Larry Elder has spent his life chasing the limelight. His yearning for stardom transported him from L.A.’s struggling South Central to its glamorous Hollywood Hills—but also took him to the brink of financial ruin.
By Monica Hunter-Hart, Contributor
Larry Elder pitches his presidential campaign as an act of personal sacrifice. “I’m not flush like some of the other candidates, so this is a big financial hit for me,” says the California media icon, who Forbes estimates is worth $4 million. “I gave up my nationally syndicated column. I gave up my radio show. I gave up my TV show.”
But if Elder’s career is any indication, running for president might not prove to be a big sacrifice after all. For years, he has chased brighter lights and bigger platforms. That’s how he became an entrepreneur, swerved into media, then emerged as a contender in the California governor recall election. His career shifts haven’t always produced immediate success, but they have led to million-dollar opportunities over time. At 71 years old, Elder is surely savvy enough to know that he is not likely to end up as the next president. But he’s also taken enough risks to learn that he has plenty to gain by trying.
The son of a janitor, Elder grew up the second of three brothers in L.A.’s South Central neighborhood. He graduated high school near the top of his class in 1970 and headed to Brown University, where he studied political science. Law school at the University of Michigan followed, and then a job at the prominent Cleveland firm Squire, Sanders & Dempsey (now known as Squire Patton Boggs).
Unsatisfied with the pace of advancement—he told the libertarian magazine Reason in 1996 that “I wanted to make more money, and I wanted to make it faster”—he left the firm after a few years to start his own headhunting business, Laurence A. Elder and Associates. By 1988, he was making enough to buy two homes, a $167,000 condo in Cleveland and a $550,000 house in Hollywood Hills.
Larry Elder has thrown millions at Los Angeles real estate over the years. He lost one home in a foreclosure but held onto another and inherited a third.
But he remained unfulfilled. Elder’s real interest lay with political and cultural commentary, so he began cultivating a new career, starting with guest appearances on the radio and a stint hosting a PBS show. At a time when racial tensions were high—his parents’ home was just a mile from the spot where riots broke out in the wake of the 1991 Rodney King beating—Elder attracted attention by arguing that racism was no longer a significant problem in the United States.
In 1993, he nabbed the job for which he would become known: host of a show on the Los Angeles radio station KABC. His fiery takes about race, including rants against affirmative action (of which he admits he was a beneficiary), quickly shot him to notoriety. KABC briefly shortened his time slot in 1997, reinstating it after a conservative group reportedly spent hundreds of thousands on ads accusing the station of prejudice. Onlookers speculated that activist pressure on advertisers to boycott Elder’s show might have influenced the waffling. In 2000, Elder released his first book, The Ten Things You Can’t Say In America, which spent two weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
With fame came luxury. By the end of that year, Elder had offloaded his existing properties, selling both at a slight loss. Undeterred, he splurged on an upgrade, paying $1.65 million for his current home and financing the entire purchase price. He ended up with a lavish property that features an infinity pool looking over the city, but also the beginning of a series of financial issues. The federal government briefly placed a lien on the property months after Elder bought it, saying he owed $47,000 in income taxes. Elder says the IRS made a mistake; the agency declined to comment on the case.
“I’ve never not paid taxes,” Elder says. “I don’t have any tax liens. I’m current in everything. I’m not a tax deadbeat. I pay off my credit cards, 100% every single month. I don’t even have any credit card fees.”
As Elder’s media opportunities multiplied—he kept up his long-running radio gig, published a new book and hosted shows for MSNBC and Warner Brothers—he got even more aggressive with real estate. In May 2007, near the peak of the U.S. property bubble, Elder took out two new loans against his house, piling on $3.2 million of debt. The next month, he used the entity that held his Hollywood Hills home to purchase a second Los Angeles property, paying $3.6 million and borrowing another $2.9 million.
His timing could not have been much worse. Two years later, the housing market was in crisis and Elder was short on cash. He defaulted on the second home. His lenders confiscated the property, selling it at auction for $2.4 million in 2010. By then his debt load on the place measured over $3 million, apparently leaving Elder to come up with roughly $600,000 out of pocket.
He almost lost his other house, too. His creditor started issuing notices of default in 2011, declaring that Elder wasn’t paying back his debt there, either. He fought back. Claiming financial hardship, Elder successfully appealed for a mortgage modification plan in 2014, requiring him to pay $6,000 a month initially and up to $10,000 per month by 2018.
As all of this was going on, Elder was also experiencing a rocky period at work. KABC dropped him briefly in 2008, then permanently in 2014. He moved onto other outlets and settled in at the conservative network Salem Radio.
“Wow,” he says when asked about his financial troubles. “All I can tell you is that I am a homeowner. I am somebody that has lived in the same house since 2000.”
Elder did indeed manage to hang on. Today, he owes an estimated $2.7 million on his home loan. The value of the property, which he purchased for $1.65 million in 2000, now stands at an estimated $5 million. Elder’s interest, therefore, amounts to roughly $2.3 million net of debt—making it, by far, his most valuable holding.
In 2021, after years of flirting with the idea of entering politics but flinching at the pay, Elder finally gave it a shot. He threw his name into the hat in California’s 2021 recall election against Governor Gavin Newsom. Elder won more votes than any other replacement candidate, though he fell well short of the tally needed to oust the governor.
But politicians have plenty of ways to make money beyond collecting government paychecks. In 2022, Elder created a federal political action committee. The group has so far raised $1.8 million and spent more than 90% of that on operating costs, including $150,000 to pay Elder personally. He also joined former housing secretary Ben Carson and country music singer John Rich to open a “cancel-proof” bank named Old Glory. The institution launched in May and claims to have over 100,000 clients. It recently started a loan program and its balance sheet remains small (executive Eric Ohlhausen says it has over $60 million in assets). Elder listed the value of his stake at over $1 million on a financial disclosure form, which would make it the second-biggest asset in his portfolio.
He doesn’t own much else. Elder has a SAG-AFTRA pension from his radio days and inherited a 50% stake in his parents’ home. On the disclosure, which records the value of assets in broad ranges, he lists $15,000 to $50,000 worth of stock in a liver disease and cancer research company as well as a $100,000 to $250,000 stake in the Black News Channel, now called TheGrio.
The exposure he gains from this run could create more opportunities for him soon, like speaking appearances, media plays or business deals. Plus, there’s always the chance that Donald Trump might be looking for a fellow media-savvy, controversy-courting politician to serve as his running mate. “If I’m not the party nominee,” says Elder, “and if Trump or some other nominee calls me, I will not let the call go to voicemail.”
MORE FROM FORBES
#Heres #Presidential #Candidate #Larry #Elder #Worth