Elon Musk—maker of a mini-sub that never got used, hypothetical savior of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, general over-promiser and under-deliverer—was one of the biggest donors to a political action committee with the primary goal of maintaining Republican control in the US House of Representatives.
Federal filings spotted by Open Markets Institute’s Matthew Stoller and tracked by ProPublica show that Musk was a top-50 donor to Protect The House last quarter, giving $38,900 to the PAC, which raised more than $8.6 million total. Other top contributors to the organization include Houston Texans owner Bob McNair and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
In the last year or so, Elon has dumped $138,900 into Republican causes. According to Federal Election Commission data, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla has given $39,600 to the National Republican Congressional Committee since 2017. He’s also thrown a significant bone to Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican and House majority leader. Groups backing McCarthy have received $60,400 from Musk in the last year. Musk and McCarthy are reportedly pals, according to Politico, and the two have been spotted together on a number of occasions.
Because Musk has become a constant fixture in the news cycle lately, his political contributors are A Thing, but it’s worth noting that he’s been giving to Republicans for years. According to data collected by Open Secrets, he’s put cash in the pockets of Republicans since 2003, when he gave $2,000 to George W. Bush during his re-election campaign. He also, at various points, put cash in the coffers of candidates like accused child sex abuser Dennis Hastert and Dana Rohrabacher, a man who believes it is okay to refuse to sell your home to a gay person. In total, he’s given about $300,000 to Republican candidates and PACs.
The thing is, over the same stretch of time Musk also gave a lot of money to Democrats. He backed John Kerry’s candidacy for president in 2004, gave to the Obama campaign in 2008 and 2012, and donated multiple times to Hilary Clinton’s presidential aspirations in 2008 and 2016. Per Open Secrets data, he gave nearly the same amount to Democratic causes between 2003 and 2018 as he did to Republican causes—at least prior to his latest round of political donations that focus primarily on Republican candidates and efforts.
Since this quarter’s generous donations to the Protect The House PAC surfaced, Musk has taken some heat for giving money to candidates who clearly do not align with some of his own personal views. For example, per Motherboard, Musk called burning fossil fuels “the dumbest experiment in history, by far.” Yet he’s giving money to a political party that generally denies the existence of climate change. Musk’s buddy Kevin McCarthy—who backed President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement—is about as bad as it gets on the issue with just a three percent approval rate on environmental issues from the League of Conservation Voters.
That’s because whatever Musk’s personal ideology is, his political one is much simpler: Elon Musk gives money to whoever may benefit Elon Musk the most.
Republicans are currently in power, and his companies rely to varying degrees on government support. Tesla benefited from federal tax credits that could reach as high as $25,000 provided to buyers of electric cars (though that has now expired); SolarCity, now part of Tesla, is helped by a similar credit that allows homeowners to deduct 30 percent of the cost of solar panels; nearly half—more than $5 billion worth—of SpaceX contracts come from the federal government, per Real Clear Policy. At the risk of losing any of that business, it’s easier for Musk to kiss the ring than to take a stand—and business has been damn good for Musk under Trump and company.
Even on the occasions that Musk flexes some personal morality, it’s often motivated by what’s best for business. As The Ringer pointed out, he sat on a Trump advisory council for months, remaining on board even as Trump accused President Obama of wiretapping him, issued his first failed travel ban that targeted Muslims, and fired FBI director James Comey. He only departed when Trump decided to ditch the country’s commitment to the Paris climate accord—a set of standards that would benefit his companies that focus on alternative sources of energy.
Elon Musk’s political donations—like those from most billionaires in charge of massive corporations, even those in the ostensibly left-leaning Silicon Valley—are less partisan and more pragmatic, but that doesn’t make those contributions and the system of politics that encourage them any less cynical or gross.