Bill Benter: The Horse Lord

Progressive horse racing magnate tied to shadowy big-money group

Bill Benter /
August 31, 2012

A professional gambler’s luck at the track has generated a big payday for Democrats.

Bill Benter, the king of Hong Kong’s horse racing circuit, has pumped nearly $400,000 into liberal coffers in the last three election cycles. He is also a member of the shadowy Democracy Alliance, which requires full members to donate at least $200,000 to a select group of liberal nonprofit organizations and Super PACs, including Barack Obama’s Priorities USA and the Center for American Progress.

The group does not disclose its members or its recipients, and Benter’s current status within the organization is unknown. However, documents obtained exclusively by the Washington Free Beacon suggest he has played a large role in the Alliance.

"One of the things that has made the Democracy Alliance attractive in recent years is the fact that it’s become involved in electoral politics," elections expert John Samples said.

The Alliance has become increasingly involved in helping Obama win a second term. The group launched in 2005 to fund nonprofit start-up organizations, such as Media Matters, to move the party leftward. However, following Republican gains in the 2010 midterm elections, Vice President Joe Biden begged the group to consider Super PACs and campaigns for "favored status" within the group. The Alliance obliged, but not without losing several members, including billionaire cofounder Peter Lewis.

Benter did not share Lewis’s reservations.

Benter has long been a big-money contributor to Democrats. In 2007 and 2008, he donated more than $136,000 to Democratic candidates, including $6,900 to Obama. And while many on the left slowed their fundraising in the midterm elections, Benter pumped $109,000 into Democratic campaigns and liberal causes, including a $6,000 donation to J Street PAC, a nominally pro-Israel group that supports a number of candidates with out-of-the-mainstream views on the Jewish state.

"You have to keep in mind the sheer inertia of political support," Samples said. "A lot of these members wanted to help their ideological friends."

Benter remains a high roller in liberal politics. He and his wife have already spent more than $116,000 on the 2012 election cycle, including $5,000 for Obama.

Benter makes his living off of horse racing. He has developed "arguably the most successful computer software in the world to attack the giant Hong Kong horse racing market," according to his website. That market has proven increasingly valuable in recent years, with more than $71 billion changing hands in 2010.

Benter did not return requests for comment. While his current status within the group remains unclear, the Alliance forbids members from speaking publicly about its operations.

"Many wealthy people think they’re message will be less effective if they reveal who they are," campaign finance expert Bradley Smith said.

The Alliance did not return emails for comment.