Follow the money in Andrew Yang’s campaign for New York City mayor and you quickly come to two billionaire supporters who also backed the Republican candidates in the U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia that prompted him to briefly relocate there so he could campaign—and fundraise—for the Democrats.
Options trader Jeff Yass and hedge fund CEO Ken Griffin have each contributed $500,000 to the Comeback PAC that supports Yang. The billionaires previously kicked in tens of millions to other PACs that backed Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in the Georgia races.
It was back on Nov. 8 that Yang tweeted: “Great news #yanggang—Evelyn and I are moving to Georgia to help @ossoff and @ReverendWarnock win!”
He was referring to Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock. Their victory would flip the Senate to the Democrats, ending Sen. Mitch McConnell’s reign as majority leader and removing a major obstruction to President Biden’s agenda.
“This is our only chance to clear Mitch out of the way and help Joe and Kamala get things done in the next 4 years,” Yang added. “More details to come but let’s go!!!”
But Yang—who had dropped out of the presidential race months earlier—had more than Georgia on his mind. He was still down there on Dec. 23, when he registered with the New York City Campaign Finance Board as a candidate for mayor. He subsequently seems to have no qualms about accepting the support of a PAC whose biggest contributors included Yass and Griffin. (His campaign did not respond to a Daily Beast inquiry as to whether the contribution made him feel at all uncomfortable.)
The names of both billionaires are prominently displayed in the Comeback PAC’s first ad, which begins with images invoking 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. These are accompanied by the stirring words, “When the towers fell and the waters rose, New York came back…”
“...And Andrew Yang will help us do it again,” the ad promises.
Whoever “us” might be, it does not include other PACs bankrolled by the billionaires. Records indicate that Yass gave $21.7 million to Club For Growth Action this election cycle, along with $8.6 million to the Protect Freedom Political Action Committee. Griffin gave $39 million to The Senate Leadership Fund, along with at least another $11 million on other GOP races. The beneficiaries of the billionaires were a host of Republicans beyond the two in Georgia.
A number of these other Republicans have actively sought to keep New York from coming back. They prominently include Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who opposed emergency assistance to New York and New Jersey in the wake of Sandy. There is also Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who opposed a bill to aid 9/11 first responders.
“Well once again @RandPaul proved himself to be a piece of s---,” New York City Council Member Eric Ulrich of Queens tweeted in response. “I say that as a lifelong New Yorker and Republican.”
Like Paul, Yass is a libertarian, which partly explains how somebody born in the Bronx and raised in Queens could support one of New York City’s enemies. Yass does have limits regarding those backed by the PACs he bankrolls. He voiced regret that the Club for Growth PAC backed Sen. Josh Hawley, who gave a raised fist salute to the mob gathering outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 just before it stormed inside. Yass made clear that he himself does not believe the presidential election was stolen.
“Do you think anyone knew Hawley was going to do that?” Yass wrote in an email released by Laura Goldman, a freelance journalist and former stockbroker. “Sometimes politicians deceive their donors.”
Yass, a lifelong gambler who started out playing poker and betting on horses before becoming the world’s most successful options trader, had a phone chat with Yang before he decided to wager on him, making sure that, in this instance anyway, the donor was clear on where the politician stands.
One issue of paramount importance to Yass is school choice. He apparently felt more like an inmate than a student at Bayside High School and has suggested families be given what would be spent on a child in public school. The family would be allowed to pocket what was left over after paying for an alternative—charter, parochial or private.
Yang seems to have indicated that he was open to the idea, even though he makes much of the fact that he is a public school parent.
“Andrew Yang is a longshot bet on major parental choice in New York City schools,” Yass told The Daily Beast on Saturday.
Griffin, who spent a record $238 million on a Manhattan apartment in 2019, is hedging his own Comeback PAC bet by contributing an equal sum to Strong Leadership NYC. That is the PAC supporting Eric Adams, a former cop and one-time Republican widely viewed as a moderate.
Adams has denounced Yang’s claim to have played a part in the Democrats’ victory in the Georgia Senate run-off. Adams, who is Black, termed it an insult to Stacey Abrams and other Black women in Georgia who worked to defeat the Republicans.
But Adams was just as willing as Yang to accept support from a PAC bankrolled in part by Griffin.
(At least the Adams PAC did not call itself Comeback after supporting numerous people who would just as soon see New York City stay down or, better yet, not be at all.)
As the candidates neared their first in-person debate on Wednesday evening, Yang and Adams were said to be among the three leading candidates, along with Kathryn Garcia, a former sanitation commissioner who is not backed by any billionaires.
Adams has taken to dismissing Yang as “a joke.” And Yang has ceased to be so smiling and appealing and winningly wacky.
“Think about all of the favors Eric had to trade to get to this point, climbing the ladder over these last number of years, scheming about this run, thinking about, ‘Oh, this is going to be my big chance,’” Yang said at a campaign event on Tuesday. “Eric, your moment has passed. New Yorkers want a different kind of leadership right now.”
That is entirely true. But that does not mean New Yorkers want a leader who happily accepts support from those who bankroll its enemies.
“When New York gets knocked down, we get back up,” says the ad bankrolled not by anybody most New Yorkers would include as “we,” but by billionaires who also supported Cruz and Paul and Mitchell. “And with Andrew Yang as mayor, New York will come back stronger than ever.”
The ad then ends with, “Paid for by Comeback PAC.”
UPDATE 6/7/21: This story has been updated to reflect that freelance journalist Laura Goldman first made public Yass’ emails about Hawley.