The Wall Street billionaire who has been heralded for giving Oxford University its largest donation “since the Renaissance” gave campaign contributions during the election cycle to seven of the Republican lawmakers who later voted to overturn the 2020 election results and backed candidates late last year even as they disputed Joe Biden’s victory.
Stephen Schwarzman, the founder and chief executive of Blackstone Group, also financially supported a campaign group – Georgians for Kelly Loeffler – that is alleged to later have published a Facebook ad that darkened the skin of Loeffler’s Democratic opponent, Raphael Warnock.
While Schwarzman has been praised for his philanthropy, donating hundreds of millions of dollars to Oxford, Yale University, MIT, and the New York Public Library, the financial support billionaires like Schwarzman, Richard Uihlein, and Jeffrey Yass gave to Trump and other rightwing Republicans is facing fresh scrutiny in light of the violent insurrection by Trump supporters on the US Capitol on 6 January.
In the months before November’s election of Joe Biden, Trump would not commit to a a peaceful transfer of power or promise to respect the election results. The former president was impeached – for a second time – in the House of Representatives for inciting the violence that engulfed the Capitol on 6 January.
Hours after the riot, in which five people died, including a police officer, 147 Republicans voted to invalidate the 2020 election.
Public records show that Schwarzman donated about $33.5m to groups supporting Republicans in the 2020 election cycle, including $3m to Trump’s America First Action Pac, a donation he made in January 2020. Schwarzman also donated funds to political action committees supporting seven Republicans who, months later, voted to invalidate results in Pennsylvania and Arizona, a move that was seen as a direct affront to the votes of Black and other minority Americans whose support were critical to Joe Biden’s victory.
According to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, Schwarzman was the third largest individual donor to Republican “objectors”, and the eight largest mega-donor in the 2020 election cycle. The late Sheldon Adelson topped the list of mega-donors, followed by two liberal donors: Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer.
Asked about Schwarzman’s record, Steve Schmidt, a former Republican strategist and co-founder of the Lincoln Project, the anti-Trump campaigning group that has sharply criticized major Republican donors, said: “There are few people that have financed more directly to candidates who engaged in the poisoning of American democracy.”
Schwarzman himself is not a stranger to controversy. In 2010 the CEO apologized for making an “inappropriate analogy” when he likened Barack Obama’s plan to tax private equity firms to the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939.
In response to questions from the Guardian, a spokesperson for Schwarzman emphasized that the CEO’s last donation to Trump’s presidential campaign was in January 2020, long before the former president was accused of inciting an insurrection, and that the two have not spoken “in over six months”.
Schwarzman’s spokesperson also emphasized that his assistance was “purely about matters related to economic policy and trade, not politics”.
But Trump engaged in controversial and racist rhetoric long before January 2020. Documented incidents include the former president’s embrace of birtherism, his initial defense of far-right protesters in Charlottesville, his Muslim ban on immigrants, his contention that migrants from African nations and Haiti come from “shithole countries”, his statement that four progressive Democratic congresswomen of color “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came”, and his close association with advisers who embrace white supremacy.
A spokesperson for Schwarzman said: “Of course Steve finds these statements objectionable and disagrees with them. As has been publicly reported, Steve did not hesitate to weigh in on areas where he disagreed with President Trump.” The spokesperson said Schwarzman supported Trump during the Democratic primaries because he believed his “policy and economic agenda were the best path forward”.
While some billionaires – like Richard Uihlein of the Uline packaging company – have a record of donating to the most rightwing Republican groups, Schwarzman’s record is mixed. Public records show he donated most to Republicans who did – eventually – acknowledge and certify Biden’s win, including Joni Ernst and Rob Portman. He has also made campaign donations to Liz Cheney, one of 10 Republican members of Congress who voted in the House of Representatives to impeach the president.
A spokesman for Schwarzman pointed out that the CEO’s donations to other Republicans vastly outweighed his donations to Trump.
But Schwarzman also donated in the past to some of Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill, including: Devin Nunes and Andy Harris, who was recently stopped by police from bringing a concealed firearm on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Seven of the Republicans whose campaigns Schwarzman financially supported in 2020 ultimately voted to overturn the election results. Those donations were made early in the 2020 cycle.
In September 2020, Schwarzman also donated $5,600 to Georgians for Kelly Loeffler, the former Republican senator’s political action committee. Months later, in December, as Loeffler faced a special election against her Democratic opponent, Raphael Warnock, the group published an ad on Facebook in which it is alleged that Warnock’s skin was darkened. The issue was reported at the time by Salon. Loeffler’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
There is no evidence that Schwarzman had any role in the ad or that he was aware of it, or approved or endorsed it.
Schwarzman’s steadfast loyalty to Trump was described in a recent New York Times article, which pointed to the access the Wall Street financier got to world leaders in his former role as an adviser to the president, including an investment commitment from Saudi Arabia. The article also noted that Schwarzman weighed in on policy areas where he disagreed with Trump and, according to Blackstone colleagues, sought to talk him out of his more extreme positions. He reportedly called for the continuation of Daca, the immigration program that Trump sought to end, and argued but failed to convince Trump to stay in the Paris climate accord.
A report in the Financial Times in the days after the US election in November alleged that Schwarzman was privately defending Trump even as others grew alarmed by the former president’s claims that the election had been stolen.
At the time, Blackstone told the FT that “[Schwarzman] believes the electoral system is sound and that the democratic process will play out in an orderly and legal manner, as it has throughout our nation’s history”.
After the November election, it became clear that control of the US Senate would be determined by two runoff elections in Georgia, where Loeffler and fellow Republican David Perdue faced off against two Democratic opponents.
On 9 November, as Georgia tipped in Biden’s favor days after the November election, the two Republican senators in Georgia called for the resignation of Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, making unfounded claims that the official, Brad Raffensperger, had failed to deliver “honest and transparent elections”.
Billionaires, including Rupert Murdoch, began pouring donations into the Republican-controlled Senate Leadership Fund to try to bolster Loeffler and Perdue’s campaigns. Among the largest was Schwarzman’s $15m donation, which was recorded in public documents as being made on 12 November, three days after Loeffler and Perdue’s unfounded challenge to Raffensperger. Loeffler would later appear on stage with the rising rightwing star Marjorie Taylor Greene, a newly elected congresswoman from Georgia who believes QAnon conspiracy theories.
Then, on 23 November, three weeks after the election, Schwarzman released a statement acknowledging that Biden had won. He said: “In my comments three days after the election, I was trying to be a voice of reason and express why it’s in the national interest to have all Americans believe the election is being resolved correctly. But the outcome is very certain today, and the country should move on.”
He pledged to help the new Democratic president “rebuild our post-Covid economy”.
On 6 January, Schwarzman issued a further public statement in response to the riot at the Capitol, saying he was “shocked and horrified by the mob’s attempt to undermine our constitution … the outcome of the election is very clear and there must be a peaceful transition of power”.
A spokesperson for Schwarzman said: “Steve made it crystal clear in a November public statement, long before the January electoral college certification, that President Joe Biden won the election and that he was ready to help the new president in any way he could. This was followed by a deeply personal statement expressing his horror and disgust at the appalling insurrection that followed President Trump’s remarks on January 6.”
The spokesperson added: “Steve has been a lifelong Republican and his last donation to the campaign was January 2020, before President Biden won a single primary. As Steve’s previous statement makes clear, he strongly condemns the appalling attempts to undermine our constitution.”
The Guardian asked Oxford, Yale, and MIT, to comment on Schwarzman’s record of support for Trump and his political donations. Only one institution – Yale, where Schwarzman attended university and donated $150m – defended Schwarzman’s political activity.
“Mr Schwarzman did not stand by Trump through his rejection of the election results. On November 23, Mr Schwarzman stated that the election outcome was clear and that he was ready to help President Biden and his team to rebuild our economy. On January 6, like other heads of corporations, he condemned the violence at the Capitol,” the Yale spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for Oxford declined to comment specifically on Schwarzman’s record of political donations.
The Oxford spokesperson said: “Mr Schwarzman has been approved by our rigorous due diligence procedures which consider ethical, legal, financial and reputational issues. All decisions about donations are made by the University’s Committee to Review Donations and Research Funding, whose members include Oxford academics with expertise in relevant areas like ethics, law and business.”
A spokesperson for MIT, which has received $250m from Schwarzman, did not comment on questions about Schwarzman’s values or his political donations, but said: “What brings our community together is mutual respect and a commitment to science, technological innovation, and the pursuit of knowledge.”