Robert Leroy Mercer (born July 11, 1946) is an American computer scientist, who was a developer in early artificial intelligence and co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund.
Mercer played a key role in the Brexit campaign by donating data analytics services to Nigel Farage. He is also a major funder of organizations supporting right-wing political causes in the United States, such as Breitbart News and Donald Trump's 2016 campaign for president. He is the principal benefactor of the Make America Number 1 super PAC.
In November 2017, Mercer announced he would step down from Renaissance Technologies and sell his stake in Breitbart News to his daughters.Contents
Mercer grew up in New Mexico. He developed an early interest in computers and in 1964 attended a National Youth Science Camp in West Virginia where he learned to program a donated IBM computer. He went on to get a bachelor's degree in physics and mathematics from the University of New Mexico. While working on his degree he had a job at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base writing programs where, though he felt he produced good work, he felt it was not optimized. He later said the experience left him with a "jaundiced view" of government-funded research. He earned a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign in 1972.Career
Mercer joined IBM Research in the fall of 1972 and worked at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown, New York where he helped develop Brown clustering, a statistical machine translation technique as part of a speech recognition and translation research program led by Frederick Jelinek and Lalit Bahl. In June 2014, Mercer received the Association for Computational Linguistics Lifetime Achievement Award for this work.
In 1993, Mercer joined hedge fund Renaissance Technologies after being recruited by executive Nick Patterson. The founder of Renaissance, James Harris Simons, a quantitative analyst, preferred to hire mathematicians, computer scientists, and physicists rather than business school students or financial analysts. Mercer and a former colleague from IBM, Peter Brown, became co-CEOs of Renaissance when Simons retired in 2009. Renaissance's main fund, Medallion, earned 39% per year on average from 1989 to 2006. As of 2014, Renaissance managed $25 billion in assets. In November 2017 Mercer announced that he would be stepping down from his position at Renaissance Technologies. The decision was taken after the hedge fund faced backlash over Mercer's political activism.
Mercer appears as a director of eight Bermuda companies in the Paradise Papers, some of which appear to have been used to legally avoid US taxes.Political activities and views
In 2015, The Washington Post called Mercer one of the ten most influential billionaires in politics. Since 2006, Mercer has donated about $34.9 million to Republican political campaigns in the US.
Mercer has given $750,000 to the Club for Growth, $2 million to American Crossroads, and $2.5 million to Freedom Partners Action Fund. In 2010, he financially supported Art Robinson's efforts to unseat Peter DeFazio in Oregon's 4th congressional district. In the 2013-2014 election cycle, Mercer donated the fourth largest amount of money among individual donors and the second most among Republican donors.
Mercer joined the Koch brothers’ conservative political donor network after the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC, but Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah Mercer, decided to establish their own political foundation. The Mercer Family Foundation, run by Rebekah, has donated to a variety of conservative causes.
Mercer has donated to the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Media Research Center, Reclaim New York, and GAI. In 2013, Mercer was shown data by former Jimmy Carter pollster Patrick Caddell, who has been critical of top Democrats, and commissioned more research from Caddell that showed "voters were becoming alienated from both political parties and mainstream candidates".
Mercer was the main financial backer of the Jackson Hole Summit, a conference that took place in Wyoming in August 2015 to advocate for the gold standard. He has also supported Doctors for Disaster Preparedness, Fred Kelly Grant (an Idaho activist who encourages legal challenges to environmental laws), a campaign for the death penalty in Nebraska, and funded ads in New York critical of the so-called "ground-zero mosque". According to associates interviewed by Bloomberg, Mercer is concerned with the monetary and banking systems of the United States, which he believes are in danger from government meddling. Mercer is a major source of funds of Breitbart News. He gave at least $10 million to media outlet Breitbart.com, according to Newsweek.
In 2015 Mercer also gave $400,000 to Black Americans for a Better Future, a conservative think tank led by Raynard Jackson. Since 2017 Mercer has donated $87,100 to the same Super PAC.Brexit
Mercer was an activist in the campaign to pull the United Kingdom out of the European Union, also known as Brexit. Andy Wigmore, communications director of Leave.EU, said that Mercer donated the services of data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica to Nigel Farage, the head of the United Kingdom Independence Party. The firm was able to advise Leave.EU through its ability to harvest data from people's Facebook profiles in order to target them with individualized persuasive messages to vote for Brexit. However, Leave.EU did not inform the UK electoral commission of the donation despite the fact that a law demands that all donations valued over £7,500 must be reported.2016 U.S. election
By January 2016 Mercer was the biggest single donor in the 2016 U.S. presidential race. In June 2016, he was ranked the #1 donor to federal candidates in the 2016 election cycle as he had donated $2 million to John R. Bolton's super PAC and $668,000 to the Republican National Committee. Mercer was a major financial supporter of the 2016 presidential campaign of Ted Cruz, contributing $11 million to a super PAC associated with the candidate. Mercer was a major supporter of Donald Trump's 2016 campaign for president. Mercer and his daughter Rebekah helped to get Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway senior roles in the Trump campaign. Rebekah worked with Conway on the Cruz Super-PAC Keep the Promise in the 2016 Republican primaries. Mercer also financed a Super PAC, Make America Number One, which supported Trump's campaign. Nick Patterson, a former colleague of Mercer's said in 2017 that Trump would not have been elected without Mercer's support.Race relations
Mercer has said that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the landmark federal statute arising from the civil rights movement of the 1960s, was a major mistake. In 2017, David Magerman, a former Renaissance employee, alleged in a lawsuit that Mercer had said that African Americans were economically better off before the civil rights movement, that white racists no longer existed in the United States, and that the only racists remaining were black racists.Personal life
Mercer and his wife Diana Lynne Dean have three daughters: Jennifer ("Jenji"), Rebekah ("Bekah"), and Heather Sue. Rebekah runs the Mercer Family Foundation. The three Mercer daughters formerly owned a bakery called Ruby et Violette.
Mercer plays competitive poker and owns an HO scale model railroad. In 2009, Mercer filed suit against RailDreams Custom Model Railroad Design, alleging that RailDreams overcharged him by $2 million.
Mercer lives at "Owl's Nest" mansion in Head of the Harbor, New York. He has commissioned a series of yachts, all named Sea Owl. The most recent one is 203 feet in length, and has a pirate-themed playroom for Mercer's grandchildren and a chandelier of Venetian glass.
In Florida, Mercer built a large stable and riding center. He has acquired one of the country's largest collections of machine guns and historical firearms, including a weapon Arnold Schwarzenegger wielded in The Terminator.
In 2013, Mercer was sued by several members of his household staff, who accused him of docking their wages and failing to pay overtime compensation. The lawsuit was settled, according to a lawyer who represented the staff members.
Mercer's net worth is estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars, and he is often referred to as a billionaire.Further reading