Meet the New Best Friend of Conservative Policy Groups: Robert Mercer

The hedge fund heavyweight Robert Mercer, who is Co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, has emerged lately as one of the top mega-donors in GOP circles. He gave $15 million in the 2012 election cycle and recently landed on the front page of the New York Times for his role in helping jump-start the presidential campaign of Senator Ted Cruz. 

But Mercer has been on our radar for a while now because of his philanthropic giving, which also has a conservative edge. Much of that giving goes through Mercer Family Foundation, the charitable vehicle of Mercer, his wife Diana, and daughter Rebekah who serves as director. Renaissance was founded by Ph.D. James Simons, who translated his mathematics skills into a successful second career in the hedge fund world. Simons, of course, is also deep into philanthropy through the Simons Foundation. And Simons, too, is a major political contributor, only to Democrats. Does Simons regret hiring Mercer and helping him generate a pot of gold for right-wing causes and candidates? We wonder. 

Mercer's current net worth is unknown, but he earned an estimated $125 million in 2011, $100 million in 2012 and $115 million in 2013, according to hedge fund publication Alpha. So it's safe to say Mercer has quite a bit of money on hand and his Mercer Family Foundation listed assets of around $35 million in a recent year.

Like Simons, Mercer is a Ph.D., graduating with a degree in computer science from University of Illinois. He worked at IBM, where he developed speech recognition programs at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center. Mercer and his IBM colleague Peter Brown both joined James Simons' Renaissance Technologies in 1993, and Mercer and Brown now serve as co-CEOs.

However, unlike the more public Simons, Mercer's quiet philanthropy isn't really informed by his science background. Rather, it's informed by his major commitment to conservative and Republican causes. Here are three things to know about Robert Mercer's philanthropy:

1. Supporting Policy Outifts Is Key

It's hard to overstate how big a deal Mercer has become in conservative political circles, cutting checks for a total of $37 million in the past six years according to Bloomberg. In 2014, Mercer gave more to the Koch outfit Freedom Partners Action Fund than the Koch brothers themselves. Mercer is also an NRA member and hardliner on cultural issues, financing opposition to building an Islamic Center near Ground Zero, according to Forbes. Over the years, conservative nonprofits such as the Media Research Center, George W. Bush Foundation, and the Barry Goldwater Institute have received millions each.

The Heartland Institute, which describes itself as a "think tank promoting public policy based on individual liberty, limited government, and free markets," was recently supported to the tune of nearly $900,000, and several state-based policy groupsin Florida, Texas, Illinois, and Washingtonalso got money. Two national think tanks, the Heritage Foundation and the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research won support, too. The Federalist Society, which nurtures conservative legal scholars, got $1.6 million.

Of the approximately $13 million in grantmaking the Mercer Family Foundation did in 2013, a majority went towards policy work, and it's fair to call Robert Mercer one of the top current funders of America's sprawling conservative policy infrastructure. 

2. Higher Education Is Also An Interest

Mercer has been a supporter of SUNY Stony Brook in Long Island. The Mercers live in Long Island. James Simons also taught at SUNY Stony Brook and Renaissance Technologies is in close proximity to the university as well. Around $2.2 million went to SUNY Stony Brook in 2011.

3. Mercer Has Supported Science Outfits

Compared to Simons, Mercer's support of science outfits hasn't been overwhelming. However, he has given large sums to the Museum of Natural History, as well as supported the National Youth Science Fund, the World Science Festival, and the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM). The grantmaking at OISM, however, according to Bloomberg, has bankrolled research to refute connections between humans and climate change. 

It's worth mentioning as well that Mercer has also been a steady funder of the Home Depot Foundation whose mission is to "improve the homes and lives of U.S. military veterans and their families."

Currently, Mercer is very busy with his political giving, as the main bankroller of a ring of four super-PACs supporting Ted Cruz for president. The PACs have collected $31 million in the four weeks since Cruz launched his campaign.