Public Health

Wall Street executive backs RFK Jr.’s anti-vaccine group

Mark Gorton, Founder of LimeWire, a peer-to-peer file sharing client for the Java Platform, sits for a photographer in the firm’s offices in New York.

Ramin Talaie | Corbis Historical | Getty Images

A veteran Wall Street executive told CNBC that he has been helping bankroll Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s anti-vaccine group and has become an informal advisor to the organization.

Mark Gorton, founder and chairman of high-frequency trading firm Tower Research Capital, said he has given $1 million to the anti-vaccine nonprofit organization called Children’s Health Defense since 2021.

Kennedy, a longtime vaccine critic and a son of late senator and US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, founded Children’s Health Defense. The younger Kennedy was also chairman of the group’s board before he launched his run for president as a Democrat in April.

While President Joe Biden is the clear favorite to win the 2024 Democratic nomination, Kennedy has drawn a surprising amount of support, with a recent Fox News survey showing that 19% of the Democratic primary voters surveyed would back him in the primary.

Polls also show that Kennedy’s rise in influence coincides with an increase in skepticism about vaccines, despite scientific evidence that the shots are safe. Kennedy has attracted support from some longtime political players, including former Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who is running the campaign. Michael Flynn, former President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, was reportedly pictured with Kennedy in 2021, according to ABC News.

During an almost 90-minute interview at Cafe Fiorello in New York, Gorton said he is cheering on Kennedy’s campaign for president and has repeatedly met with him since he donated to Children’s Health Defense.

“I like him a lot. He’s a super smart guy. Again, he’s not really a politician. He’s a corruption fighter,” Gorton said, adding that he has Kennedy’s cell phone number.

Asked about Gorton’s donation, a spokeswoman for the Children’s Health Defense said in an email, “CHD’s donor information is confidential and only communicated to the IRS in compliance with their rules/regulations.”

A Kennedy campaign spokesperson did not return requests for comment before publication.

The Associated Press reported that Children’s Health Defense played a key role in pushing back on Covid vaccines and helped elevate Kennedy’s profile. The nonprofit’s most recent publicly available tax documents show that it raised just over $6 million in 2020, the year the Covid pandemic started, more than double what it raised a year earlier.

The organization sent CNBC its tax documents from 2021, which show the group raised just over $15 million that year. It went into 2022 with over $11 million in assets. The documents don’t name the group’s donors.

Beyond his donation, Gorton said he’s been talking to the nonprofit’s staff through Zoom calls, and advising the group on its messaging strategy. “I basically have been working with them to try and develop a strategy to go after the core of the beast which is the pharmaceutical industry,” he said.

Federal Election Commission records show that Gorton donated $500,000 last year to a super PAC that was then called the People Pharma’s Movement and run by other Kennedy allies. That PAC rebranded as American Values ​​2024 and has spent over $200,000 in print ads backing Kennedy’s candidacy, according to FEC records.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announces his candidacy for President of the United States in a speech at Boston Park Plaza, April 19, 2023.

David L Ryan | Boston Globe | Getty Images

Gorton said he has no current plans to donate to the PAC this cycle. “I don’t think it’s a super high-leverage thing for me to do. Now that it’s supporting Bobby Kennedy, you’re in the realm of presidential races where billions of dollars are spent and I don’t think I can make any difference at that scale,” Gorton said.

Kennedy has linked vaccines to autism. That has been debunked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Gorton, through his Substack, has pushed his own takes on Covid vaccines. Just like Kennedy, he questions the trustworthiness of these federal and global medical agencies.

Gorton, who also founded LimeWire, a peer-to-peer online content creator, has dabbled in other conspiracy theories.

Gawker reported in 2014 that Gorton wrote essays featuring a variety of conspiracies, including the idea that former President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 as part of a “full scale coup d’état.” President Kennedy was an uncle of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who pushed a similar conspiracy that the Central Intelligence Agency was behind the assassination.

The CIA has continued to deny involvement in the assassination.

Gorton told CNBC he continues to stand by most of what he wrote in those essays.

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