Power Players: Pennsylvania's top political donors, 2011-2012

Ten wealthy Pennsylvanians, including a husband supporting his wife for political office and a gay man seeking equality, contributed nearly $9 million to their favorite candidates. PublicSource, working with the Investigative News Network, identified the 10 biggest campaign contributors in the state using state and federal campaign data.

8

Joel Greenberg, Bala Cynwyd, PA

Partner in Susquehanna International Group

Joel Greenberg and Arthur Dantchik seem to act as one when making political contributions. And if you consider them as a contributing team, you must include Jeff Yass, who just missed the top 10 list, with $226,800 in contributions.

The three are partners in Susquehanna International Group, a Bala Cynwyd financial broker-dealer.

They went to college at SUNY Binghamton and skipped classes to gamble at the racetrack, according to a 2009 Philadelphia magazine profile of Yass. After college, Dantchik and Yass headed to Las Vegas. In 1981 the friends began trading options on the Philadelphia Stock Exchange.

Greenberg, Dantchik, Yass and three other friends formed Susquehanna in 1987. When the stock market crashed that fall, the firm made several million dollars on options betting that stocks would drop, the magazine reported.

The Susquehanna trio’s trading strategy is built on poker. They approach the game as a rational endeavor, weighing costs against probabilities.

The firm hosts poker tournaments and uses in-house games as a training tool. “Well-played poker is all about making decisions with limited information,” they said on the company website.

Their formula has been successful. Susquehanna has grown into a lucrative global powerhouse, trading stocks, bonds, commodities and derivatives.

Their experience in managing risks may also have influenced their political philosophy. They favor conservative and libertarian causes.

Greenberg is a director of the American Federation for Children, an advocate of state-paid vouchers for private school students. Dantchik serves on the board of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm in Virginia that supports private property rights, free speech and school choice. Yass is on the board of the Cato Institute, a think tank dedicated to “the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.”

In 2010, the men started Students First PAC with $5.2 million. That year the committee bankrolled gubernatorial candidate Anthony Williams, a proponent of vouchers for low-income students, contributing $4.9 million, or 69 percent of Williams’ total campaign funds. He finished third out of four candidates in the May primary, but was re-elected to his senate seat, to which Students First donated $100,000.

The men did not respond to requests for comment. An employee of Susquehanna declined even to connect a caller to a spokesperson for the company.

Notable donations by the three men combined in 2011 and 2012:

  • $309,000 to Students First PAC.
  • $300,000 to Fighting Chance PA PAC, which shares an office, as well as a mission, with the Pennsylvania Catholic Coalition. It supports state lawmakers who are pro-voucher.

Contact Bill Heltzel at 412-315-0265 or at bheltzel@publicsource.org.

Total contributions: $348,000

23 donations: 14 to candidates and 9 to committees

List of contributions

Sources: Center for Responsive Politics, National Institute on Money in State Politics, Federal Elections Commission and Pennsylvania Department of State.

Credits:PublicSource would like to thank The Center for Investigative Reporting for the use of their political contributions app, Rainmaker. The Investigative News Network coordinated the work between the many organizations sharing information for this project. Reporters Halle Stockton, Emily DeMarco and Reid Fraizer also contributed to this project.