Mr. Mercer does not have the name recognition of fellow Republican financiers like the Koch brothers or Sheldon Adelson, but he has spent more than $15 million since 2012 in support of conservative political campaigns and causes, donating to a number of candidates who had never even met him. He is believed to be the main donor behind a network of four “super PACs” supporting Mr. Cruz that reported raising $31 million just a few weeks into his campaign.
Both moderate Republican candidates and Democrats in states like Iowa, new york and Oregon have found themselves in the cross hairs of expensive attack ads that he financed.
Mr. Mercer “is a very low-profile guy, but he’s becoming a bigger and bigger player,” said Bradley A. Smith, a campaign finance expert who was a Republican appointee on the Federal Election Commission.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon, remembers with some bitterness Mr. Mercer’s opposition to his re-election campaign in 2014 when he spent about $650,000 on attack ads and other efforts in support of a conservative challenger.
“I don’t think the guy had ever even been to Oregon,” Mr. DeFazio said. He said he believed Mr. Mercer targeted him in part because of legislation Mr. DeFazio sponsored that threatened higher taxes for hedge funds like Mr. Mercer’s fund, Renaissance Technologies.
He is also an example of how wealthy donors have been empowered by the supreme court’s 2010 decision in the landmark Citizens United case, which paved the way for super PACs. Unlike candidates, super PACs can accept unlimited amounts of money from individuals and corporations to support a candidate so long as they do not officially “coordinate” with the campaign.
In 2013, a group of former workers at his house sued him for not paying overtime. They also accused him of deducting money from their semi-annual bonuses as a form of punishment for, among other things, failing to replace shampoos, close doors and change razor blades.
Last year the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations accused Renaissance of using complex financial structures that allowed it to underestimate how much it owed the Internal Revenue Service by $6 billion.
Taxpayers “had to shoulder the tax burden these hedge funds shrugged off with the aid of the banks,” Senator Carl Levin of Michigan said at a hearing last summer.
The I.R.S. has been investigating Renaissance for at least six years.
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