Jeff Yass, Main Line resident and the richest man in Pennsylvania, continues to draw attention to the millions he gives to politicians and school causes from his multi-billion dollar fortune.
On Tuesday, nonprofit news outlet ProPublica ran a story summarizing Yass’ career and the $100 million he’s given to politicians over the past few years — including such failed efforts as a 2020 Super PAC campaign against Joe Biden, Democratic State Representative Anthony Williams. ran for top offices in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia and Andrew Yang’s bid for mayor of New York City and William McSwain and Lou Barletta’s bids for governor in Pennsylvania’s GOP primary last month.
ProPublica noted Yass’ epic tax-avoidance strategies: His Bala Cynwyd-based company Susquehanna International Group is known for short-term bets on every asset from stock options to municipal bonds, commodities to currencies, sports betting to bitcoin. But ProPublica estimates that he only pays about 19% of his $1 billion-plus annual income in federal taxes. That’s close to the US interest rate for long-term capital gains, but only about half the usual rate for high personal incomes. (There are billionaires who pay more and pay less.)
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Yass, 63, is among the most successful of a group of proprietary traders — that is, they bet their own money — who have become billionaires by making quick, big deals and investing the resulting flood of capital.
A long-time supporter of the Libertarian Party, Yass also champions private and charter schools and has swarmed millions of politicians to pledge to support this and other conservative causes. His school council has drawn the ire of public school teachers’ unions. His support for conservative groups in Israel has also made Yass a target for Jewish liberals who lined up outside his City Ave. and his nearby home have protested.
Forbes estimates Yass’ fortune at around $12 billion in its annual list of the richest people, citing his early investments in TikTok and other successful companies. ProPublica says it could be as high as $30 billion if you count Yass’s control over Susquehanna itself. It is difficult to value private assets that may not be publicly valued or sold for years.
The son of two New York accountants, Yass graduated from the State University of New York at Binghamton and used the math he learned to bet on racehorses and poker. In 1987, he and partners founded Susquehanna on the options trading floor of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange (PHLX) – the cheapest stock market in the country – and later relocated to Bala Cynwyd in Montgomery County, which offered lower labor and property taxes.
During Susquehanna’s first summer, Yass’ group bet that the stock market was overpriced; They collected a lot when it crashed this fall. As Susquehanna grew, it added outposts in New York and around the world.
Yass and his colleagues initially focused on stock and currency options trading, where money could be staked for a fraction of the stock’s value, with less upfront capital than traditional stock trading.
Susquehanna recruited chess masters, engineers and math graduates and taught them how to play casino poker, among other things. Its traders became a fixture in the PHLX basement trading room at 19th and Market Streets (now Nasdaq’s options business in the FMC Tower in Philadelphia) before expanding globally.
Susquehanna and its competitors like Citadel, Timber Hill, and King of Prussia-based Cooper Neff became “market makers,” taking bets from other dealers and making their own. Susquehanna used his growing pools of capital to place large bets on small price movements, applying the well-known principle that betting is not about risk-taking, it’s about measuring probabilities.
From the late 1990s, Yass, its top partners, and a team of tech investors also began funneling the company’s trading profits into private companies in the US, Southeast Asia, Europe, Israel, and particularly China, where its best-known hit is ByteDance . the still-private company that owns TikTok, whose combined value has been estimated at more than $50 billion.
Yass has supported a number of political losers. In 2016, he endorsed both Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Libertarian Gary Johnson against Trump for president. People close to Yass say he placed bets in a European market against Trump’s re-election in 2020 and didn’t give Trump any money but instead donated to anti-Biden efforts. In Pennsylvania this year, Yass spent $13 million through one of its political action committees to support hard-crime former US Attorney William McSwain as governor. As McSwain faded, he switched to Lou Barletta, a former congressman and anti-immigration and anti-tariff activist who lost the GOP primary to state congressman Doug Mastriano.
Forbes Magazine only started listing Yass among America’s richest people after TikTok announced in 2020 that he had been a major investor. The company was planning an initial public offering (IPO) this summer. Yass wanted to raise billions – until President Trump demanded that American companies get a majority stake. Oracle and Walmart offered the capital needed, but the proposal stalled in court. The company has still not gone public amid tensions between the US and China.
Next, on August 4, 2020, Yass donated $4 million to a political committee affiliated with the conservative Club for Growth. Two days later, ProPublica reported, the group bought $5 million in ads attacking Trump’s Democratic rival Biden and announcing their support for Yass’s favorite cause, charter schools. In all, Yass has donated $32 million to the club, which is working to lower taxes for the wealthy, and millions more to PACs he controls.
Yass is a staunch supporter of privately managed education. He and his wife Janine founded the Yass Prize, formerly the STOP Prize for Sustainable, Transformative, Excellence and Permission-Free Education, given to private and charter schools that they believe show children the path to success.
In a blast of emails asking for support last month, Janine Yass complained that applications to start schools and fund grants for private schools were being made “too difficult” by the government. She explains that the award is set to award $10 million to charter and private schools this year, including a $1 million Yass Prize, which she calls “the Pulitzer Prize in Education.”
Like many rich people, Yass and his associates have fought the Internal Revenue Service, paying out over $121 million in a 2019 settlement after the Supreme Court denied an appeal.
According to ProPublica, a subsidiary, Susquehanna Fundamental Investments, is balancing short-term trading gains with long-term losses to erase tax liabilities.
The IRS has challenged the strategy in the tax court and could face billions if Susquehanna’s deals are not allowed, according to ProPublica. The case is pending.