The Mercer Family Foundation is the nonprofit vessel of the wealthy Mercer family, who made their fortune via a hedge fund. Rebekah Mercer and her father Robert Mercer gained considerable influence within the Republican Party following the Citizens United decision in 2010, which removed nearly all limits on corporate political giving. The Mercers began pouring millions of dollars into right-wing causes and political campaigns, and became more prominently known for their spending during the Trump years. The family’s giving diminished in the 2020s.
Much of the family’s donations have run through Mercer Family Foundation and are administered by Rebekah Mercer. In 2017, with the leak of the Paradise Papers, it was revealed that the Mercer family used offshore investment companies in Bermuda to “avoid a little-known US tax of up to 39% on tens of millions of dollars in investment profits amassed by the Mercer family’s foundation” according to The Guardian. Robert Mercer’s hedge fund, Renaissance Technology, employed a similar strategy to avoid taxes.
The Mercer family has used its fortune to advance right-wing causes globally outside of the confines of their family foundation:
The Mercer Family Foundation has also been used to further extreme right-wing positions:
Robert Mercer is a computer scientist, billionaire hedge fund manager, and right-wing megadonor. Mercer was the co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, which The New Yorker said was “among the most profitable hedge funds in the country.”
He has been described as a “reclusive and taciturn” man that “can appear like a Bond movie villain” due to his frequent time spent on mega yachts and his estate called the Owl’s Nest. As a result, not much is known about his early life. He doesn’t give interviews and is a man of few words.
He and his daughter, Rebekah Mercer, were some of the “earliest and strongest backers” of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and early administration. The Institutional Investor claimed Trump’s 2016 presidential victory could “arguably be credited to the financial largesse” of Robert Mercer.
Mercer and his daughter are also credited with dramatically raising the profile of influential far-right leader Steve Bannon and Breitbart News, a far-right website Bannon led before joining the Trump campaign. The Southern Poverty Law Center called Breitbart under Bannon a platform for the alt-right, which the SPLC called a white nationalist movement that promotes islamophobia, antisemitism, and “explicitly racist ideology.” Mercer also had a major influence on the outcome of the 2016 UK Brexit referendum.
Mercer is known generally for his far-right views, even among conservative megadonors. He has been described by allies, former employees, and business associates as “a libertarian [who] despises the Republican establishment,” and believes laissez-faire markets are the only solution to any societal problem. Former colleagues have compared Mercer’s beliefs to Ayn Rand, a philosopher who promoted “the virtue of selfishness” above all else. Mercer reportedly financed the Jackson Hole Summit, a secretive conference that aimed to reinstate the gold standard – a calling card issue for many in the American Libertarian movement.
Mercer has also reportedly made racist comments, claiming “there are no white racists in America today, only Black racists,” and backed deeply Islamophobic media campaigns. In particular, Mercer falsely asserted that Black Americans were better off before the civil rights movement and called the Civil Rights Act of 1946 a mistake. A former employee sued Mercer for his racially insensitive comments in 2017.
Mercer reportedly dismisses climate change as “overblown” and funds institutions and figures who downplay and distort the impacts and causes of climate change. He has also reportedly downplayed the impacts of nuclear war.
Like other influential right-wing billionaire megadonor Richard Scaife, Robert Mercer harbors a hatred of the Clinton family. A former employee of Mercer said that he “thought Bill Clinton was a criminal, and I’m sure he still does,” and noted Mercer repeatedly brought up the Whitewater controversy, which alleged the Clintons committed financial crimes. While three separate inquiries never found any instances of wrongdoing in the Whitewater investigation, it did result in evidence that led to the impeachment of Bill Clinton for lying under oath and obstruction of justice. The Whitewater theories eventually evolved into the “Clinton Body Count” conspiracy, a theory alleging the Clintons murdered numerous political enemies – which Mercer’s former co-workers report he bought into. One of the first known instances of Mercer using his fortune and technological savvy to intervene in American politics was to sink the 2008 presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.
Like other far-right backers of the Trump era, such as the Uihlein family, Robert Mercer and his family became true megadonors following the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010, which removed nearly all limits on corporate and individual political giving. Mercer later contributed to the Citizens United organization, a party in the case.
From 2010 to 2016, Mercer spent $45 million in political donations to support right-wing candidates and gave $50 million to ultraconservative nonprofits. Simultaneously, in 2010, the IRS began to crack down on a key strategy used by Mercer’s company, Renaissance Technology, that enabled them to earn high profits while avoiding taxes. In 2014, the U.S. Senate launched an investigation into Renaissance and found the company avoided more than $6.8 billion in taxes. In 2021, Renaissance was forced to settle with the IRS for $7 billion.
After failing to influence the initial elections significantly he targeted in 2010, Robert Mercer began to network with the billionaire Koch brothers and joined the Council for National Policy, an influential and highly secretive networking group for major conservative donors and activists, right-wing religious extremists, and Republican lawmakers.
It was around this time Mercer met Steve Bannon, who convinced him to invest $10 million into Breitbart News, which at the time was a collection of blogs that aimed to “[take] back the culture” from the liberal, left-leaning establishment. Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah made the investment, making them part owners and putting Bannon and Rebekah on the group’s board.
Through their relationship with Breitbart, the Mercers became Bannon’s “principal patrons” according to The New Yorker. Under Bannon, the website dramatically expanded and focused on disruptive “economic nationalism” that ran counter to establishment GOP thinking. It also promoted conspiracy theories about Barack Obama and the Clintons. Breitbart under Bannon was also criticized for promoting the alt-right movement, which anti-hate watchdog the Anti-Defamation League called “a repackaging of white supremacy by extremists seeking to mainstream their ideology.”
After right-wing efforts to defeat Obama in 2012 failed, the Mercers – especially Rebekah – grew frustrated and pushed for the utilization of digital analytics to influence elections. Their interest led them to a British firm, Strategic Communication Laboratories, which sought to use the big data analysis of social media profiles to develop psychological profiles of consumers and influence elections. Robert Mercer founded a U.S. affiliate of SCL called Cambridge Analytica. By 2018, Cambridge Analytica was embroiled in a scandal for improperly acquiring and using Facebook user data for their operations, and was shut down shortly thereafter – but not before the firm influenced Brexit and the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
By 2016, Breitbart claimed their content was the most shared political content on Facebook – giving Bannon and the Mercers immense political influence on the presidential election. After initially backing Ted Cruz for the Republican nomination, Robert put his support behind Donald Trump. Bannon developed a political relationship with Trump in 2011 and became a key backer of his campaign. Some Breitbart employees left the site during the 2016 campaign, claiming it had become little more than a propaganda outlet to back Trump and sink Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes.
The Mercers wielded immense influence over Trump’s 2016 campaign after its chairman, Paul Manafort, resigned and was replaced with Bannon and his ally Kellyanne Conway – reportedly at the urging of the Mercers. Campaign ethics watchdog the Campaign Legal Center alleged that the Mercers violated election laws by paying Bannon and Conway through one of their PACs instead of the Trump campaign directly.
Mercer also personally donated $22.5 million during the 2016 election cycle – including $600,000 to support the primary opponent of late Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who led the Senate investigation against Mercer’s Renaissance Technologies in 2014. Some ads financed by the Mercers used inflammatory depictions of Muslims meant to “stoke viewers’ fears of imminent Muslim conquest.” It was later revealed that Mercer used off-shore tax havens to help avoid taxes as he funded efforts against Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions.
In November 2017, following increasing public interest in his and his family’s affairs, Mercer stepped down from his position as CEO at Renaissance and announced he would sell his $10 million stake in Breitbart. When Donald Trump and Bannon began to feud in 2018, the Mercers sided with Trump and reportedly helped push Bannon out of the White House.
Robert Mercer began to cut back on his financial and political support of Trump in 2018, due to the increasing scrutiny of his activities and the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Since 2018, Mercer has not ranked among the top 100 individual political campaign donors, according to watchdog Open Secrets. His giving has primarily come in the form of the Mercer Family Foundation, which has poured millions into the nonprofit Donors Trust – the “dark-money ATM of the right.” Donors Trust has financed anti-labor organizations, and climate denial groups that spread misinformation campaigns, such as Project Veritas, in addition to attacks on affirmative action, hate groups, and anti-muslim ideology.
Rebekah Mercer is a Republican donor, heiress, and daughter of Robert Mercer. She is one of the Mercer Family Foundation’s principal members and has played a significant role in the family’s political giving since 2008 – which is also when The Mercer Family Foundation began giving to right-wing groups, according to a review of their tax forms. Prior to 2008, the Foundation primarily invested in charitable causes. Like her father, she is intensely private and holds strong anti-establishment views. The Washington Post called Mercer the “First Lady Of The Alt-Right,” a movement known for its role in white-washing white supremacy, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Rebekah Mercer was a major part of her family’s investment in Breitbart News in 2010. When her father, Robert Mercer, invested $10 million into Breitbart News, she and Steve Bannon were elevated to the group’s board. Mercer was reportedly highly involved in Brietbart’s operation, with one insider saying she read every story, and [called] when there are grammatical errors or typos.” Under Bannon and Rebekah Mercer’s guidance, Breitbart was criticized for promoting the alt-right movement. Breitbart experienced a rapid fall in readership and influence after Rebekah Mercer left her board seat in 2018.
After the right failed to defeat Obama’s 2012 campaign, Rebekah grew frustrated and pushed for better utilization of digital analytics to influence elections. Her interest led her family to a British firm, Strategic Communication Laboratories, which sought to use big data analysis of social media profiles to develop psychological profiles of consumers and influence elections. Robert Mercer founded a U.S. affiliate of SCL called Cambridge Analytica. Rebekah reportedly pushed against Republicans who were opposed to using Cambridge Analytica data.
In September 2016, Rebekah took over the pro-Trump Make America Number 1 PAC, whose largest donor was her father. The group paid out more than $1.5 million to Cambridge Analytica. In 2018, the government watchdog group Common Cause filed complaints with the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission accusing Cambridge Analytica of violating federal law, which bars foreign nationals from participating in American elections. The Make America Number 1 PAC was named in both complaints. Cambridge Analytica had a massive impact on Brexit and the 2016 U.S. presidential election..
Rebekah played an outsized role in Trump’s 2016 campaign. Reports noted that Rebekah pushed for family allies Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to be promoted to senior roles in the Trump campaign in the final months of the election. Rebekah was a high-ranking member of Trump’s transition team and played a major role in his early administration and in shaping his cabinet. One Republican fundraiser said at the time that “it would be difficult to overstate Rebekah’s influence in Trump world.”
In addition to her role at the Mercer Family Foundation, Mercer holds high-ranking positions in groups such as the Heritage Foundation, Heritage Action for America, the Manhattan Institute, and The American Spectator Foundation. Notably, Mercer is a founding investor of the far-right social media website Parler, a platform that has been criticized for allegedly allowing rioters on January 6th, 2021, to communicate and cheer each other on. Mercer and her father hold two of the three board seats on Parler’s board. She also previously served on the board of directors of the New York-based advocacy group Reclaim New York alongside influential conservative figure Leonard Leo.
Mercer also contributed heavily to Republican candidates allied with former President Trump during the 2022 midterms:
The amounts listed below are lifetime totals donated by the Mercer Family Foundation since its inception in 2004.
Donors Trust and its affiliate organization, Donors Capital Fund, are two of the most influential conservative organizations in contemporary American politics. In 2013, Mother Jones dubbed Donors Trust the “dark-money ATM of the right.” Both organizations operate as “donor-advised funds,” which accept donations and grant recommendations, helping to separate the original donors’ identities from the destination of their funds. This grants wealthy donors the ability to direct their donations to causes of their choice without their name being directly attached. Donors Trust has financed anti-labor organizations, climate denial, groups that spread misinformation such as Project Veritas, attacks on affirmative action, hate groups, and anti-muslim ideology.
Media Research Center is a right-wing media watchdog and the largest recipient of funding from the Mercer Family Foundation. Politico described Media Research Center as “one of the most active and best-funded, and yet least known, arms of the modern conservative movement” and a major player in the “right’s decadeslong jihad against the mainstream press.” The organization was founded in 1987 by Brent Bozell, a former conservative PAC chair, as a means to counter the allegedly liberal influence of the mainstream press. The organization is well known for its climate denial as well as receiving from fossil fuel companies Exxon Mobil. Robert Mercer reportedly downplays the severity of climate change.
The Government Accountability Institute is an “accountability” group headed by conspiracy theorist Peter Schweizer. It was co-founded by former Trump White House Chief Strategist and former Mercer patron Steve Bannon. GAI claims its mission is “to investigate and expose crony capitalism, misuse of taxpayer monies, and other governmental corruption or malfeasance.” The organization has published conspiratorial books about the Clintons, the Bushes, and the Bidens in addition to spreading conspiracies about former-President Obama. The organization is closely tied to Breitbart.
The Heartland Institute is a libertarian think tank based in Chicago that is known as a leading promoter of climate change skepticism. The group openly denies climate science and has called itself “the world’s leading voice for climate realism”. Robert Mercer reportedly downplays the severity of climate change. The organization has misrepresented climate scientists’ work, paid for billboards that compared climate activists to the Unabomber, and created model legislation designed to repeal climate policy. Prior to its focus on climate denialism, Heartland tried to undermine anti-smoking efforts while receiving funding from industry groups like Philip Morris.
Heartland has contributed to COVID-19 denial by disputing the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, praising extremist COVID-19 protests, and entertaining the conspiracy that COVID-19 public health measures were designed to institute a global tyrannical government. Outside of COVID-19, the group has repeated other fringe conspiracies and far-right talking points, such as equating LGBTQ-inclusive education with pedophilia, comparing efforts to combat violent rhetoric online to an authoritarian secret police, and attacking the Black Lives Matter movement as “radical.”
The Federalist Society is the most powerful and far-reaching legal group for libertarian and conservative lawyers and judges. The Society pioneered the legal philosophy of originalism, “a designed approach of interpreting the Constitution very narrowly based on what the framers — all white, all men, all Christian — supposedly meant at the time they wrote it.” Legal scholars and historians have noted that conservative justices often weaponize originalism as a “cover for opinions that were evidently partisan.” Additionally, the Federalist Society has been dubbed the “the conservative pipeline to the Supreme Court,” and is connected to the last five Supreme Court nominees appointed by Republican presidents. Its membership includes numerous individuals who were instrumental in the events of January 6, 2021.
The Washington Post Magazine claimed the potential ramifications of the Federalist Society’s legal and judicial philosophy “could mean fewer regulations of the environment and health care, more businesses allowed to refuse service to customers on religious grounds, and denial of protections claimed by newly vocal classes of minorities, such as transgender people.”
Citizens United is the 501(c)(4) group widely known for its role in the landmark Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC, which allowed for unlimited individual and corporate political spending. The case concerned the ability of Citizens United to advertise their anti-Hillary Clinton movie, Hillary Clinton: The Movie, without FEC intervention. The nonpartisan Brennan Center For Justice said the ruling “ushered in massive increases in political spending from outside groups, dramatically expanding the already outsized political influence of wealthy donors, corporations, and special interest group.” According to The New Yorker, the Mercers were some of the first people to take advantage of Citizens United and pump massive sums of money into U.S. politics.
Citizens United head David Bossie is an ally of Steve Bannon and originally introduced him to Donald Trump in 2011. Bossie and Citizens United started to receive money from the Mercers in 2012 to continue their investigations into Hillary Clinton. Bossie joined Trump’s 2016 campaign as a deputy manager in September 2016 and was credited with helping to “rescue Trump’s wobbly campaign.” Trump again recruited Bossie in 2020 to help him contest election results.
Reclaim New York was founded by Rebekah Mercer, Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway, and former Breitbart editor-in-chief Steve Bannon in 2013 with financial backing from Robert Mercer. Bannon left the organization in 2016 as he “masterminded” Trump’s presidential campaign. RNY has been criticized as “being a front to espouse [Robert] Mercer’s views.” The group attacked universal health care initiatives, wind power projects, taxes, and the construction of a new hospital. It also sued at least 11 school districts for denying or delaying responses to public records requests. A judge had to grant one of these districts, Rockland County, a so-called “Mercer Mercy Rule ” to exempt them from paying Reclaim New York’s legal fees. Currently, powerful right-wing judicial activist Leonard Leo sits on Reclaim New York’s board.
The Goldwater Institute is a libertarian think tank based in Arizona that was founded in the late 1980s with the blessing of its namesake, Barry Goldwater. Goldwater is best remembered for his 1964 presidential run, which brought ultra-conservative views into the mainstream and signaled a reorientation of American political geography over the civil rights movement.
The Goldwater Institute plays an “outsized” role in setting the right-wing agenda in Arizona and is notable among think tanks for having a litigation arm that it uses to encourage state policymakers to embrace its agenda. A former lobbyist lamented the Institute’s role in promoting misleading narratives to the public. It has also been criticized for pushing model bills— allowing for a rapid astroturfing of its libertarian agenda across the country. The Goldwater Institute is a member of the State Policy Network, an alliance of think tanks pushing conservative and libertarian policy at the state level that is connected to the Koch Brothers political network.
The Manhattan Institute is a think tank founded in 1978 by William J. Casey to promote free market ideology. Casey later went on to become Ronald Reagan’s CIA director. The Institute has pushed right-wing ideology in healthcare, education , income-inequality, legal reform, climate change denial, and criminal-justice.
The Institute and its publication, City Journal, popularized the racist “broken windows” policing in New York City via its close connection to Rudy Giuliani in the 1980s and 90s. The broken windows theory calls for a hypervigilant, hyper-punitive police force that, in practice has led to violent harassment and over-policing of minority communities. City Journal was also the launch pad for the architect of the anti-critical race theory movement, Christopher Rufo, who is now a senior fellow at the Institute.
Becket (formally known as the Becket Fund For Religious Liberty) is a leading legal opponent of LGBTQ and reproductive rights. Leo sits on the organization’s board. The Southern Poverty Law Center dubbed Becket a “hardline” group that promotes “‘religious freedom restoration acts to justify anti-gay discrimination.” Becket has a relatively small budget, with many of its lawyers working pro-bono. Becket successfully defended the right of adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples before the Supreme Court, actively fought to allow discrimination in healthcare, and fought for private schools to be exempt from anti-discrimination laws. According to The Washington Post, Becket “[boasted] an 87 percent success rate” in all cases it took on from 1994 to 2014.
Becket’s highest profile victory came in 2014 with the infamous Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case. Becket represented Hobby Lobby and secured the right of businesses to deny contraception and other healthcare practices to their employees under “religious freedom” protections. The Washington Post claimed that Burwell v. Hobby Lobby “was the legal power behind the Supreme Court’s decision…to extend religious rights to corporations for the first time.” The case greatly elevated the profile of Becket, and Hobby Lobby maintains a website thanking Becket for their role in the case.
Heritage is a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization and conservative think tank. Since its founding in 1973, Heritage has become one of the world’s most influential think tanks through its relationships with Republican administrations and influence in Congress.
Although historically a research institution, Heritage has increasingly ventured into the realm of political advocacy and grassroots organizing through Heritage Action. Both the think tank and Heritage Action have advanced debunked claims of widespread voter fraud that have been used to enact restrictive voting laws across the country following the 2020 presidential election. The organization has also been active in the fight to limit access to abortion, roll back environmental regulations, and curtail the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans.
The Cato Institute is a prominent libertarian think tank co-founded by right-wing megadonor Charles Koch –originally known as the Charles Koch Foundation. Cato has been described as one of the main vessels used by the Kochs to push libertarian values in American society and move political discourse to the right. In 2020, the Cato Institute was ranked the 10th most influential think tank in the United States and 15th in the world.
Cato opposes child labor laws, labor unions, affirmative action, the minimum wage, universal health care, anti-trust laws, campaign finance regulations, regulatory actions taken against big tobacco, and has called for the total abolition any social safety net. As reported in 2013, Cato wants to “privatize everything.” It has called for the privatization of: public schools, public transit, social security, public broadcasting, the post office, the TSA and NASA – to name a few. The institute was also a leading spreader of climate change denial. While Cato attempts to posture libertarians who support civil liberties, the Institute opposed a constitutional amendment enshrining marriage equality.
Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) is one of the most influential anti-abortion groups in America. SBA List was founded in the early 1990s (a decade that saw a dramatic spike in anti-abortion violence) in explicit backlash to the success of pro-abortion candidates supported by EMILY’s List. From 1996 to 2009, SBA List outspent leading pro-abortion rights groups in nearly every election cycle. The group was a key ally to Donald Trump’s campaigns and administration.
The Telegraph called SBA List an “increasingly influential and hardline campaign group” that aimed to make abortion a central political issue. The group opposes many forms of birth control and supports “requiring women who need an abortion to get an unnecessary, invasive transvaginal ultrasound” which aim to dissuade women from seeking abortions.
The SBA List Education Fund, also known as the Charlotte Lozier Institute, was founded as the “anti-abortion counter” to the Guttmacher Institute, a leading think tank on sexual and reproductive health.
The Council for National Policy is an influential and highly secretive networking group for major conservative donors and activists, right-wing religious extremists, and Republican lawmakers – including the Mercers The group holds private meetings three times a year.
In 2004, The New York Times called the CNP a “little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country.” The Council’s membership lists have included leaders of right-wing groups including ALEC, the Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society, and Alliance Defending Freedom. Former Vice President Mike Pence was listed as a member on a January 2022 roster along with DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund president Lawrence Bader and Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino and Leonard Leo. According to Documented, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has spoken at Council events, and his wife Ginni Thomas is a board member of The Council’s 501(c)(4) arm and a frequent speaker. Mitchell has allegedly worked closely with Ginni Thomas in organizing efforts via The Council.
The Southern Poverty Law Center described the Council as “a body that mixes large numbers of ostensibly mainstream conservatives with far-right and extremist ideologues, mostly from the far fringes of the religious right.” Many current and former members of the Council have ties to SPLC-designated hate groups, particularly anti-LGBTQ and anti-Muslim groups. According to journalist and author Anne Nelson, the Council was “instrumental in convincing Trump to institute his infamous Muslim travel ban” and “has been active at the state level helping to promote voter suppression measures.”
The Council almost exclusively works in closed meetings, and more recently has used the Conservative Partnership Institute “as a public face for The Council tactics developed behind closed doors.” The Council acts as an incubator for right-wing advocacy groups and sponsored the Election Integrity Network’s summits in Georgia, Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Michigan. The Council was a key incubator for right-wing activist Cleta Mitchell’s plan to convince state legislators to overturn the popular vote in the 2020 election and for Mitchell and other right-wing leaders to plan for legal challenges to the 2020 election.
The Mercers were major supporters of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, with Robert Mercer personally donating $15.5 million to affiliated organizations. The family wielded immense influence on Trump’s campaign, and urged him to hire key staffers such as Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway. The Mercers also used their influence at Cambridge Analytica and Breitbart to aggressively stir up pro-Trump sentiment on social media. Campaign ethics watchdog the Campaign Legal Center alleged that the Mercers violated election laws by paying Bannon and Conway through one of their PACs instead of the Trump campaign directly.
Rebekah Mercer was a high-ranking member of Trump’s transition team, playing a major role in his early administration and shaping his cabinet. One Republican fundraiser said at the time that “it would be difficult to overstate Rebekah’s influence in Trump world.” The Mercers’ influence on the Trump White House and political project waned as Robert backed off from aggressive political spending by 2018. According to Trump allies, Mercer’s patronage was replaced by the billionaire Uihlein family around this time.
Steve Bannon is a far-right leader who was once called “the most dangerous political operative in America” by Bloomberg. Bannon is best known as the co-founder and leader of the far-right and white-nationalist adjacent website Breitbart and as a key advisor to Trump’s 2016 campaign and early administration. Reportedly, the Mercers used their influence on the campaign to push Bannon into his chief advisor role. Bannon has told supporters to embrace the terms “racist” and “xenophobe” and leaked documents have connected him to neo-nazis and white nationalist groups.
The Mercers met Bannon around 2010 and they shortly thereafter became his “principal patrons” according to The New Yorker. Bannon convinced the family who convinced them to invest $10 million into Breitbart News, which Bannon co-founded. At the time, Breitbart was little more than a collection of blogs. The Mercers made the investment, making them part owners, and put Bannon and Rebekah Mercer on the group’s board.
Under Bannon, Breitbart expanded exponentially and focused on disruptive “economic nationalism” that attacked the mainstream conservative establishment and promoted conspiracy theories about Barack Obama and the Clintons. Breitbart under Bannon was also criticized for promoting the alt-right movement, which anti-hate watchdog the Anti-Defamation League called “a repackaging of white supremacy by extremists seeking to mainstream their ideology.” The movement is strongly associated with the 2017 United The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia which ended in white supremacist violence and the death of a counter-protester. Internal documents from Breitbart showed the group explicitly courted hateful figures and obscured links to white nationalist websites such as VDare.
Breitbart was also immensely influential in the 2016 election, with the website claiming it was the most shared political content on Facebook that year. Researcher Yochai Benkler claimed that Breitbart was able to successfully reduce the influence of other right-wing and conservative media that did not support Donald Trump’s campaign by directly attacking them.
Bannon was also connected to the Mercer family by his role as a board member at the controversial big data consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, a firm that sought to use analysis of social media profiles to develop psychological profiles of consumers and influence elections. Robert Mercer founded a U.S. affiliate of SCL called Cambridge Analytica. In promotional materials, Cambridge Analytica claimed to wage psychological and political warfare. The firm’s tactics were compared by a whistleblower to radicalization by terrorist groups. By 2018, Cambridge Analytica was embroiled in scandal for improperly acquiring and using Facebook user data for their operations and was shut down shortly thereafter – but not after the firm had a massive impact on Brexit and the Trump campaign.
As an advisor to the Trump 2016 campaign, Bannon was known for being anti-”globalist,” a term that is often used as an anti-semitic dog whistle. Bannon’s appointment to Trump’s campaign was opposed by anti-hate groups, who saw it as a victory for far-right racism and antisemitism. On the campaign, Bannon worked to hone Trump’s message as an anti-establishment figure – an outsider who stood in opposition to the alleged corruption of Hillary Clinton. It was later revealed Bannon was investigated by the Senate Intelligence Committee for potential communication with Russia and for his role at Cambridge Analytica.
Bannon exerted major influence over the first year of Trump’s administration. Trump created a chief strategist position in his White House for Bannon, giving him nearly as much power as a chief of staff. Bannon was given access to the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, a role usually held for military figures. He also played a key role in the administration’s Muslim travel ban and undermined rival members in the administration, such as Defense Secretary H.R. McMaster, by using his ties in the right-wing media.
Bannon was eventually forced out of the White House after it was revealed he made disparaging comments about Trump’s family to journalist Michael Wolff – alienating him from the then-president. This allegedly also caused the Mercers to distance themselves from him.
After leaving the Trump White House, Bannon moved to establish a series of far-right and anti-immigration, anti-European Union think tanks in Europe. Bannon courted neo-fascists and hardline anti-immigrant leaders on the continent to grow his influence there. Bannon had reportedly been interested in influencing European politics back when he was at Breitbart and was a huge supporter of pro-Brexit forces in 2016. He also established ties with former far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his family, as well as exiled Chinese businessman, Guo Wengui –claiming they aimed to overthrow the Chinese government. Fundraising for business ventures started by Wengui and Bannon became the subject of federal and state investigations.
Bannon was banned from most mainstream media platforms venues in 2020 after talks of beheading Anthony Fauci and Christopher Wray. The former Trump advisor now hosts a far-right radio show called “War Room” on the right-wing network “Real America’s Voice.” Bannon was issued a pardon by Donald Trump in late January 2021 despite his notable role in promoting the January 6th, 2021 rally that preceded the Capitol Riot. Bannon has used his new platforms to aggressively push his far-right supporters to overtake the American election system and is a leading voice of election-fraud conspiracies swirling around the 2020 election. In 2022, Bannon was charged with fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy in New York state for his role in an organization that defrauded donors by claiming it would build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Despite reports that the Mercers cut Bannon loose in 2018, Rebekah still chairs Bannon’s Government Accountability Institute as of late January 2022, an organization to which the Mercers provided initial funding.
Cambridge Analytica, previously known as SCL USA, was a digital analytics firm known for its massive 2018 data scandal over their improper acquisition and use of Facebook user data. The firm was shut down shortly thereafter Cambridge Analytica was a subsidiary of a British firm called SCL that was closely connected to British intelligence, the military, and the U.K. Conservative Party.
Cambridge Analytica used extensive social media data to develop unique psychological profiles of users to better target them for political advertising and propaganda. In promotional materials, the firm claimed to wage psychological and political warfare – its work was compared to that of military disinformation campaigns and radicalization strategies used by terrorist groups.
Cambridge Analytica was involved in elections in Australia, Brazil, Malaysia, China, India, Kenya, Malta, Mexico, the U.K., and the U.S. The firm is perhaps most infamous for its impact on the 2016 Brexit referendum in the U.K. and its support of the Trump 2016 campaign. According to a whistleblower, Cambridge Analytica helped the Brexit Leave campaign circumvent campaign finance laws. It was also reported that the firm may have coordinated with Russian operatives to affect the U.S. election.
The Mercers’ interest in the operations of SCL stemmed from Obama’s victory in 2012. The family, especially Rebekah, were deeply frustrated by the existing right-wing influence apparatuses and sought to better harness digital analytics to expand their political power.
Rebekah used her position at the pro-Trump Make America Number 1 PAC, whose largest donor was her father to pay $1.5 million to Cambridge Analytica. Rebekah reportedly pushed against Republicans who opposed using Cambridge Analytica data.
In 2018, it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica has used Facebook data they claimed was collected for academic purposes and used it for its operations. The firm abused the data of up to 87 million users. Shortly after this revelation, the CEO of the company was caught in a sting by British news outlet Channel 4 where he admitted to using bribery, employing honey traps to discredit politicians, and claiming to be the key force behind Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
The U.S. government watchdog group Common Cause filed complaints with the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission accusing Cambridge Analytica of violating federal law, which bars foreign nationals from participating in American elections. The Make America Number 1 PAC was named in both complaints.
Kellyanne Conway was the campaign manager for Trump’s 2016 presidential run and a key White House advisor from 2017 to 2020. Rebekah Mercer reportedly used her influence on the 2016 campaign to urge Trump to hire Conway as campaign chairman and manager. Prior to joining the campaign, Conway was known for her political research and consulting work as well as being a right-wing pundit in the 1990s.
Conway’s time at the White House was marred by controversy. Conway infamously used the phrase “alternative facts” to defend comments by the then White House press secretary that greatly exaggerated the number of attendees at Donald Trump’s inauguration. She deflected blame from Trump’s family separation policy, defended the administration’s anti-immigrant policies by citing a terrorist attack that never happened, and downplayed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was also accused of violating the Hatch Act, which prevents federal employees from using their office to advocate for their political beliefs.
In 2017, Kellyanne Conway’s polling firm, “The Polling Company,” was acquired by CRC Advisors, a conservative public relations firm led by influential right-wing activist Leonard Leo. Conway previously described CRC as “the most consequential people you’ve never heard of.”
Rebekah Mercer is a founding investor of the far-right social media website Parler and she and her father hold two of the three seats on the website’s board. It promoted itself as a censorship-free platform and watchdog groups such as the Anti-Defamation League have characterized Parler as a platform for hate speech.
Experts have claimed that Parler was a key platform for spreading disinformation that contributed to the January 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol. It also allowed capitol rioters to communicate with each other during the attack and became a major center for videos and posts encouraging the rioters. The website was forced off its servers due to its role in the riot and was forced to relocate to a hosting service known for working with far-right websites.
Rebekah Mercer and Jennifer Mercer sit on the board of directors of Reclaim New York alongside right-wing activist Leonard Leo. Leo was “widely known as a confidant to Trump” and served as Trump’s Supreme Court Advisor during the nominations of Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Neil Gorsuch. During the Kavanaugh nomination, Leo assured a group of top Koch network donors that it was “just the beginning of an even bigger effort to load up the federal judiciary with conservative judges.”
Leo is considered as “arguably the most powerful figure in the federal justice system” with his “network of interlocking nonprofits” that aggressively support conservative judges.