Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle, “was the first” CEO of a major firm in the 1990’s “to risk everything” on the idea that the internet would radically reshape the software business, according to a biographer. It made him the world’s richest person for a time.
Now, the 78-year-old billionaire — currently ranked by Forbes as fourth-wealthiest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of $127 billion — is making another hefty wager, this time on an underdog presidential candidate with big upside.
Ellison is preparing to spend up to $60 million to help Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., run for president, CNBC reported last week.
That’s double the $30 million that Ellison gave to Scott’s super-PAC in the 2022 election cycle. Scott’s group directed much of that money to help Republican candidates in the midterm elections.
The money from Ellison, the owner of Hawaii’s sixth-largest island, means that Scott is likely to stay in this race for a long while.
“Campaigns … end because they run out of money, which is the main reason, or they run out of time,” Stuart Stevens, a veteran Republican campaign consultant, said recently on MSNBC.
“So they’ll hang in there,” Stevens said of Scott’s campaign.
Scott, 57, is new to the 2024 Republican primary for president. The winner of that contest will face off against President Biden in the November 2024 general election.
But so far, Scott has polled no higher than 2%. He’s stuck in a group of candidates trying to break out of the pack to emerge as the non-Trump Republican alternative, as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis slides in the polls.
Scott is in sixth place behind former President Donald Trump, who leads the FiveThirtyEight polling average at 54%, followed by DeSantis at 20%, former Vice President Mike Pence at 5%, Nikki Haley, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, at 4%, and biopharmaceutical CEO Vivek Ramaswamy, also at 4%.
But few of the other candidates — except Trump and DeSantis — have the financial resources Ellison has made available to Scott.
Trump raised $14 million in the first quarter of the year. DeSantis entered the campaign sitting on $80 million he raised for his gubernatorial account, which he can transfer to a PAC that will support his candidacy.
'Tim is a chameleon'
Scott was reportedly introduced to Ellison by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Scott and Ellison bonded over their support for education reform and school choice, Puck’s Teddy Schleifer has reported.
Scott is a talented speaker and campaigner, and his top political adviser has touted his ability to charm others.
“Tim is a chameleon. He can talk to third graders and billionaires and lead a church congregation,” Jennifer DeCasper, Scott’s closest adviser, told the Washington Post writer Ben Terris for his forthcoming book, “The Big Break.”
But Scott’s biography and his positive message are the reasons why many Republicans hope he gains traction.
Scott is the only Black Republican in the Senate. In 2014, he became the first Black U.S. senator elected from a Deep South state since Reconstruction and was just the seventh Black senator in American history.
He has a compelling personal history of growing up in a lower-income household in North Charleston, S.C. He was raised for most of his childhood by a single mom and has spoken about how he was adrift until a Chick-fil-A franchise owner took him under his wing in high school and mentored him.
Ellison, too, came from humble circumstances. He was born to a 19-year-old unwed New Yorker in 1944 who gave him up for adoption to an aunt who raised Ellison in Chicago.
Ellison’s maverick political history
Ellison had an outsized, flamboyant reputation in the 1990s and into the 2000s. He trash-talked competitors, entered and exited multiple marriages, and once instructed the captain of his 243-foot superyacht to race past a slightly smaller superyacht owned by Microsoft's co-founder, Paul Allen.
Allen and his guests were thrown by the resulting wake. “It was an adolescent prank,” Ellison said at the time. “I highly recommend it.”
Ellison was fond of former President Bill Clinton and donated generously to his reelection in 1996. But he has become more politically conservative and more reclusive over the years.
In 2016, Ellison gave $4 million to support Sen. Marco Rubio’s candidacy for president. Rubio, a Florida Republican, made a run at the GOP nomination but was unable to emerge from a crowded field. Trump, meanwhile, won multiple early primaries in 2016 with only about a third of the vote.
Republicans worry now that their party may — with the number of GOP candidates growing — repeat the mistake of splitting the non-Trump vote among too many alternatives and give him a lane to the nomination.
During the Trump presidency, Ellison held a fundraiser that netted Trump’s reelection campaign $7 million. But for now, he’s with Scott, who took the unusual step of giving his primary financial backer a shout-out at his campaign launch event last week.
“I thank God almighty that he continues to provide me with really cool mentors,” Scott told a South Carolina crowd. “One of my mentors, Larry Ellison, is with us today, and I am so thankful to have so many different mentors in the house.”