Let’s check in on Nicholas Kristof’s campaign for governor of Oregon. The longtime and now former New York Times columnist’s run recently hit an unexpected snag, after state election officials decided he didn’t meet the three-year residency requirement to qualify. Despite this, Kristof is powering on, hoping the state’s supreme court will throw the decision out on appeal, and he’s continuing to rack up big donations in the meantime.
The last time I wrote about Kristof’s campaign, I noted that $50,000 of his impressive fundraising haul (at the end of December 2021, it was $2.5 million) came from billionaire Melinda Gates, before detailing the oddly close relationship that Kristof and his wife developed with Gates and her now ex-husband, billionaire Microsoft founder Bill. For years, Kristof’s columns were strangely aligned with the Gateses and their many dubious ventures, including school privatization, microloans, and genetic modification as a solution to disease and hunger. The Gateses are immensely and deceptively powerful people, and I suggested it might be significant that one half of the couple was now generously funding what could end up as a successful gubernatorial run.
Well, since then, it’s turned out that it’s not just one half. In a filing made near the end of December, we now know that two weeks after Melinda’s own donation, Bill Gates donated the same amount, $50,000, to Kristof’s campaign. The couple’s divorce has not severed their professional relationship, with the pair affirming their commitment last July to “remain long-term partners and co-chairs” and continue leading the Gates Foundation, which serves as a conduit for their political and investment goals.
Since then, Kristof has seen his coffers filled by several other figures with Gates connections. One is Connie Ballmer, wife of former Microsoft CEO and fellow billionaire Steve Ballmer, who gave Kristof $50,000. Another is Bill Clapp, whose Seattle International Foundation has received $800,000 from the Gates Foundation over the years, and who donated $10,000 to Kristof. (Oregon is one of only five states that has no limits on campaign contributions.)
Puzzlingly, Kristof’s ties to, and now direct financial support from, the Gateses continues to get no scrutiny from either national press or the local media in Oregon, despite what it means for the state of American democracy. The whims of wealthy donors almost always define what does and doesn’t get done by US political elites, let alone two wealthy donors who have a close and quasi-symbiotic relationship with the aspiring politician they’re giving money to.
Add that to the way the Gateses’ financial generosity has often been used to secure their interests — whether that’s protecting pharma profits in a pandemic or securing glowing media coverage for themselves — and there’s more than enough reason to pay close attention to their backing for Kristof’s run.
A Who’s Who of Corporate Villains
Bill Gates’s donation is inconvenient for Kristof in another way. Kristof has devoted an inordinate amount of time to working against sensible public policy regarding sex work, arguing to keep it criminalized, regardless of that approach’s negative effects. Yet here he is, taking more than what many US households make in a whole year from a man who had a close, yearslong friendship with the most notorious underage sex trafficker in modern history, Jeffrey Epstein.
Gates isn’t the only Epstein-connected donor in Kristof’s campaign filings, either. Besides neoliberal economist Larry Summers, who gave Kristof $5,000, he’s also received $15,000 from Centerview Partners counselor Robert Rubin, a former official with the Bill Clinton administration who, White House records show, first invited the notorious pedophile to the Oval Office.
Beyond the Gates and Epstein issues, Rubin is representative of the kind of large donors Kristof has attracted to his campaign. Over the past few months, Kristof has received anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 from a variety of corporate, tech, and finance bigwigs, including: LinkedIn founder and venture capitalist Reid Hoffman ($50,000); private equity maven Stephen Kaplan ($20,000); Jeff Bezos’s father, Miguel ($30,000); former Disney executive Robert Iger ($15,000); real estate tycoon Michael Hackman ($25,000); and Nike’s Maria Eitel ($20,000) — which is particularly interesting given Kristof’s vehement and committed advocacy for sweatshops over the years. Kristof has also received $50,000 each from Miguel McKelvey, cofounder of the disastrous start-up WeWork, and John Thornton, a mining magnate and alum of Goldman Sachs.
In other words, Kristof is receiving huge donations from the exact big-money interests that are behind problems like homelessness and unaffordable housing that Kristof claims he wants to fix in Oregon.