W.E. "Ed" Bosarge Jr. isn't a household name, but the $2 million he gave in federal contributions and the $1.2 million more he chipped in to state level political action committees–much of it in his home state of Texas–in the 2011-2012 election cycle have made him well known to politicians. So well known, in fact, that a pair of bills pending in the Texas House or Representatives would commend him and his wife Marie Taylor Bosarge on their accomplishments.
A financial wizard who got his start working flight control systems for Saturn rockets, Bosarge has interests beyond getting the praise of Texas pols. Bosarge's Quantlab Financial, which makes huge numbers of automated trades, has been lobbying Congress and regulatory agencies over rules in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act since 2012. Company executives met with officials from Commodity Future Trading Commission in 2010 to discuss anti-manipulation and market disruption rules that were part of the bill.
It is no secret that the nation's wealthiest use campaign contributions as a way to make their presence felt in the political arena. Now, with newly-acquired data on contributions to state-level committees (courtesy of the National Institute on Money in State Politics), it's easy to explore how campaign finance heavyweights like Bosarge, a Maine native who now lives in Houston, exert their considerable financial muscle on the state level, as well as with federal officeholders.
Limits on giving to state and local committees vary widely from state to state, as do the regulatory regimes. Each state generally has an 'ethics commission' or 'board of elections' that enforces campaign finance regulations. While states such as Connecticut and Arkansas maintain yearly limits of $1,000 and $5,000 respectively on individuals giving to state-level political committees, four states (Oregon, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia) have no limits whatsoever.
There is no law preventing a donor from one state from contributing to a campaign in another (such as Californian Tom Steyer's efforts in the Virginia gubernatorial race and, earlier this year, on behalf of newly-elected Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.) and as such many top-tier donors funnel cash into elections across the country.
For Bosarge, the vast majority of his state-level giving went to Republican efforts in two states: his adopted state of Texas and Maine, where he was born and where the Bosarge family maintains a summer home.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Bosarge's academic expertise lies in the field of applied mathematics. He worked on the space program with IBM, a NASA contractor, before applying his quantitative know-how to high finance. The Texan's fortune stems from a variety of companies. He co-founded the successful high-frequency trading group Quantlab Financial, LLC, where he remains chairman, and currently serves as CEO of both Capital Technologies, Inc. and Petrodome Energy, LLC.
The math wiz holds his native state close to his heart–or at least its politics. He contributed $369,800 to the Maine Republican Party from 2011-2012, as the GOP fought (unsuccessfully) to maintain control of the open seat left by departing Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. In the same cycle, Bosarge was also active inhis adopted home state: He contributed a whopping $900,000 to the Maverick PAC Texas, a committee that gives exclusively to candidates in the Lone Star State, making him the group's largest benefactor by far.
Campaign filings collected by the Texas Tribune show that the PAC — which also drew the support of other big-name Texan GOP donors Bob Perry and Harlan Crow — rarely contributed to candidates or other PACs, but rather spent most of its funds on advertising and consulting fees.
The state PAC was formed by veterans from the Texas wing of George W. Bush's 2004 campaign, according to a May, 2012 article by David Drucker of Roll Call. Drucker writes that the federally active Maverick PAC USA was an "outgrowth" of Mav PAC Texas — the state committee covered "virtually all the overhead and administrative costs for the federal entity."
While there is no website or YouTube channel for the now-defunct committee, the parent organization, Maverick PAC USA (to which Bosarge also donated $200,000), is focused on the grassroots organizing of "next generation Republican leaders," and counts campaign vets George Prescott Bush–son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, grandson of President George H.W. Bush and nephew of President George W. Bush–and Jay Zeidman, who served in the latter Bush's administration, among its directors.
On the federal stage, Bosarge gave to a dizzying array of super PACs, party and candidate committees, including nearly $1 million to the Karl Rove-affiliated American Crossroads, $185,500 to the Republican National Committee and $100,000 each to three super PACs, Restore Our Future, the Fund for Freedom and Maine Freedom.
Maine Freedom focused on the three-way race to fill the open seat of former Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. The election pitted Republican Charlie Summers and Democrat Cynthia Dill against independent former Governor Angus King. In a move to divide the state's liberal vote, which was strongly trending toward King, the Republican super PAC ran outside ads in support of Democrat Dill. Bosarge himself donated $1,000 to the Dill campaign. King, who describes himself as a political independent but caucuses with Senate Democrats, still ultimately emerged as the victor.
That wasn't Bosarge's only disappointment: While the high frequency trading wiz may enjoy an excellent return on investments in his professional life, Bosarge has found the world of political campaigning more capricious. American Crossroads and Restore Our Future both failed in their aspirations of prying President Obama from the White House, while Fund for Freedom failed in its efforts to elect former Governor of Hawaii Linda Lingle in the Aloha State's 2012 U.S. Senate contest.
Lobbying disclosure reports show that the scope of Quantlab's K Street efforts have been narrow, limited to issues pertaining to the automated trading industry, which uses complex algorithms to rapidly trade shares based on market fluctuations. While each trade result is a gain of no more than a fraction of a penny, conducted millions of times over the course of a day this could mean substantial earnings for savvy traders.
All told, Quantlab spent $300,000 in 2012 contracting Patton Boggs LLP for "issues related to the high frequency trading industry" and other similar issues. The group is on track to surpass last year's total in 2013, already spending $250,000 — all relating to the same automated trading issues.
Bosarge did not respond to a request for an interview.
Drawing by Lindsay Young