Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina officially entered the GOP presidential primary on Monday.
His biggest financial backer is Larry Ellison, a tech billionaire who owns an entire Hawaiian island.
Ellison has pumped $35 million into Scott's super PAC, and could legally give him millions more.
Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina officially launched his presidential campaign on Monday, joining a fast-growing crop of GOP candidates challenging former President Donald Trump for the party's 2024 nomination.
Scott stands out from the field in a number of ways. He's the only senator expected to run for president this year, a significant shift from previous election cycles. He's a Black Republican, a relative rarity that offers him a unique vantage point from which to discuss race in America.
One other way Scott stands out: the tens of millions of dollars he's received from Larry Ellison, a tech billionaire who owns 98% of Lana'i, the sixth-largest Hawaiian Island.
Ellison, the co-founder of the Oracle Corporation, has poured $35 million into Opportunity Matters Fund, the South Carolina senator's super PAC — making him by far the single biggest donor to the group.
The Oracle billionaire has also reportedly hosted Scott several times on his island, and the two are said to have bonded over their shared interest in promoting school choice.
On Monday, Ellison attended Scott's campaign launch in North Charleston, where Scott described him as one of his mentors.
—The Recount (@therecount) May 22, 2023
Representatives for Scott and Ellison did not respond to Insider's request for comment.
Who is Larry Ellison?
Ellison founded Oracle, a tech company that specializes in software, in 1977. He's since amassed a nearly $127 billion net worth, according to Forbes, making him the 4th richest person in the world.
When it comes to politics, Ellison has had a winding journey.
But he later backed Sen. Marco Rubio's presidential campaign, pouring $5 million into a super PAC backing the Florida Republican's 2016 bid, before becoming a prominent support President Donald Trump. He later took part in a call about contesting Trump's election loss in November 2020.
Ellison began contributing heavily to Scott in 2020, giving $5 million to his super PAC in October of that year before following it with another $30 million over the course of 2021 and 2022.
Ellison bought Lana'i — a relatively small Hawaiian island off the coast of Maui home to just over 3,000 people — in 2012 from David Murdock, a fruit and vegetable magnate. The island has been privately-owned since the 1800s.
According to Bloomberg, Ellison has mostly lived on Lana'i since the COVID-19 pandemic, and acts as a landlord or boss to almost everyone on the island.
'Super PACs are just a fact of life'
All told, Ellison's largesse accounts for more than 75% of the roughly $45 million sum that Scott's super PAC has raised in the last few years.
And while federal campaign finance law limits Ellison to contributing just a few thousand dollars to Scott's official campaign account, the Oracle co-founder could theoretically pour millions more dollars into Scott's super PAC.
During the 2022 midterm elections, Scott used Opportunity Matters to back GOP candidates across the country, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads supporting Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Sen. Ted Budd of North Carolina.
Now, with Scott seeking the nation's highest office himself, Opportunity Matters could soon play a key role in backing his campaign. In recent months, he's hired former Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner and other high-profile Republican consultants to staff the organization, according to Axios.
That makes Scott just the latest current or potential candidate to have a super PAC helping them out. Trump's political operation includes the "MAGA, Inc" super PAC, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has enjoyed the support of the "Never Back Down" super PAC.
Even President Joe Biden benefits from the help of a super PAC called "Build Back Together."
That's despite super PACs being nominally independent of the campaigns they're supporting — a boundary that's grown increasingly blurry in recent years.
"This election is going to present a lot of challenges to this notion that super PACs are, in fact, independent," said Saurav Ghosh, the director of federal campaign finance reform at the Campaign Legal Center, adding that we're in an "era in which super PACs are just a fact of life."
Scott's campaign isn't the first time a Republican presidential candidate has heavily relied on a single megadonor. In 2012, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had the backing of Sheldon Adelson, while former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's campaign enjoyed the support of billionaire Foster Friess.
But in a race that so far appears likely to be defined by a horse race between Trump and DeSantis, Ellison's money immediately makes a candidate like Scott a serious competitor.
And for campaign finance experts, that raises the specter of undue influence, especially given the singular role that Ellison could play in boosting Scott's candidacy.
"It's the problem of the candidate saying, 'I wouldn't be where I am today without his support,'" said Ghosh.
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