Billionaire TikTok investor, charter school advocate puts $8 million into Paul affiliated PAC

Republished from Kentucky Lantern

Jeff Yass, the Pennsylvania billionaire and major investor in the parent company of TikTok, contributed $8 million last month to a super PAC affiliated with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

The super PAC is called Protect Freedom PAC, and a report it filed with the FEC on Wednesday says Yass gave the $8 million on March 31.

Yass has bankrolled Protect Freedom since it was created in 2017 by former Paul campaign operatives to support conservative candidates across the country. (The recent $8 million brings to about $30 million the total that Yass has given to Protect Freedom, about 80% of all receipts during the lifetime of Protect Freedom.)

Yass, like Paul, espouses a libertarian style of conservatism. And, besides Protect Freedom, the primary beneficiaries of his past political donations have been the big anti-tax PAC Club for Growth and super PACs that support Yass’ favorite cause of school choice. Kentuckians will be voting in November on an amendment ending the state constitution’s ban on spending public money on nonpublic schools, potentially paving the way for charter schools and private school vouchers.

On Wednesday Bloomberg first reported the $8 million contribution to Protect Freedom in a story that noted that Yass’ political contributions are getting close scrutiny now because Yass holds a 15% stake in TikTok’s China-based parent company ByteDance as Congress debates whether TikTok should be banned in the United States.

And since that debate began about a year ago, Yass made his first contributions to Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC dedicated to electing Republicans to the U.S. House. FEC records show Yass gave $10 million in the last half of 2023 to Congressional Leadership Fund. He also is the biggest donor to a political committee of U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson — contributing $250,000 to Johnson Leadership Fund in December.

In August 2020, then-President Trump signed an executive order that banned transactions between the parent company of TikTok, ByteDance, and U.S. citizens due to national security reasons. Trump recently reversed his position on TikTok after meeting with Yass.(Getty Images)

During his last year in office, former-President Donald Trump tried to ban TikTok unless it was sold to a U.S. owner, saying that data collected by TikTok threatened to give the Chinese Communist Party access to “personal and proprietary” information about Americans.

But Trump reversed his position in March and now opposes banning TikTok. His reversal came just days after a meeting with Yass. Trump has since said in an interview with MSNBC that he and Yass did not discuss TikTok during their meeting.

Kentucky Lantern emailed questions about the recent $8 million donation Thursday morning to Protect Freedom PAC and to the Pennsylvania trading firm headed by Yass, Susquehanna International Group. Neither immediately replied.

Bloomberg lists Yass as the 32nd wealthiest person in the world, worth $41 billion. He is also the largest political donor in the United States, according to the website Open Secrets which in February reported Yass made $46.7 million in political donations during the 2023-24 election cycle. The March 31 contribution would raise that total to $54.7 million.

Protect Freedom was founded in 2017 by former members of Rand Paul’s campaigns. Its website prominently displays a photo of Paul and says it exists for “the purpose of supporting pro-freedom and liberty-minded candidates.”

From left, Bernie Moreno, Vivek Ramaswamy, Kimberly Guilfoyle, and Donald Trump, Jr. speaking before a campaign rally before Ohio’s primary election in March. (Photo by Ohio Capital Journal)

It has run independent advertising campaigns supporting candidates for the U.S. House and Senate across the country. And last year it spent at least $2.4 million on promoting the election of Republican Daniel Cameron as Kentucky governor, according to records filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Cameron lost that race to Democratic incumbent Gov. Andy Beshear.

More recently, Protect Freedom donated $500,000 in February to an Ohio super PAC called Buckeye Values that ran a campaign to support Bernie Moreno in the recent Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in Ohio. Buckeye Values sponsored a rally for Moreno attended by Trump’s three days before the election. Moreno won that primary over two candidates backed by Ohio’s establishment Republicans.

And Protect Freedom’s recent report filed with the FEC shows that in March it spent about $181,000 to promote three conservative Republican candidates that have publicly been endorsed by Rand Paul: Cameron Hamilton, of Virginia; Stewart Jones, of South Carolina; and Rick Becker, of North Dakota.

Protect Freedom’s recent report to the FEC shows that as of March 31 (after the $8 million contribution from Yass) it has a cash balance of about $10 million.

Kentucky Lantern is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kentucky Lantern maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jamie Lucke for questions: Follow Kentucky Lantern on Facebook and Twitter. Kentucky Lantern stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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