? Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn email newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.
It’s understandable if you hadn’t heard of Bala Cynwyd billionaire Jeffrey Yass before this month.
Often referred to as secretive or “stealthy and mysterious,” he owns Susquehanna International Group, a powerful financial and tech trading firm just across the Philly border on City Avenue. Poker is considered a big part of their corporate culture, and the firm reportedly holds a $15 billion stake in TikTok.
CEO Yass was recently linked to conservative political action committee Club for Growth in a report from British news outlet The Guardian.
What’s Club for Growth? The PAC threw substantial support behind electing Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. The two senators were leaders of the movement to challenge certified electoral votes for President Biden, elevating the unfounded claims of voter fraud that helped incite the pro-Trump insurrection at the Capitol in early January.
Along with Uline shipping company co-founder Richard Uihlein, Yass is one of the largest Club for Growth funders, per The Guardian. Hawley and Cruz, along with recently-elected QAnon conspiracist Lauren Boebert, have been among the PAC’s biggest beneficiaries.
A person close to Yass told Billy Penn the trading mogul doesn’t believe the election should have been overturned or that it was stolen by Democrats.
Speaking on condition of anonymity (did we mention secretive?), the person said Yass contributes to organizations who support the free government policies he believes in like drug decriminalization, the end of eminent domain abuse and demilitarization of the police.
The Philly-area exec’s philanthropy is prolific, and extends to a wide array of organizations.
In 2018, his Susquehanna Foundation dolled out $10k to the National Brain Tumor Society, $1 million to Long Island University and $50k to Philadelphia City Rowing. He’s also a big backer of school choice (aka the charter system), and a number of conservative and Libertarian networks.
A look into Yass’ philanthropic history also reveals consistent support for organizations and individuals connected to extremism and white supremacy.
Where’d Yass come from?
The 60-something resident of the Philly suburbs is originally from Brooklyn, New York. He attended SUNY Binghamton, where he studied math and economics, and reportedly often ditched classes to bet on horse races and play poker with friends.
It was there, in the mid-70s, that Yass honed his risk-taking trade.
According to a 2009 Philadelphia magazine profile, he’s notorious close-mouthed about business strategy because “he doesn’t want to let anyone in on what he does, and how.”
How’d he get rich?
Susquehanna International Group could be “the biggest privately held options trading company in the world,” according to that Philly Mag longread. The corporation was founded by five others including Arthur Dantchik, another conservative donor.
Yass made his foray into options trading while studying at NYU business school before being offered a chance to work on the Philadelphia Stock Exchange. Friends and colleagues describe him as a brilliant guy who cracked the code to buying and selling stock successfully. He made $1 million before his 30th birthday.
Today, his Susquehanna International has nearly 2,000 employees worldwide with campuses in NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, Dublin, London, Tokyo, Shanghai and more. The business makes its fortune by self-funding options and stock trades.
Education reform in the vein of charters
The Susquehanna Foundation is deeply invested in reforming education through school choice, bolstering charter options and providing tuition vouchers for low-income families.
Yass actively sought to influence education reform locally when he and business partners Arthur Dantchik and Joel Greenberg threw millions behind Pa. Sen. Anthony Williams’ unsuccessful gubernatorial and mayoral bids.
The foundation in 2018 donated $3.4 million to the Philadelphia Schools Project and $1.5 million to Mastery Charter.
What other organizations is Yass associated with?
Yass helps lead the Susquehanna Foundation, the philanthropic arm of his business firm.
He’s also a director at the Cato Institute. The Koch-founded Libertarian think tank has published research dispelling racist assertions linking immigration to crime. It also published an anti-government manifesto from controversial pro-Trump PayPal founder Peter Thiel.
Yass is a founding director of the CLAWS Foundation. He notably just donated $2.5 million to the Protect Freedom PAC, which perpetuates the debunked idea that Democrats used COVID-19 and various forms of voter fraud to steal the election.
About those questionable ties
Yass donated to several conservative political action committees that backed Georgia Republican congressional candidate Matt Gurtler, who was photographed last spring posing with a known white supremacist and one-time member of the Ku Klux Klan.
At the Cato Institute, one senior fellow was featured at a 2017 event alongside a high-ranking official from Alliance Defending Freedom, defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group. That fellow, Ilya Shapiro, filed an anti-gay amicus brief in the Supreme Court lawsuit seeking to give a Christian baker the right to refuse a customer because they had a same-sex wedding.
Another SPLC-defined hate group was supported by the CLAWS Foundation. In 2011 and 2012, the group made a combined $35k donation to the Center for Security Policy, an anti-Muslim operation.
In 2017, Susquehanna donated $200k to the Libertarian climate deniers at the Atlas Network, formerly Atlas Economic Research Foundation.