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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

LI's political odd couple is at Renaissance Technologies

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) speaks at the International

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) speaks at the International Association of Firefighters Legislative Conference and Presidential Forum in Washington on Tuesday, March 10, 2015. Credit: AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Given the super-wealthy enclaves along the shores, it only figures that Long Island would host its own super PAC scene in which millionaires and billionaires write fat checks to fund ads for and against major-party candidates.

Within that fundraising scene, a very odd and very lucrative well of political campaign money spouts from the East Setauket offices of Renaissance Technologies, a widely known, major-league hedge fund operator.

The mix is odd because Renaissance's founder and his longtime associate have become leading backers of opposing political causes.

One is a conservative, the other a progressive. Talk about fodder for debates around the water cooler.

Robert Mercer, co-CEO of the firm, burst into the news this week as aiding the presidential effort of Sen. Ted Cruz.

Mercer, 65, is identified in published reports as financing one of four Super PACs that have raised an eye-popping $31 million to assist the Texas Republican. The number has shaken up the way some strategists are viewing the 2016 GOP primaries.

Super PACs are technically known as independent expenditure-only committees. They can raise unlimited sums from corporate and labor entities as well as individuals. They can spend as much as they have to push for a candidate.

Super PACs cannot contribute directly to candidates. But Mercer can and does. In fact, Mercer and his wife, Diana, last year were identified as the fourth-largest personal donors nationally to federal candidates, at nearly $9.7 million, according to the website.

And last October, BloombergPolitics identified Mercer as "the man who out-Koched the Kochs," a reference to the conservative industrialist Koch brothers. Mercer purportedly did so by sending a total of $37 million in the previous six years to various right-leaning organizations. His PAC contributions included Karl Rove's American Crossroads and the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future.

But then there is James Harris Simons, the 76-year-old mathematician who taught at Stony Brook University and founded Renaissance Technologies. By all accounts, Simons formally retired from the firm in 2010 but still plays a role there. Forbes magazine has listed Simons, worth an estimated $14 billion, as the 32nd richest man in United States. Like the Mercers, he and wife, Marilyn, are well-known in philanthropic circles.

Simons, while known as Mercer's mentor in the business, swings the other way politically. He's big on the Democratic fundraising scene.

Recipients of Simons' millions of dollars of largesse include the pro-Barack Obama Priorities USA Action PAC, the pro-Democratic House Majority PAC, and lesser amounts to Planned Parenthood Votes. Don't be surprised to see Simons, who has contributed in the past to Hillary Clinton, do so again, and to other individual Democratic candidates.

A Renaissance spokesman Thursday declined to comment on the opposing contribution habits of Mercer and Simons and said neither of them would be available for comment.

So far both Renaissance men are letting their political money do the talking -- at cross purposes.


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