(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
(*This commentary was updated at 10:06 a.m. on Thursday, 1/19/23 to update the full list of authors)
*By Dwayne Royster, Khari Mosley, Diana Robinson, Arielle Klagsbrun, Pele IrgangLaden, and Eric Rosso
Pennsylvania has a Jeffrey Yass problem. And it’s quickly becoming the country’s Jeffrey Yass problem.
It’s been said before. We are now saying it collectively and in partnership with community organizations across the commonwealth. If you have not heard the name Jeffrey Yass before, we aim to change that.
Yass, worth an estimated $30 billion according to Forbes, is the richest man in Pennsylvania using his wealth to influence democracy at all levels. Between 2021 and 2022, Forbes estimated his net worth doubled, stating in a 2021 profile that the pandemic was a “boon” to his bottom line. Yass is a significant investor in TikTok and online gambling mediums which reportedly contributed to his recent windfalls.
You may not know it, but it’s very likely you saw an advertisement funded by Yass over the course of this last election. According to reports, Yass was the fourth biggest political spender on federal races in the 2022 election cycle with estimates totaling $47 million. Yass often avoids the public scrutiny that comes with being such a significant influence peddler.
It’s no wonder why. The few times he has talked in public, he made clear how out of touch with the reality of working families he is.
Recently, he compared himself to what he deemed was a poor person asking out loud, “What’s the difference between a billionaire and a guy making $100,000?” After stating both had iPhones and Netflix, he answered his own musing, remarking, “The disparity in how rich people live and how poor people live in America has never been smaller.” The median household income in Pennsylvania is $67,000 a year.
Yass is a threat to democracy in Pennsylvania. Our organizations were in the trenches during the 2020 election organizing on the frontline against MAGA Republicans, white nationalists, and conspiracy-riddled extremists. Yass was funding them. Despite Yass trying to back away from those associations publicly and in the press, this year he quietly continued to fund those same organizations like the Club for Growth – a right-wing front group that backed nearly 50 election deniers across the country.
In Philadelphia, we saw directly how his money funds new threats to our democracy. While Yass is noted for his spending in right-wing circles, he also frequently funds Democratic candidates and elected officials. In Philadelphia, one of the largest recipients of money from a Jeffrey Yass-aligned PAC – state Rep. Amen Brown – gave bipartisan cover to the sham impeachment efforts against the duly elected district attorney. The hearings were met with protests by our organizations.
Across the commonwealth in Pittsburgh, we saw how Yass uses Pennsylvania’s loose campaign finance laws to his benefit. Jason Richey dropped out of the 2022 Republican gubernatorial primary and backed Yass’ favored candidate Bill McSwain. A few weeks later, a PAC funded almost exclusively by Yass donated $250,000 to Richey’s PAC account. Shortly after, Richey reimbursed himself $150,000 from that PAC. Money that would not have been there if not for Yass’ initial donations.
It’s not just in cities though, Yass’ political spending hurts all of us.
In an expose in ProPublica, a cache of his tax documents showed how Yass has gone lengths even other billionaires haven’t to avoid paying taxes.
The report lays out how Yass has avoided paying over $1 billion in federal taxes alone—removing vital funding for schools and other public services, while then using that money to advocate for changes to the laws to work for his benefit. Yass and Susquehanna have taken the IRS and state of Pennsylvania to court multiple times to evade paying what they owe in taxes, even appealing to the Supreme Court.
All of this and more has brought our organizations together to say enough. We need to call Yass’ donations what they are: money from a billionaire seeking to buy power. No one in public office should take money from billionaire Jeffrey Yass – Democrat or Republican.
Over this year, our organizations brought the fight to Yass directly – at the Susquehanna International Group HQ, at his mansion, and the front door of the Commonwealth Foundation with faith leaders from across the commonwealth with a simple message: #AllEyesOnYass.
As a new Legislature and new governor return to Harrisburg this week, we want them to know that we are watching. Whether it’s the Club For Growth’s support of the newly formed Pennsylvania Freedom Caucus which has been funded by Yass donations or a Yass confidante on the Shapiro transition team, we are watching.
Bishop Dwayne Royster writes on behalf of POWER Interfaith, Khari Mosley, also a candidate for Pittsburgh City Council, writes on behalf of 1Hood Power, Diana Robinson writes on behalf of Make the Road PA, Pele IrgangLaden, writes on behalf of PA Stands Up, Arielle Klagsbrun writes on behalf of ACRE, Eric Rosso writes on behalf of PA Spotlight.
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