Hedge fund managers, a top tax lobbyist, an engineer with two dozen patents to his name, an oilman, a PBS host and the CEO of a storied construction firm flush with federal contracts are some of the well-heeled individuals who are already at or near the maximum amount individuals can contribute to politicians, parties and PACs in the 2014 election cycle — limits that might be swept away by the U.S. Supreme Court in a decision expected soon.
In anticipation of the ruling in McCutcheon vs. the Federal Election Commission, the Center for Responsive Politics and the Sunlight Foundation have teamed up to look at the deep-pocketed donors who could give even more if the high court strikes down another limit on the amount of money in U.S. politics.
Using data compiled by CRP, we focused on 20 of the biggest givers so far of “hard money” — contributions to federal political committees that are limited by the Federal Election Campaign Act. The majority of big donors on our list have had identifiable interests before the government in the last six years. More than ten months before Election Day, each has already contributed $100,000 or more in the current campaign cycle. That means they’re all pushing up against the $123,200 aggregate contribution limit that the Supreme Court has been asked to eliminate.
Under current law, donors are not only limited in how much they can give to a candidate ($2,600 per election), a national party committee ($32,400 per year), the federal committee of a state or local party ($10,000 per year) and a political action committee ($5,000 per year), they are also limited in the total amount they can contribute. To parties and PACs, that amount is $74,600, while to candidates the limit is $48,600 in the 2014 election cycle. That adds up to a grand total of $123,200.
Those caps were challenged by Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman who argues that the law violates his First Amendment rights by limiting his ability to contribute to as many candidates or party committees as he wishes. McCutcheon says he would have donated more than the law allowed in the 2012 election cycle. He’s not the only donor who’s come near or surpassed the limit.
In the 2012 election cycle, several media outlets, among them the Sunlight Foundation, identified donors who exceeded, or appeared to have exceeded, the limits. And back in 1993, the FEC fined ten big donors, including real estate mogul Donald Trump, Archer Daniels Midland chairman Dwayne Andreas and corporate takeover artists Ron Perelman and the late Harold Simmons, for giving too much to too many pols, PACs and parties. The excessive donations came at a time when Congress was considering ending the favorable tax treatment that made leveraged buyouts possible, a change that was never enacted.
In the current election cycle, those nearing the limits include 11 donors who derive their wealth from private equity and investment firms. During the first three quarters of 2013, there were 13 who gave solely to Republican candidates and parties and four who gave only to Democrats. Only three of the donors contributed to candidates of both parties, but they heavily favored (95 percent or more) one party over the other. While just three led companies that are currently lobbying the federal government, 17 of them made large contributions to super PACs. And many of them are trying to influence the government.
For example, Charles R. Schwab’s firm, Charles Schwab Corporation, disclosed spending $2.7 million in the first three quarters of 2013 lobbying on an array of issues affecting brokerages, including new legislation and the ongoing implementation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Financial Protection Act. Kenneth Kies, former chief of staff of Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation, lobbies for interests ranging from the American Bankers Association to Anheuser-Busch, from Blue Cross/Blue Shield to the Cigar Association of America. Stephen D. Bechtel Jr., is the co-owner with his son of Bechtel Group, the engineering and construction firm that built the Hoover Dam and is perennially among the top 20 recipients of federal contracts; the firm lobbies on energy, taxes, the environment and trade.
Even when they’re not lobbying, some of the big donors have had up-close encounters with the federal government. George Krupp’s firm Berkshire Property Advisors, which invests and sells multi-family residential properties, sent its CEO Frank Arpeseche to testify before the House Financial Services Committee in July 2009; he also filed a comment on a Securities and Exchange Commission regulation effecting investment advisors. The chairman of the hedge fund where retired professor and current political activist Marsha Laufer’s husband made his fortune also testified before Congress in the wake of the financial crisis, assuring members that hedge funds had little to do with the collapse.
Some on the list have incorporated government into their business models. Schweitzer Engineering Labs, whose CEO, Edmund Schweitzer and his wife, Beatriz Schweitzer, both contributed more than $100,000 in 2013, has won more than $20 million in federal contracts. And Andew Beal, whose Beal Bank has made a fortune buying defaulted loans for pennies on the dollar, then going after the debtors, made one of his best deals by buying up Small Business Administration loans and suing the debtors.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of McCutcheon, Beal and the other big donors will be able to give to: as many members of the House and Senate as they want; as many PACs, including congressional leadership PACs, as they want; the full amount to each of the national party committees; and, finally, to federal accounts of state and local parties.
Exactly how much bigger of an investment will these donors be able to make in federal politics? Because of the plethora of committees (each with their own caps on contributions) to which donors may give, estimates can vary widely. The Brennan Center for Justice, puts the potential new cap on individual donations at $3.5 million — a 28-fold increase over existing law. Of course, there are plenty of donors who already have written six- and even seven-figure checks to benefit their favorite candidates via super PACs. But a Supreme Court ruling that tosses out individual limits could create more pressing IOUs by enabling donors to put more money directly in the pockets of politicians. A donor with a particular interest in legislation could, for instance, max out to every member of a key committee.
Here’s a look at the 2014 cycle’s top 20 givers so far — the donors who appear most likely to exceed the current campaign limits should the Supreme Court green-light them to do so. We’re not listing them in order of amount donated simply because at this stage in the cycle, dollar amounts can change as amendments are filed with the Federal Election Commission. Instead, we’ve broken down the field by geographically. Not surprisingly, most of the top donors hail from “ATM states,” so called because they are the states where candidates tap most frequently for campaign funds.
We attempted to contact each of the individuals on this list. In most cases, our calls were not returned or we were told the donor was unavailable for comment. If any of the individuals mentioned in this report do return our requests for comment, we will update our post.
Stephen D. Bechtel Jr.
Stephen Bechtel, Jr., retired chairman and current director of the Bechtel Corp., one of the world’s top contractors, has long been a steady donor to Republican federal candidates and parties. In the 2012 cycle, he and his wife together were among the top donors to federal candidates and parties. While he does not favor contributions to super PACs, he has participated in Aspen gatherings sponsored by billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch that have raised multimillions for shadow political spending groups that do not report donors. He’s also a major donor to California candidates and ballot propositions.
Bechtel Corporation has a storied history as the builder of the Hoover Dam, and was a major participant in Katrina disaster relief and Iraq reconstruction. In 2008, the company agreed to pay $352 million toward a settlement of charges of shoddy work in the epic Boston tunnel project known as the Big Dig, which the company built as part of a joint venture. More recently, the company has come under sharp criticism from Congress and watchdogs for cost over runs in the billions for clean up of the Hanford nuclear facility, for which it is one of the prime contractors.
Bechtel maintains a strong lobbying presence in Washington, where it reports lobbying largely on nuclear issues. Currently 11 registered lobbyists report working for Bechtel, two of them for the company directly and the others from lobbying firms, such as Akin, Gump and the Podesta Group. The company’s PAC has hosted political fundraisers for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including Rep. Norman “Doc” Hastings, a Republican from Washington, where the Hanford plant is located.
Bechtel is the third member of a four-generation dynasty to preside over Bechtel Corp. His son, Riley, now serves as CEO of the company that was founded by Stephen Bechtel Jr.’s father, grandfather Warren Bechtel and later led by his father, Stephen Bechtel Sr.
Bechtel Jr. served on presidential committees and commissions under Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford.
One of four Democratic-leaning donors among the top 20 hard money givers in 2014, Rising is a California-based developer who runs Rising Realty Group with his son Christopher in Los Angeles. Though he has a background in law and economics, he has become one of the nation’s foremost real estate developers and was behind major developments in Austin, San Francisco and elsewhere in California. In addition, he chaired the Real Estate Roundtable policy group — whose PAC gives to politicians on both sides of the aisle. He also served as chairman of the board for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
Prior to starting his own realty group, Rising was the CEO of the Catellus Development group and a Senior Partner at Maguire Thomas Partners. The Los Angeles Times reports that the father and son team were behind the purchase of the $60 million dollar Pacific Center in downtown Los Angeles in 2012.
In 2012 Nelson Rising served as a bundler for Obama’s reelection campaign, raising between $200,000 and $500,000 for the president’s reelection effort. Thus far in the current election cycle, 2013, Rising has given to a geographically diverse group of members — from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., to Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., and has given the maximum $32,400 contribution to both the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The real estate mogul is also an active player in California Democratic circles and in 2012 was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to a Los Angeles governing board that is winding down the affairs of the Los Angeles redevelopment agency. Brown eliminated the redevelopment agencies in a bid to close budget shortfalls. Rising gave $25,900 — the maximum amount allowed under state law — to Brown’s gubernatorial campaign in 2010. Rising gave $50,000 to Californians to Protect Schools Universities and Public Safety in 2012 in support of Prop 30 which would protect public school, university and police budgets and increase taxes on the wealthy.
Charles R. Schwab, who founded his eponymous San Francisco-based brokerage firm in 1971, is reportedly worth $5.1 billion and is a perennial member of the Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. He has also been a steady political donor for decades. Overall, he’s given more than $5.4 million to candidates and political groups since at least 1990, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute of Money in State Politics accessed through Influence Explorer. Most of this giving has been in the form of hard money contributions, although he did give $375,000 to the super PAC promoting presidential contender Mitt Romney’s campaign. A sliver of his cash has gone to support Democrats who enjoyed plum committee assignments, such as Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and former Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.
But not all of Schwab’s contributions are easy to trace. Mother Jones reported that at a 2011 gathering of corporate executives in Vail, Colo., organized by the Koch brothers, Charles Koch read out Schwab’s name as part of a list of people who had given at least $1 million. Schwab’s name was included in a list of donors giving money to nonprofits that then funneled cash into California initiative campaigns, an investigation by California’s Fair Political Practices Commission found.
Schwab retired as chief executive officer in 2008 but retains a large stake in the firm, which manages some $2 trillion in client assets. The firm’s PAC and executives are also generous donors to political causes, altogether contributing more than $893,000 in the 2012 election cycle alone, according to OpenSecrets.org. The firm’s PAC splits its contributions almost evenly among Democrats and Republicans.
As a financial firm, Charles Schwab is regulated by numerous federal financial agencies and has intense interest in the writing of regulations implementing the Dodd Frank financial law. Company executives have attended meetings at the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Treasury Department, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to discuss various aspects of the law, including standards for brokers and dealers and the Volcker rule, meant to prevent banks from pursuing proprietary trading for their own profit.
Recently the company has found itself the subject of a protest petition organized by the group Public Citizen. Starting in 2011, Schwab had started to require clients sign a clause where they agree not to pursue class action lawsuits against the company. In 2012, the enforcement division of Financial Industry and Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the brokerage industry’s self-policing arm, filed a disciplinary action against the firm, one that would force it to end the policy if the agency upheld the complaint. Schwab suspended the practice while the matter was reviewed. In February 2013, a FINRA panel ruled in favor of Schwab; the matter has now gone to an appeals process and is still pending. Public Citizen is urging the Securities and Exchange Commission to take up the issue and ban such practices through rulemaking.
Marsha Z. Laufer
Hosting a fundraising event for Hillary Clinton’s first run for Senate was the introduction to politics for Marsha Z. Laufer, a professor and speech pathologist at Stony Brook University on Long Island. She went on to lead the Brookhaven Town Democratic Committee. In 2005, backed with more than $150,000 from her and her husband, Democrats took a majority on the town council against a divided Republican Party. The victory was short-lived: by 2007, the GOP was back in control.
Laufer’s husband, mathematician Henry Laufer, was also a professor at Stony Brook until he left his tenured post in 1992 to follow his department chair, James Simon, to Renaissance Technologies LLC, a hedge fund that Simon founded. The firm is very politically active: In the 2012 election cycle, its executives contributed more than $9 million to political campaigns, including million-dollar-plus donations to super PACs like Priorities USA, American Crossroads and Restore Our Future.
Simon testified before Congress in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, averring that hedge funds had not contributed to the crisis and did not require more transparency, regulation or oversight. Renaissance continues to interact with Congress — the firm’s hired lobbyists disclosed trying to influence “tax issues affecting hedge funds,” taxation of derivatives” and “taxation of fees paid to fund managers.” They also lobby on the taxation of carried interest, set at just 20 percent on such earnings — that’s about half the rate the multimillionaires who benefit from carried interest would pay the government were it treated as ordinary income.
Henry Laufer is no longer with Renaissance — he retired in 2009 — so some of the tax issues are of less importance to the man who developed the algorithms that are at the heart of the hedge firm’s mathematically driven trading strategy. The Laufers live in Palm Beach, Florida, where they purchased a $12.8 million home in 2009.
The biggest beneficiaries of Laufer’s largesse in the 2014 cycle so far are the Democratic National Committee ($32,400) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ($30,800).
A former gubernatorial candidate who also served as chair of the State Board of Education in Illinois, Ron Gidwitz is one of Chicago’s prime players in the Republican power structure. He donates to a host of philanthropic groups, but also takes a turn toward politics. He founded Students First Illinois, which pushed for school reform. He also started the Illinois Coalition for Jobs, Growth and Prosperity — a free market group aimed at promoting job growth in the Midwest region. Through the super PAC and nonprofit arms of his New Prosperity Foundation, Gidwitz has taken an active hand in influencing elections.
After serving as an executive at Unilever, Gidwitz co-founded GCG Partners, a consulting and equity capital firm based in Chicago. In 2005 he ran for the Republican gubernatorial nomination but, despite the endorsement of the Chicago Tribune, lost in the primary to Judy Baar Topinka. Leading up to 20-8, he bundled between $100,000 and $250,000 for John McCain’s presidential campaign.The financial executive’s federal contributions go generally to Republican leadership and candidates from within the state.
In May of this year Gidwitz made headlines for clashing with the Illinois’ Republican Party over their ousting of party chairman Pat Brady.
Muneer Satter and Kristen Hertel
Muneer Satter, who served as a managing director Goldman Sachs until 2012, and his wife, Kristen Hertel, have long been major donors. While the lion’s share of their contributions have gone to Republican candidates, parties, and super PACs, the couple have also contributed to some Democrats over the years, including Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In 2008, they supported President Barack Obama with $4,200; Satter also donated to Obama’s inaugural fund.
However, in the 2012 presidential contest, he backed Republican nominee Mitt Romney in a big way, serving as co-chair of the candidate’s finance committee. “He has been a leader and adviser to me and my campaign, for which I’m grateful…Even more importantly, I consider him a dear friend,” Romney told Bloomberg News. Satter is listed as a host on numerous fundraisers for Romney. The couple gave $500,000 to Restore our Future, the Super PAC supporting Romney’s candidacy. Satter and his wife made the list of top donors in the 2012 cycle, all of their contributions solidly Republican.
While Hertel’s political contributions have also heavily leaned Republican, the Chicago Sun Times reports that she contributed a hefty $100,000 to the campaign of Democratic Mayor Rahm Emmanuel. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the nonprofit Beyond Sports Foundation and co-manages the couple’s Satter Family Foundation — which listed nearly $70 million in assets in its most recent financial disclosure filed with the IRS in 2011.
When Satter was at Goldman Sachs, he was one of several executives participating in a conference call in 2011 with the Securities and Exchange Commission for a discussion of the proposed “Volcker rule,” a regulation mandated by the Dodd Frank financial reform law meant to prevent taxpayer-backed banks from engaging in proprietary trading for their own profit. Many big banks universally lobbied federal agencies on the rule, but Goldman Sachs perhaps had the most at stake, as the bank earns more of its revenue from trading than its rivals. When the SEC and other agencies published the final rule last December, Goldman Sachs was widely seen as having largely avoided heavy regulation. “Changes in the final wording broadened exemptions for banks’ market-making desks,” reported Bloomberg News.
Since leaving Goldman Sachs, Satter founded his own investment firm, Satter Investments. Satter serves on the national council for the conservative American Enterprise Institute and is also a board member for the Nature Conservancy, an environmental group that often partners with corporations, such as Dupont, Monsanto, Wal-Mart to conserve land. He serves on the board of directors for the Goldman Sachs Foundation, Atkins Nutritionals, and other companies.
A media-shy billionaire who’s made his fortune in the bruising world of corporate leveraged buyouts, John W. Childs has also played a role in an organization that similarly scouts out under-performers and backs suitors to launch takeover bids. He’s a $1.7 million donor to the Club for Growth, on whose board he sits.
The Club frequently backs primary challengers to incumbent Republicans who do not hew closely enough to its low tax, free enterprise, small government positions, but, as the Huffington Post reported, Childs is not averse to investing in companies that thrive on government business. After being acquired by Childs’ firm, J.W. Childs Associates, an airplane simulator manufacturer increased its government contract business from $4,830 to $710,000. Another firm, GHG Healthcare, won $230 million in contracts while Childs’ firm owned it — a substantial increase over prior years.
In 2002, J.W. Childs acquired the Meow Mix brand for $167 million thanks to a Federal Trade Commission settlement with Nestle. The company had taken over Ralston Purina, and the FTC believed that the merger would limit competition in the market for cat food. The firm sold the company a year later for $432 million, following the introduction of the “Meow meow meow meow” marketing jingle.
In Boston, Childs is known as the Republican ATM, and his long history of giving justifies the nickname. Since the 2010 cycle, he’s contributed a more than $5.6 million to GOP candidates, party committees and conservative outside spending groups. He’s also given at least $240,000 to state level candidates over the same period, including $100,000 to help Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., fend off a recall bid in 2012.
George Krupp co-founded, with his brother Douglas, a Boston-based real estate investment firm called the Berkshire Group, which has a number of subsidiaries. A Democrat through-and-through, he and his wife Lizbeth have been big Obama supporters. Krupp contributed $50,000 to Obama’s re-election bid, and contributed to Obama’s second inaugural festivities.
Besides the family business, Krupp has been heavily involved in education, Jewish causes and the arts: He claims to have been kicked out of college in his second year, but finished years later. He taught history and founded a Jewish day school. Currently he’s on the Board of Trustees at Brandeis University and has a gallery named for him and his wife at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Like many members of this list, the Krupp’s firm doesn’t lobby, but that hasn’t stopped it from getting its message across in Congress and at federal agencies. When the House Financial Services Committee considered passing a second round of the troubled asset relief program in July 2009, Krupp’s firm sent its CEO Frank Arpeseche to testify on the credit needs of the multi-family housing industry. Arpeseche also filed a comment on a Securities and Exchange Commission regulation that would limit the political contributions of investment advisors who do business with public pensions; Arpeseche opposed the regulation.
Scott Bommer is the manager of hedge fund SAB Capital Management LP, based in New York City. Bommer is well known for his eye-catching real estate deals, making headlines for setting a New York City real estate record for paying $46 million to buy a co-op apartment — and then flipping it six months later for even more.
Beyond his high-profile personal real estate investments, Bommer is known as a strong supporter of the Republican party, regularly making five-figure donations to GOP party committees. The most recent round of donations to the party include donations of $32,400 apiece to the Republican National Committee, the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee and the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. Those donations alone, put him in the top-tier of donors who begin to start bumping up against the overall aggregate limits.
Bommer, whose wife makes almost identical donations in many situations, also gives large four-figure checks to Republican congressional candidates. While the Bommers are faithful in their regular large donations to Republican party committees, they have also strayed from the party line: Both donated the maximum amount to the campaign of Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., the former Newark mayor who last year won a special election that sent him to the U.S Capitol.
Bommer’s campaign donations are not limited to hard money to party organizations or candidates. In 2012, he donated $200,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC backing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, as well as $50,000 apiece to the super PACs Congressional Leadership Fund and Republicans for Immigration Reform.
Paul J. Isaac, of Larchmont, N.Y., is the founder and CEO of Fort Hoosac Management, which manages a hedge fund, Arbiter Partners. His longtime Republican credentials include membership on the American Enterprise Institute’s National Council, where he serves with David Koch of Koch Industries, a mega-donor to conservative causes, and Ken Mehlman, former chair of the Republican National Committee.
Isaac has turned up as a commenter on the market and financial conditions. In 2012, he wrote a letter to the Financial Times criticizing the performance of John Maynard Keynes, but as an investment manager, not an economist, and has suggested that rather than have the government bail out banks, managers should surrender part of their past compensation.
In the 2012 campaign cycle, Isaac gave $125,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and $200,000 to American Crossroads, the super PAC linked to GOP strategist Karl Rove. He also gave the maximum possible ($30,800) to each of the GOP’s main support structures in Washington: the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the National Republican Congressional Committee. His other contributions went exclusively to Republican candidates and committees as well, with one exception: Isaac maxed out to Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.
In addition to contributing more than $100,000 in hard money already in the 2014 cycle, Philip Geier has given at least that much to outside groups as well. Geier’s ambitions for financially supporting political causes clearly far exceed the current limits on individual donors, and did in the last cycle as well, when outside donations are taken into account.
Geier was chairman and CEO of the Interpublic Group of Companies, one of the “Big Four” advertising companies, from 1980 to 2000. He continues to consult and operate his own marketing firm, the Geier Group. Politically, he is conservative and among the largest donors to super PACs in the 2012 election. According to FEC records, he donated $1 million to the Karl Rove affiliated group American Crossroads, and $350,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC that supported Mitt Romney. So far in the 2014 cycle, Geier has given $100,000 to Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, a super PAC that is backing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in his bid for reelection.
Geier’s hard money donations for the cycle so far show a strong support for the Republican party — they include donations of $30,800 to all three major Republican party committees (the RNC, the NRSC and NRCC). Additionally, he has donated to Every Republican is Crucial (ERIC PAC), the leadership PAC of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
Geier’s firm does not lobby, but that doesn’t mean that Geier himself might not be bending congressional ears. His biography in the American Advertising’s Hall of Fame notes that he was the first chairman of the ad industry’s political action committee, PRO-AD PAC. He also launched the Ad Tax Coalition in 1991, which fought proposals to levy taxes on advertising. He “personally walk[ed] the halls of the Capitol building and [pled] the industry’s case to legislators,” his bio says.
Al Hill, Jr. is the grandson of oil tycoon H.L. Hunt, who was himself a prolific campaign donor and political activist. In 2008, the Hunt family sold Hunt Petroleum to XTO Energy for $4.2 billion in stock. Known for his playboy lifestyle, often covered in tabloids and Dallas gossip columns, Hill is not to be confused with his son, Al Hill III, who engaged in a lengthy series of legal battles with his family over inheritance money.
Like his grandfather, famous for his ultraconservative politics, Hill Jr. is a prolific donor to conservative causes and politicians. Like others on this list, he frequently, and regularly, donates the maximum to the Republican National Committee and other GOP organizations. In 2012, he donated $30,800 to the RNC, and a similar amount to the National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee. He has made similarly large donations to the RNC in this cycle. In the last three electoral cycles, Hill has supported dozens of Republican candidates, including members of the Republican congressional leadership, like Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Hill did not donate to any particular Republican presidential super PACs in 2012, but he did give $600,000 to American Crossroads, the super PAC run by Karl Rove. Besides these donations on the federal level, Hill is a prominent donor in Texas state politics, giving tens of thousands of dollars to Republican groups in the state.
Ellen Susman, the Houston-based star of her own PBS show, Balancing Your Life with Ellen Susman, has liberal spending habits to match her political views. She’s known as a top contributor for a number of candidates and an impressive bundler for the Obama campaign.
In 2012, the Houston Chronicle reported that she was the top female bundler in Texas for the Obama campaign. She was responsible for raising $1.1 million in campaign contributions. During that same cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, she gave $220,000 of her own money to various campaigns and party committees, coming very close to maxing out in direct contributions and then giving $100,000 more to Priorities USA Action, the super PAC that supported Obama’s reelection. Donations to super PACs are not counted against the aggregate limits.
Stephen Susman, Ellen Susman’s husband, offered this rationale for the couple’s mega-fundraising efforts in the last election cycle to the Houston Chronicle: “If Romney is elected he will appoint one to three justices that are just like (Samuel) Alito and (Antonin) Scalia, which could change jurisprudence in the country for a century – not a decade, not a generation, a century,” he said.
Stephen Susman is a lawyer and founding partner at Susman Godfrey, LLP., a firm with offices in Dallas, Houston, Seattle, Los Angeles and New York. He’s a high-priced litigator. A 2008 ABA Journal profile revealed he’s billed at least one client $1,100 an hour. So far in the 2014 election cycle, only $32,000 in contributions have been attributed to employees of his firm, but the last election cycle saw more than $967,000 in contributions from employees of the law firm and their family members.
The couple doesn’t support only presidential candidates. Campaign finance records show that the Susmans and members of Susman’s firm gave just over $30,000 to the successful campaign of Cory Booker, a Democratic superstar who won an open New Jersey Senate seat last year. That money includes contributions from Susman and her husband. Ellen Susman also hosted a fundraiser for Booker.
El Paso, Texas-based oilman Paul Foster rejoined the Forbes world billionaire list in 2013 thanks to soaring stock prices of the oil refining company he founded. A Baylor University graduate, Foster first entered the oil industry as an accountant before founding Western Refining in 1997, Forbes reported. Though Western Refining, which operates oil refineries and convenience stores across Texas and the Southwest, has not lobbied on Capitol Hill since 2007, the organization is no stranger to the federal government. In June 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency levied a $1.45 million fine against the company for violations of the Clean Air Act by its El Paso refinery. The company’s New Mexico branch earned a prior fine in 2010 for illegally disposing of hazardous waste (Benzene) and failing to properly monitor discharges of pollutants. Foster has personally given hundreds of thousands of dollars to GOP candidates on both the federal and state levels and appears to favor giving to party leaders and Texans rather than members of any particular brand of conservatism. In 2013 the Texan has already contributed multiple five-figure sums to major players like the Republican National Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee and the committees of Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
While the vast majority of his hard money gifts go to Republicans, Foster also contributed the maximum individual contribution of $5,200 to Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas.
Foster’s political contributions stretch back to at least 2001, but the billionaire did not join the ranks of the nation’s top donors until the 2012 presidential cycle, when he wrote $100,000 checks to super PACs American Crossroads and Make Us Great Again (supporting Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential bid). After the Perry campaign fizzled, it appears Foster threw his financial muscle behind Mitt Romney, co-hosting a high-priced fundraiser for the Republican nominee’s joint fundraising committee alongside Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio and a clutch of other energy executives. The Western Refining founder chipped in $100,000 to a joint fundraising committee for Romney, the RNC and several state parties, the Romney Victory Committee, among a host of other contributions made in that year.
Foster may face even more pleas from political fundraisers with the recent passing of two billionaire Republican donors from the Lone Star State. Homebuilder Bob Perry and businessman Harold Simmons — who have each contributed millions to conservative causes — both passed away in 2013.
They’ll have some competition from Foster’s other interests: He gave $35 million dollars to his alma mater to support the construction of a new business school facility. In 2011, the magnate gave $50 million to the Texas Tech University system to establish a Medical School in El Paso.
Allan Hubbard has been giving to Republican candidates for more than two decades and the size of his donations have grown with the years. In 1990, he made his first contributions, giving just $1,000 to political candidates. He’s given more than 1,000 times that amount just halfway through the current election cycle, more than $100,000.
Hubbard doesn’t just give to politicians. He’s also worked for them. From 1992 to 1993 he took a break from E&A Industries in Indiana, a company focusing on acquisitions that he founded in 1977, to serve as deputy chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle and executive director of the President’s Council on Competitiveness during George H.W. Bush’s term as president. The Council targeted federal regulations opposed by industry groups. At the time, Hubbard was criticized because he owned stock in companies that would have benefited from deregulation sought by the Council.
Later, during the younger Bush’s administration he served as the assistant to the president for economic policy and director of the National Economic Council.
Hubbard has contributed to politicians and party committees in and out of his home state of Indiana. So far in the 2014 election cycle, he’s maxed out his contributions to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and given smaller amounts to other House Republicans, all of whom entered office in 2010 or later. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., one of the beneficiaries of Hubbard’s donations, might put an asterisk on that. Though he won his Senate seat in 2010, he served in the House of Representatives between 1989 and 1999.
After the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. the FEC in 2010, Hubbard added super PACs to his list of recipients. He gave American Crossroads $10,000 in both 2010 and 2012.
Ken Kies has spent more than 30 years in Washington, spinning through the revolving door, building an expertise as a top Republican tax expert. Now a registered lobbyist, Kies is managing director of the Federal Policy Group, a Washington lobbying firm that specializes in tax policy. Among his listed clients are some of the most prominent names in corporate America, and Washington’s influence game: Pfizer, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Anheuser-Busch InBev, General Electric, Microsoft and the American Bankers Association, just to name a few. In just the first three quarters of 2013, the firm reported being paid $3.5 million by clients.
Kies started in Washington with lobbying firm Baker & Hostetler, working in the tax division, and spent much of the 1980s and 1990s, spinning through the revolving door, between Baker & Hostetler and working as a top-ranking aide for the Republicans on congressional committees.
In the 2012 presidential election, GOP candidate Mitt Romney refused to release the names of bundlers — the elite group of fundraisers who tap their networks of friends and colleagues and “bundle” donations that far exceed what they themselves can donate. The exception, however, were registered lobbyists, who the campaign was legally required to disclose — and Kies was one. According to campaign disclosures, Kies bundled about $72,000 for the Romney campaign.
Since 1990, his own personal political contributions top $1.2 million, putting him in the highest echelon of donors. So far in the 2014 cycle he has written checks of $32,400 to the NRCC and NRSC. Additionally, he has contributed to the political campaigns of close to a dozen congressional Republicans and the leadership PACs of Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio and Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the powerful tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
Edmund and Beatriz Schweitzer
Edmund O. Schweitzer III, an inventor known for having transformed the operation of the electric power grid, has also built a political power grid of his own. An engineer who is the owner of more than two dozen patents for electrical devices, according to an MIT profile, Schweitzer is also an active supporter of Republican candidates.
Schweitzer, his wife Beatriz, other family members who work for his company and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories itself have contributed more than $1.4 million to Republican candidates and causes since the early 1990s, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute of Money in Politics and downloaded via Influence Explorer. Last year, Schweitzer hosted a fundraiser in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, records in Political Party Time reveal.
His company manufactures products for communication, electrical transmission and power system protection and as such attracts considerable interest from the government as this proposed fix of a digital vulnerability suggests. A petition on file at the Department of Energy showed that Schweitzer won a $1.7 million contract for an anti-malware program.
That’s just one piece of a huge portfolio of business that Schweitzer Labs has with the government: Data downloaded from the Federal Procurement Data Systems show the company with $29 million in government contracts; another government website, USASpending, shows Schweitzer Engineering winning $13.1 million in federal grants, with nearly half that amount coming last year, when the company was awarded more than $6.2 million by the Department of Energy to perform research and development in energy conservation.
In an emailed response to questions about his giving, Schweitzer did not say whether he planned to up his political contributions if the Supreme Court allows it. But he noted that his company does not spend money on lobbying. “The only thing we ask for is a flat, free, fair and open playing field,” Schweitzer said. “We like to visit Capitol Hill and say, ‘We thought you’d like to talk to someone who is not going to ask you for anything.’”
One of the beneficiaries of Schweitzer’s political largesse, home state Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, R-Wash., has twice taken to the floor of the House to praise him, according to records pulled via Sunlight’s Capitol Words API. In 2012, Rogers likened Schweitzer to Ben Franklin, and three years earlier she hailed his company’s 25th anniversary.
The Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, which Schweitzer founded in his basement in 1982, now boasts more than 3,600 employees in offices around the globe. The company has no records of lobbying in Washington, but its government relations director, Susan Fagan, was a frequent donor to state and federal campaigns between 2001 and 2008. Fagan is now a state legislator in Washington state.