This Controversial Philly Billionaire May Be TikTok’s Secret Weapon

Plus, the best and worst Wawa sandwiches.

Main Line billionaire Jeff Yass, who may be TikTok's best friend in the United States

Controversial Main Line billionaire Jeff Yass, who may be TikTok’s best friend in the United States (image via Philly Mag YouTube)

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Main Line Billionaire Jeff Yass May Be TikTok’s Secret Weapon

Remember when many United States politicians seemed to be not too fond of TikTok? Remember how they were making the case that TikTok was just another method China was using to spy on Americans? You probably do remember, because it wasn’t so long ago. TikTok’s CEO testified before Congress in March.

But since then, it feels like things have quieted down. Granted, we have lots of other problems in the world to think about. And there’s much more news to report than just opposition to TikTok. Did we just move on to the next thing to complain about? Or could there be secret forces at work on behalf of TikTok?

In a new investigative piece in the Wall Street Journal, writers John McKinnon and Stu Woo make the case that Main Line billionaire, investment guru and poker savant Jeff Yass, founder of Bala Cynwyd’s storied Susquehanna International Group, has been working behind the scenes to tilt legislative opinion in favor of (or at least not against) TikTok. But why on earth would some guy in his late 60s give two licks about TikTok? Because his grandkids told him to? Hardly …

Here’s a snippet from the lengthy WSJ feature on Yass and TikTok:

TikTok now has many more friends, with something in common: backing from billionaire financier Jeff Yass. They’ve helped stall attempts to outlaw America’s most-downloaded app.

Yass’s investment company, Susquehanna International Group, bet big on TikTok in 2012, buying a stake in parent company ByteDance now measured at about 15%. That translates into a personal stake for Yass of 7% in ByteDance. It is worth roughly $21 billion based on the company’s recent valuation, or much of his $28 billion net worth as gauged by Bloomberg.

Yass is also one of the top donors to the Club for Growth, an influential conservative group that rallied Republican opposition to a TikTok ban. Yass has donated $61 million to the Club for Growth’s political-spending arm since 2010, or about 24% of its total, according to federal records.

Club for Growth made public its opposition to banning TikTok in March, in an opinion article by its president, at a time when sentiment against the platform among segments of both parties was running high on Capitol Hill. Days later, Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) stood up on the Senate floor and quashed an attempt to fast-track a bill by Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) to ban downloading of the TikTok app.

“We will be acting like the Chinese government if we ban TikTok here,” Paul said around that time.

There’s plenty more to unravel. And you can read the full article here.

Yass isn’t just rich. He’s really, really, really rich. In fact, in the latest Forbes list of the world’s richest people, Yass comes in at #48. He’s the only Pennsylvanian to even crack the top 100. Yass is twice as rich as the second-richest person from the Philadelphia area on said list.

And with boatloads of money oft comes controversy — controversy being something Yass is more than familiar with. For a deep dive into some of the other controversies surrounding Yass of late, look no further than the 2022 ProPublica piece “The Billionaire and Rising GOP Mega-Donor Who’s Gaming the Tax System.”

Temple Mourns JoAnne Epps

Temple University and many in the city were shocked to learn of the sudden passing of acting president JoAnne Epps on Tuesday. She died shortly after becoming ill during a university event on Tuesday afternoon. No word yet on what caused her death. Epps was appointed acting president earlier this year in the wake of Jason Wingard’s resignation. Epps had a long history with Temple, including as dean of its law school and provost.

Local Talent

It’s been 78 years since the renowned painter N.C. Wyeth — father and grandfather of painters Andrew and Jamie, respectively — died in idyllic Chadds Ford, where the Brandywine Museum of Art continues to pay tribute to the talented family. Somehow, an N.C. Wyeth painting made its way to a thrift store in New Hampshire. And that’s where a woman found it in 2017. Dusty. Sitting in a stack of other artwork. She had no idea its origin or provenance. She just liked it. Turns out she made a wise purchase: The painting just sold at auction for $191,000. She might not be a Jeff Yass, but nice investment either way.

Bringing things more into the 21st century, it’s best-selling Queen Village novelist Jennifer Weiner! She has a new book out, and I caught up with her recently to talk about her affinity for Zahav, her aversion to marijuana, and what people might misunderstand about Madonna’s new face. You can read the full interview here.

So Does This Mean We Stop Smashing the Lanternflies?

Remember when scientists (well, and probably the media) were making spotted lanternflies out to be a sign of the end times? According to a new study from Penn State, the damage caused by the pretty pests may not be as bad as we originally thought. No word on which side of the lanternfly argument Jeff Yass lands on. Best wait until he weighs in before you return to killing them.

What’s for Dinner This Week?

I’m thinking strip-mall Nepali food sounds just about perfect.

Okay, But What About Lunch?

If you must Wawa, at least consult our new ranking of all Wawa sandwiches before you place an order. Better yet: Check out our exhaustive guide to the best hoagies in the Philadelphia area.

By the Numbers: The Police/Perps/Pols Edition

93: Size of the Philadelphia Police Academy’s latest class of enrollees, its largest since March 2018. But this latest batch of recruits is hardly going to make up for the police shortage in the city.

200: Minimum number of sex crimes former Philly cop Patrick Heron is facing at trial. The charges include incidents that allegedly occurred both when he was both off-duty and when he was in uniform. The allegations include unlawful sexual contact with minors, child pornography, stalking … I could go on, but it would just make you sick to your stomach. Hopefully they’ll make each and every one of those aforementioned recruits read about the case.

0: Amount of time Delco pol Marvin Smith will spend in jail after making an 11th-hour deal with Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office in a sexual assault case involving a 14-year-old boy. In 2019, the boy told police he had been sexually assaulted by Smith, a Darby Township commissioner, in 2017. According to court records, Smith just pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor corruption of a minor count, thus avoiding prosecution on the far more serious charges, which included rape. His sentence? One year probation. Must be nice.

1: New Democratic majority in the Pennsylvania House thanks to the results of a special election.

And from the Oy-Vey Sports Desk …

It was Cristopher Sánchez up against the Braves in Atlanta last night, and he had a worrisome first, giving up a leadoff homer to Ron Acuña Jr. On the other hand, the Phils have been playing good come-from-behind ball … Spencer Strider was the opposite of shaky, if you don’t count hitting second batter Trea Turner with a pitch in the first and allowing J.T. Realmuto a two-out double in the second. Sánchez gave up singles in the third to Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley but got out of it on a double play. Marcell Ozuna singled and Travis d’Arnaud doubled to lead off the fourth, and Kevin Pillar singled to bring two runs home, but Sánchez was spared more by another double play. Strider? He had nine strikeouts through the top of the fifth.

Michael Lorenzen came on to pitch the bottom half, and Acuña singled and stole second. Albies singled him to third, Riley walked to load them, Matt Olson walked a run home, and an Ozuna double made it 6-0. Yikes. Another walk, to d’Arnaud, loaded them again, still with no outs. An Orlando Arcia sac fly: 7-0. Fans everywhere cheered as Lorenzen got the hook for Yunior Marte, who got a strikeout and a ground-out. Phew.

OMG, Johan Rojas got a single in the top of the sixth. And so did Kyle Schwarber! And Bryce Harper homered: 7-3!

Alas, another homer for that damn Acuña got one run back. That’s where it stood at the end: 9-3 Braves. Turrible game. They have one more in the series, this afternoon at 12:20.

And in Doop News …

The Union play first-place-in-the-East Charlotte FC in an away match tonight at 7:30.

All Philly Today sports coverage is provided by Sandy Hingston.