Meet the billionaire TikTok investor who’s funding GOP candidates

The Nation wrote:

Yass ticks many of the boxes expected of the post–Citizens United billionaire class. He’s passionate about “school choice” and less passionate about paying taxes. He’s heavily invested in the charter school movement, denouncing teachers as corrupt, overpaid layabouts. He’s called the Democratic Party an “evil political actor.” He’s on the board of the libertarian Cato Institute and idolizes Milton Friedman, whose 1962 laissez-faire tract Capitalism and Freedom was a core text in Yass’s conversion to conservative economics.

In a 2022 report, ProPublica described how Yass has been gaming the tax system by devising options trading strategies that reduced his tax burden but pushed legal boundaries. The report said he managed to secure at least $1 billion in tax savings over six recent years.

During that time, Yass paid an average federal income tax rate of just 19%, far below that of comparable Wall Street traders,” Pro Publica wrote.

It’s not surprising that Yass has poured millions of dollars into groups like the Club for Growth which support tax cuts for corporations and  the wealthy. He’s backed Republican candidates who share his views on cutting taxes and promoting school choice, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott,  who received a $6 million donation from Yass.

The 65-year-old Yass, the richest man in Pennsylvania, has also funneled more than $50 million since 2018 through PACs to support right-wing candidates in the state, according to The Keystone website.

He did donate to a super PAC backing centrist Democrat Bhavini Patel, who is mounting a primary challenge to progressive Democratic U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, who represents a Pittsburgh area district, Politico reported.

Yass, who is Jewish, is a strong supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Lee was among the nine Democratic House members who voted against a resolution to support Israel, condemn Hamas, and reaffirm the U.S.’s commitment to Israel’s security following the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

“I am never going to stop defending our abortion rights, protecting our public schools, or demanding billionaires pay their fair share, so I welcome being an enemy to an extremist like Jeffrey Yass,” Lee said in a statement.

During the Republican primary campaign, Yass donated money to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

A spokesperson for Yass’ trading firm told The Daily Beast that Yass has never given money to Donald Trump’s campaign and has no plans to do so.

But Yass did help throw a lifeline to the financially distressed former president, who is hemorrhaging money thanks to the multiple civil and criminal court cases against him. The New York Times wrote that Yass, a major investor in the Chinese company that owns TikTok, was “the biggest institutional shareholder” of the shell company that recently merged with Trump’s Truth Social platform.

The Times said that Yass’  trading firm, Susquehanna International Group, owned about 2% of Digital World Acquisition Corporation, which merged with Trump Media & Technology Group at the end of March. Susquehanna holds about 605,000 shares, worth about $22 million. Trump holds about 60 percent of the 137 million shares, worth several billion dollars on paper.

But Yass might come out a winner even if Trump Media is a colossal failure. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Susquehanna said it “has zero economic interest” in the merged company because it had offset the value of its shares by taking an equal number of short positions. It intends to act as a market-maker and oversee options trading in the merged company.

The New York Times said there’s lots of demand by short-sellers who expect the Trump stock to plummet, but only about 5 million shares are available for options trading.  That means that market-makers can charge high premiums for options.

Yass and Trump both were born in the New York City borough of Queens, but any similarities end there. Trump is a nepo baby who took over his millionaire father’s real estate company and somehow managed to drive his casino company to bankruptcy.

Here’s a promotional video that Yass’ firm put out:

Yass, whose parents were both CPAs, was a math major at the State University of New York at Binghamton and tried to make it as a professional poker player in Las Vegas. He and some college friends made hundreds of thousands of dollars using a sophisticated betting system at race tracks that involved placing thousands of bets.

That helped them get a seat at the world’s biggest casino: Wall Street. In 1987, Yass co-founded the Philadelphia-based Susquehanna International Group, a privately owned trading firm involved in options trading and venture capital investments. SIG also has interests in cryptocurrencies and sports betting. Forbes described SIG as “one of Wall Street’s largest and most successful trading firms.”

Much of Yass’ fortune is derived from a $5 million investment that SIG made in 2012 in Chinese startup firm ByteDance Ltd., which developed the TikTok video sharing app. SIG’s stake in ByteDance is now measured at about 15% and is worth an estimated $40 billion. About half of that stake—worth about $18 billion—belongs to Yass personally,

But now Yass is potentially facing a big financial hit after the House voted 352-65 last month to pass a bill that would ban TikTok from app stores if Chinese-owned ByteDance doesn’t sell its stake. In a rare display of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans agreed that TikTok posed a national security threat. The bill now requires Senate approval, and President Joe Biden has said he will sign it if it’s passed by Congress.

GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said:

“The reason that there’s so much bipartisan support for the bill is because of the national security concern with TikTok having access to 170 million American users’ data. That is a valuable tool for China to exploit and use in nefarious ways. …

“Ultimately, the Chinese Communist Party having access to 170 million Americans user data is a very real and immediate threat. This legislation is targeted toward that current threat.”

“I’ve supported libertarian and free market principles my entire adult life. TikTok is about free speech and innovation, the epitome of libertarian and free market ideals,” Yass told The Wall Street Journal in 2023. “The idea of banning TikTok is an anathema to everything I believe.”

As president, Trump tried to ban TikTok, but a federal judge blocked the effort. In an executive order, Trump declared that TikTok threatened “the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”

But Trump reversed course last month on banning TikTok. He put up a post on his Truth Social platform stating, “If you get rid of TikTok, Facebook and Zuckerschmuck will double their business. I don’t want Facebook, who cheated in the last Election, doing better. They are a true Enemy of the People!”  

Trump’s comments came just days after he met briefly with Yass at a Club for Growth retreat in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump told CNBC that the two didn’t discuss TikTok, but talked about school choice.

But it does raise concerns about whether there’s any quid pro quo between Trump and Yass. Trump’s reversal on TikTok is an embarrassment for House Republicans who emphasized the potential national security threat posed by the video-sharing app’s Chinese connection. Just how much influence will right-wing billionaires or foreign entities have over a desperate Trump?

Lawyer Michael Popok raised these questions in a video for MeidasTouch.

“What a danger to our society. The fact that the … richest man in Pennsylvania, is hooking up with Donald Trump,” said Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director of POWER Interfaith, a progressive religious organization in Pennsylvania, in an interview with The Keystone.

Trump campaign insiders have floated Yass as a potential Treasury secretary should he win in November, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Yass is positioning himself to be able to have extreme political influence and to be able to have a say in the regime that Donald Trump could potentially have if he gets really elected as president of the United States,” Royster warned. “It would make him incredibly influential.”

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