advancing model legislation" and "candidate briefings." These activities "arguably cross the line into lobbying," The Guardian notes.[23]

Government Accountability Institute

The Mercer Family Foundation gave $3,735,000 to the Government Accountability Institute (GAI) from 2013 to 2015.[20][15][14] GAI is a right-wing organization founded by Steve Bannon with deep ties to the "alt right" network such as Citizens United, Breitbart.com, the American Conservative Union, the Young America's Foundation, and the Hoover Institution, through its key staff and board members. Rebekah Mercer is the chair of its board as of September 2017 and has been on its board since 2012, according to The New Yorker.[24][2]

The Guardian reported in February 2017:[12]

"How do you change the way a nation thinks? You could start by creating a mainstream media to replace the existing one with a site such as Breitbart. You could set up other websites that displace mainstream sources of news and information with your own definitions of concepts like 'liberal media bias,' like CNSnews.com. And you could give the rump mainstream media, papers like the 'failing New York Times!' what it wants: stories. Because the third prong of Mercer and Bannon's media empire is the Government Accountability Institute.
"Bannon co-founded it with $2m of Mercer's money. Mercer's daughter, Rebekah, was appointed to the board. Then they invested in expensive, long-term investigative journalism.... Welcome to the future of journalism in the age of platform capitalism. News organisations have to do a better job of creating new financial models. But in the gaps in between, a determined plutocrat and a brilliant media strategist can, and have, found a way to mould journalism to their own ends.
"In 2015, Steve Bannon described to Forbes how the GAI operated, employing a data scientist to trawl the dark web (in the article he boasts of having access to $1.3bn worth of supercomputers) to dig up the kind of source material Google can't find....
"This, Bannon explained, is how you 'weaponise' the narrative you want. With hard researched facts. With those, you can launch it straight on to the front page of the New York Times, as the story of Hillary Clinton's cash did. Like Hillary's emails it turned the news agenda, and, most crucially, it diverted the attention of the news cycle. Another classic psyops approach. 'Strategic drowning' of other messages....
"And whether it's Mercer's millions or other factors, Jonathan Albright's map of the news and information ecosystem shows how rightwing sites are dominating sites like YouTube and Google, bound tightly together by millions of links."[12]

Affiliations

Mercer serves on the Board of Directors at the following organizations as of 2017:

References

  1. Vicky Ward, The Blow-it-All-Up Billionaires, Huffpost Highline, March 17, 2017.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Jane Mayer, The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency: How Robert Mercer exploited America's populist insurgency, The New Yorker, March 27, 2017.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Matea Gold, The Mercers and Stephen Bannon: How a populist power base was funded and built, The Washington Post, March 17, 2017.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Matea Gold, The Mercers, Trump mega-donors, back group that casts doubt on climate science, The Washington Post, March 27, 2017.
  5. Kate Storey, How Secretive Manhattan Heiress Rebekah Mercer Became One of the Most Powerful Women in Politics, Town & Country Magazine, March 17, 2017.
  6. Greg Miller and Adam Entous, Flynn was warned by Trump transition officials about contacts with Russian ambassador, The Washington Post, May 5, 2017.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Ken Vogel, The heiress quietly shaping Trump’s operation, Politico, November 21, 2016.
  8. Theodore Schleifer, First on CNN: Rebekah Mercer, a Trump influencer and political novice, to run super PAC's daily operations, CNN, September 7, 2016.
  9. Carole Cadwalladr, The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked, The Guardian, May 7, 2017.
  10. Theodore Schleifer, First on CNN: Rebekah Mercer, a Trump influencer and political novice, to run super PAC's daily operations, CNN, September 7, 2016.
  11. Kenneth P. Vogel and Ben Schreckinger, The most powerful woman in GOP politics: How Rebekah Mercer, at the center of the Trump campaign, is reshaping the right, Politico, September 7, 2016.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Carole Cadwalladr, Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media, The Guardian, February 26, 2017.
  13. Center for Responsive Politics, Donor Lookup: Rebekah Mercer: 2016 Election Cycle, OpenSecrets.org, data downloaded and analyzed by the Center for Media and Democracy September 26, 2017.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Mercer Family Foundation, 2015 IRS Form 990, foundation's Internal Revenue Service annual report, filed May 13, 2016.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Mercer Family Foundation, 2014 IRS Form 990, foundation's Internal Revenue Service annual report, filed November 16, 2015.
  16. Robert Lewis, Who Is Behind the Pro-Charter Schools Group Fighting de Blasio?, WNYC News, March 6, 2014.
  17. Shira Schoenberg, Pro-charter school group pays $425,000 for failing to disclose donors in Massachusetts ballot fight, MassLive.com, September 11, 2017.
  18. John Pappas, 20 Worst Charities], Elephant Journal, December 20, 2010.
  19. Max Kutner, Meet Robert Mercer, the Mysterious Billionaire Benefactor of Breitbart, Newsweek, November 21, 2016.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Mercer Family Foundation, 2013 IRS Form 990, foundation's Internal Revenue Service annual report, filed November 17, 2014.
  21. Rebekah Wilce, Center for Media and Democracy, EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government, organizational report, November 13, 2013.
  22. Jane Mayer, Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?, The New Yorker, November 15, 2013.
  23. Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg, State conservative groups plan US-wide assault on education, health and tax, The Guardian, December 5, 2013.
  24. Government Accountability Institute, TEAM, organizational website, accessed September 29, 2017.
  25. Kenneth P. Vogel and Jeremy W. Peters, Alabama Victory Provides Blueprint for New Bannon Alliance, New York Times, September 28, 2017.