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Wall Street gears up for 2014 elections

Wednesday, 19 Feb 2014 | 3:19 PM ET
Are hedge funds still in love with Chris Christie?
Wednesday, 19 Feb 2014 | 2:00 PM ET
CNBC.com Enterprise Reporter Lawrence Delevingne discusses who hedge fund managers could support in the 2016 presidential elections.

Some of the biggest names in finance are quietly preparing to do battle over elections this year.

Notable on the right is billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer, who's leading fellow conservative financial industry honchos to help win a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate and more broadly influence issues that could include gay rights, immigration reform and U.S.-Israel policy.

A prominent early mover on the left is billionaire Tom Steyer, the founder of hedge fund firm Farallon Capital Management who is now an environmentalist. Steyer plans to spend $100 million or more to shape elections around fighting climate change.

Conservative fundraising, usually dominated by the Koch brothers, appears to now have a second figurehead in the more libertarian Singer.

A new federal fundraising committee led by Singer—Friends for an American Majority—counts many prominent conservative hedge funders as donors. They include $21 billion Paulson & Co. founder John Paulson; $9 billion Maverick Capital founder Lee Ainslie; $98 billion AQR Capital Management head Cliff Asness; $17 billion Citadel founder Ken Griffin; hedge fund pioneer Michael Steinhardt; and various employees of Singer's $24 billion Elliott Management.

Other notable supporters, according to public filings, are Vincent and Linda McMahon of professional wrestling and Connecticut political fame; billionaire businessman Leonard Blavatnik; brokerage head Charles Schwab; real estate developer Harlan Crow; and economist Marie-Josée Kravis, wife of $94 billion KKR co-founder Henry Kravis.

(Read more: Business to tea party: Get out of our way)

Together, they've contributed $579,800 to the nascent political group and supported Republican Senate hopefuls Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Steve Daines in Montana and Dan Sullivan in Alaska, according to the disclosures. The GOP is likely to control both houses of Congress if it can gain six more seats in the Senate this fall; elections in Arkansas, Montana and Alaska are all tight.

Those candidates are among the politicians expected at a private Colorado retreat in late February organized by the American Opportunity Alliance, another new Singer-backed group that will parallel the Senate committee, according to Politico. The event is also expected to feature House Speaker John Boehner and New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte.

Singer has previously teamed with fellow hedge funder Dan Loeb of Third Point to host events benefiting gay rights and featuring New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Representatives for Singer, Friends for an American Majority and Loeb did not respond to requests for comment.

Also on the conservative side is TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts. Ricketts backs Singer's efforts, but his own national debt-focused group, Ending Spending, is also playing in Senate races.

The group has also endorsed Cotton, Daines and Sullivan; run ads against Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen; and is likely to target other tight Senate races such as in Oregon and Minnesota.

"Ending Spending plans to educate voters across the country about the records of those senators who gave us bigger government, more debt and bad policies like Obamacare," said Brian Baker, president of Ending Spending.

Baker declined to comment on the group's 2014 financial industry backers.

From left: Paul Singer and Tom Steyer
Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images; Getty Images
From left: Paul Singer and Tom Steyer

(Read more: The big money behind NYC's presumptive mayor)

Climate change-focused Steyer is also attempting to form a coalition around the midterm elections.

Steyer recently met with wealthy environmental-minded donors in New York City and at his ranch in Pescadero, Calif. in an attempt to raise $50 million to match the $50 million of his own capital devoted to the cause.

Steyer's group, NextGen Climate Action, plans to continue its multi-pronged efforts that include advertisements against candidates deemed unfriendly to the environment; financial support for politicians working on global warming; and other public advocacy around issues such as blocking the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Unlike Singer, Steyer is working virtually full time on the advocacy.

(Read more: Battle of the billionaires erupts over Keystone)

Steyer's group is already seeking to derail Republican Rick Scott in his bid for reelection as governor of Florida and support Bruce Braley, a Democratic Senate candidate in Iowa, based on their climate change positions, according to The New York Times. A spokesman for Steyer confirmed the Times' account but couldn't immediately offer further comment.

Steyer's Next Generation and Singer's Elliott aren't the only financial industry groups putting big money into the election. Others in the top 25 include mega-banks Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, private equity firms Blackstone Group and Bain Capital; and hedge funds Renaissance Technologies and SAB Capital Management, according to new data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Top financial donors in 2013-2014

Rank Donor Total Favored Party
1 Next Generation $1,783,400 DEM
2 Goldman Sachs $1,196,387 GOP
3 Bank of America $988,119 GOP
4 American Bankers Assn $919,150 GOP
5 Elliott Management $868,234 GOP
6 Wells Fargo $798,295 GOP
7 JPMorgan Chase $689,141 GOP
8 UBS AG $682,904 EVEN
9 Investment Co Institute $680,000 GOP
10 ICBA (Banking) $591,500 GOP
11 Citigroup $571,569 EVEN
12 Blackstone Group $564,925 GOP
13 JW Childs Assoc $534,900 GOP
14 Morgan Stanley $529,834 EVEN
15 Bain Capital $435,400 GOP
16 Trust Asset Management $402,200 DEM
17 BLS Investments $395,100 DEM
18 Susquehanna Itn'l Group $373,550 GOP
19 Renaissance Technologies $371,900 GOP
20 FMR Corp $367,745 GOP
21 Credit Suisse Group $367,450 EVEN
22 CME Group $365,800 GOP
23 Sab Capital Management $364,000 GOP
24 Mason Capital Management $342,300 GOP
25 Stephens Group $319,300 GOP
Source: Center for Responsive Politics

—By CNBC's Lawrence Delevingne. Follow him on Twitter @ldelevingne.

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