Since the beginning of the 2014 campaign cycle last year, 14 donors — running the gamut from a hedge fund manager to a gay rights activist to a little-known Salt Lake City venture capitalist — have given $100,000 or more to President Barack Obama’s avowedly uncampaign committee, Organizing for Action (OFA). Another 26 have ponied up $10,000 or more.
Organizing for Action’s $100,000+ Club
An analysis of the donor list by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Sunlight Foundation underscores why OFA, which will be closing the books on its second quarter in two weeks, has announced a fundraising timeout: Many of OFA’s donors, when checked against CRP data, turn out to be major political givers with long histories of backing Democratic candidates.
Small wonder that Democratic party officials wanted an opportunity for them to, as OFA spokeswoman Katie Hogan told the Associated Press, “shift their focus” — namely to this fall’s congressional midterm elections.
We’re able to provide this analysis in part because OFA has so far been willing to provide names of its contributors, something that most politically-active groups organized under section 501(c) of the U.S. tax code refuse to do.
But it took additional technical and reporting work by both Sunlight and CRP for us to fully background the donors that OFA identified only by name and hometown. The information OFA chooses to provide about its contributors falls far short of what the Federal Election Commission requires of campaign committees. Among the key missing details: contributors’ employment information, which helps the public identify the interests behind a politician.
Other problems with the disclosure:
- Discovery difficulties: Finding OFA’s donor list is a far from intuitive process. From the group’s home page, scroll all the way down to the fine print at the bottom and click on “Frequently Asked Questions.” On that page, use the drop down menu to see the answer to the fourth question from the bottom: “Does OFA publicly disclose its finances?” At the very end of the text, there’s a hyperlink to this page, the first of 26 where the names of donors are listed.
- The disappearing act: When we went through the above process two weeks ago, the link to the donor page produced an error message. After several emails to OFA, the information reappeared on the page. The episode illustrates the capriciousness of “voluntary” disclosure. What is given can easily be taken away.
- Unwieldiness: Donors are listed alphabetically and the list is not sortable. That forces interested citizens to leaf through 26 web pages to find names, which makes finding patterns in the data nearly impossible.
Joining together, the Center for Responsive Politics and Sunlight have solved these problems. We have made the entire list of OFA donors searchable and sortable. And, using research from CRP’s extensive database of campaign contributors, we’ve added details about donors who have the longest histories of political giving. The complete list is here.
OFA discloses more than it’s legally required to, to its credit. But this administration has reached for historic highs in terms of transparency, and OFA’s closeness to the president calls for more openness.
Meanwhile, here are profiles of the donors who have given OFA $100,000 or more since Jan. 1, 2013:
David Shaw, $1,000,000
Shaw’s first firm, established in 1988, employs more than 1,000 and manages some $32 billion in investments; the second one does research in the esoteric field of computational biochemistry.
Both exploit the mathematical talents and interests of Shaw, a former Columbia University computer science professor whose net worth Forbes puts at $4 billion.
Shaw served on the White House Council of Advisors on Science and Technology under two Democratic presidents: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Along with his wife, best-selling personal finance writer Beth Kobliner, he has given some $4.5 million to federal and state candidates, almost all of them Democratic, according to data downloaded from Sunlight Foundation’s Influence Explorer and compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Among the chief recipients of the couple’s largesse: the pro-Democratic Priorities USA Action super PAC (which got $1.3 million), the Obama Victory Fund ($138,800) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (more than $30,000).
Shaw’s research firm does not show up in federal lobbying records, but his investment firm has spent more than $1.2 million since 1989 lobbying Congress on a range of issues, including bankruptcy and labor law and, after D.E. Shaw Company acquired a wall board manufacturer seeking bankruptcy protection because of asbestos claims, the legislation governing asbestos liabilities.
Amy Goldman Fowler, $750,000
A real estate heiress and philanthropist who counts gardening and seed-saving among her causes, Amy Goldman Fowler has also provided seed money for numerous Democratic undertakings. She’s a reliable supporter of Democratic candidates, but has shown particular interest in organizations related to President Obama and the party.
Fowler’s father, Sol Goodman, was one of the largest investors in New York City real estate in the 1980s and left his daughter with a sizable inheritance. Other than roles with gardening groups that promote heritage plants and seed saving, like the Seed Savers Exchange (she stepped down from a leadership role in that group recently), she isn’t tied to any particular commercial causes or special interests.
According to campaign finance records, Fowler has given $4.8 million at the federal level since 1998, and not a dime of it went to a GOP candidate, PAC or party organization. While a staunch Democrat from the start, her donations didn’t begin in earnest until 2008, the first cycle in which she gave more than $100,000. But in 2012, Fowler made her name as one of the biggest supporters of Democratic causes, giving more than $3.8 million to Democratic and liberal candidates, party committees and super PACs. Fowler gave the biggest amount, $1.5 million, to Planned Parenthood Votes, and another $1 million to Priorities USA Action, the super PAC that supported Obama. She also gave $500,000 to House Majority PAC, the super PAC supporting House Democrats, and $250,000 to American Bridge 21st Century, the Democratic opposition research super PAC.
Fowler also gave $250,000 to Obama’s second inaugural committee in January 2013.
Her support for Democrats, and in particular President Obama, has continued in the 2014 cycle. In 2013, she donated $500,000 to OFA, adding another $250,000 in the first quarter of 2014, making her the group’s second largest donor to date.
And so far in the 2014 cycle, Fowler has given $250,000 to Emily’s List, the 527 that supports female Democratic candidates. And, on the day of the McCutcheon v. FEC Supreme Court decision, which removed aggregate limits on individual donors, she wrote a $32,400 check to the Democratic National Committee, which put her donations to party groups for the cycle over $90,000 and made her one of the first donors in the country to exceed the old limits.
Ryan Smith, $351,260
Smith, who styles himself variously as “self-employed,” “unemployed” and a “venture capitalist,” according to campaign finance reports, first surfaced as a political donor in 2011 when he made several relatively modest (under $1,000) donations to Obama’s reelection campaign.
By the middle of the following year, Smith had upped the ante considerably, with a series of contributions to the president’s joint fundraising committee, Obama Victory Fund, that totalled more than $73,300. On two consecutive days in July 2013, Smith gave $40,000. Last year, made a $25,000 contribution to American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic opposition research operation.
Though he shares a name with a different Ryan Smith who founded a hugely successful Utah software company, the sources of this Smith’s funds and his interests remain mysterious. The address he provides via campaign finance forms is listed by the real estate firm Zwillow as that of a 5,800-square-foot house valued at more than $3 million. His firm, Variance Ventures, is registered with the state of Utah but has no address or phone number. Smith serves on the board of Impact Hub Salt Lake, a startup incubator; a message sent him via the organization was not returned.
John D. and Marcia Goldman, $325,000
The Goldmans are San Francisco-based philanthropists, known for their support of that city’s arts and music community as well as their involvement with the Goldman Environmental Prize. John D. Goldman’s father, Richard, became wealthy in the insurance business and went on to be a prominent California philanthropist, founding the environmental prize and making substantial donations to the University of California-Berkeley. John Goldman followed in his father’s footsteps, working in California state government and then the insurance industry, but now devotes much of his time to philanthropy via the John and Marcia Goldman foundation, which took over the assets of the Richard and Rhonda Goldman Foundation. The two groups have given out more than $700 million since the 1950s.
But not all of the couple’s donations are charitable: Since 1990, they have made more than $2.3 million in political contributions, according to FEC records. The donations, none of which went to any Republicans, have ebbed and flowed over the years, with much higher levels of giving in presidential election years, but the couple’s gifts have been well into the six-figure range every cycle since 2004. In 2012, the couple combined to give $691,000. Already in 2014, they have given $519,000.
The couple are loyal to the Democratic party, with the largest recipient of their donations over the years being the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has received at least $430,000 from them. They have also been supportive of the newer super PACs with close ties to the party, giving $220,000 to House Majority PAC, the super PAC supporting House Democrats, and $200,000 to Priorities USA — the super PAC supporting President Obama’s 2012 election.
Barbara Grasseschi and Anthony Crabb, $285,000
Longtime Democratic donors Barbara Grasseschi and Anthony Crabb have each contributed more than $300,000 to federal and state parties and candidates since the early 2000s. In the 2012 elections, Grasseschi was also a “bundler” for President Barack Obama’s campaign, raising between $200,000 and $500,000 for his reelection. She and Crabb founded Puma Vineyards in California. Crabb, born in England, was a high-tech executive in Silicon Valley before purchasing the vineyard; now his occupation is frequently listed as “farmer” on candidate reports. The couple is active in supporting gay and lesbian rights. In 2008, they contributed $36,500 to several groups opposing a California initiative that would have eliminated the right of same sex couples to marry, according to California campaign finance records. (While the initiative passed, it was later overturned by the courts.)
The couple also run a foundation, the Anthony Crabb and Barbara Grasseschi Foundation, which reported $5.3 million in assets in 2012, according to tax forms. The foundation’s largest donation that year was $100,000 to the Committee for Charlotte, the official host committee for the 2012 Democratic convention.
Unlike other top donors to OFA, Crabb’s donations are not exclusively to Democrats — his very first donation was $1,000 to Sen. John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign. Starting in 2002, however, most of his donations were not only to Democrats, but show support for the more liberal wing of the party. In 2004, for example, he donated to the presidential campaign of Wesley Clark, sent $7,200 to MoveOn.org and $500 to then Senate-candidate Barack Obama — but gave no money to the Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry, or the DNC. That changed in 2006, when Crabb began donating to Democratic party groups and began focusing his donations on top California Democrats and his own representative, Mike Thompson, often considered a “Blue Dog” moderate.
Mark Gallogly, $200,000
Co-founder and of the hedge fund Centerbridge Partners Limited, Gallogly has contributed generously over the years largely to Democratic candidates and causes, distributing at least $869,560 at the federal and state levels. His largesse has also extended to a few Republicans, including George Bush in 1999, John McCain, Elizabeth Dole, and John Warner.
He was an early supporter of President Barack Obama, contributing $2,300 to his campaign in March 2007. He also bundled between $200,000 and $500,000 for the president’s 2008 campaign and at least $500,000 for the 2012 campaign. In 2012, he co-hosted a fundraiser in New York benefiting the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee.
While most of his cash has gone to party committees and candidates, he did give $10,000 to Americans for Responsible Solutions in 2013, the Super PAC started by Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, to work against gun violence.
Gallogly has been no stranger in Washington, where the Obama administration clearly sees him as a friendly voice among often hostile Wall Street executives. In 2009, Obama appointed him to serve on his Economic Recovery Advisory Board; in 2011, Obama named him as a member of the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. This year, he was listed on the invite list for this state dinner with French president Francois Hollande. He also met several times with Treasury Department officials to discuss various aspects of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
While Gallogly’s firm, Centerbridge Partners, is not registered to lobby at the federal level, the firm invests in companies that do. For example, Centerbridge has owned a stake in Santander Consumer USA, which this year reported lobbying on the issue of auto loans.
Kenneth Levine, $200,000
Kenneth Levine is a venture capitalist who has held executive positions in several cybersecurity companies — but politically, he’s been betting on the same horse all along: the Democratic Party.
Levine has helped companies secure government contracts since the 1980s. As a top executive at Cabletron Systems, a defunct computer product company co-founded by his brother, Bob Levine, he oversaw federal government operations, which grew to earn $300 million for the company, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
In 2006, Levine became the CEO of NitroSecurity, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based security software company which he had previously invested in through his venture capital firm Brookline Venture Partners. Since 2007, the company has earned close to $11 million providing data systems protection services to the Department of Defense, NASA and other government agencies.
When NitroSecurity was purchased by McAfee in 2011, Levine stayed on to work as strategic director of the security tech giant. McAfee, a subsidiary of Intel, is one of the two companies providing anti-virus software to the Department of Defense. Levine left the company this March to become head of Verdasys, a cybersecurity firm based in Waltham, Massachusetts. Just a day before he was announced as the company’s CEO, he gave $32,400 to the Democratic National Committee.
Levine had already been a source of major financial support for the Democrats. He spent more than $80,000 to back Obama’s re-election bid through donations to his campaign and joint fundraising committee, the Obama Victory Fund. In the last two years, he has donated to the campaigns of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen,D-N.H., Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. and former Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.
During Obama’s re-election bid, Levine provided fodder for Democratic National Committee talking points, describing what he saw as Mitt Romney‘s detrimental impact on small business owners in Massachusetts during Romney’s tenure as governor. Levine, who was at the time CEO of the Boston-based NitroSecurity, said during a press conference call that “if you lived in Massachusetts while Romney was governor, it became harder to start up a business,” according to prepared statements on the Democratic National Committee’s website.
Jon Stryker, $200,000
Obama’s reelection bid was only one of several pet projects that Jon L. Stryker has backed with copious funding.
In 2012, the billionaire heir to a medical device manufacturer gave $2 million to Priorities USA Action, the super PAC backing Obama’s campaign. With an estimated net worth of $1.4 billion, Stryker makes the Forbes 400 list along with his sisters, Pat and Ronda, who themselves gave $50,000 each to fund Obama’s inauguration festivities. The three siblings are major shareholders in Stryker Corp., which was founded in 1941 by their grandfather Homer Stryker, inventor of the mobile hospital bed. Last year, the company made $9 billion from selling artificial joints and other medical devices, according to Forbes.
Stryker has also established himself as a financial force in state legislative races in Michigan, which is home to the Kalamazoo-based Stryker Corp. In 2006, he created and gave $4.6 million to the Michigan Coalition for Progress, a political action committee that targets state Republican lawmakers. Just two years earlier, his sister Pat’s contributions to a $1.6 million outside spending fund helped topple both Republican-held legislative chambers in Colorado.
But Stryker, who is also an architect, has a diversified portfolio of philanthropic causes. In 2000, he created the Arcus Foundation, the largest funder of LGBT causes in the world, according to the Washington Blade. The foundation also focuses on the preservation of apes and their habitats; an endangered Burmese species with a reputation for sneezing in the rain was even named after him, Rhinopithecus strykerie.
And the billionaire has the weight to advocate his causes at the highest echelons. In February 2012, he met at the White House with Jon Carson, then director of Obama’s Office of Public Engagement and, since January 2013, executive director of Organizing For Action. He was accompanied by Wayne Pacelle, head of the Humane Society of The United States, Annette Lanjouw, who heads the Arcus Foundation’s great apes conservation arm, and Mark O’Donnell, the companion to former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey who, according to New Jersey business magazine NJBiz, also managed Stryker’s personal finances. Stryker subsequently attended six receptions held by the president in the course of two years.
Despite Stryker’s liberal politics, Stryker Corp. has been hostile to certain portions of Obama’s signature health care overhaul. The firm lobbied against a 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices that CEO Kevin Lobo said would cost the company $100 million per year. In 2011, Stryker Corp. announced a round of layoffs affecting 1,000 employees — 5 percent of its workforce — before the tax took effect in 2013.
Stryker Corp. was also the subject of an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which found that the firm had bribed foreign officials and clients through its overseas subsidiaries. Last year, it agreed to pay more than $13.2 million to the agency to settle the charges.
Laure Woods $190,550
Laure Woods, formerly Laure Woods Kastanis, is a Bay Area philanthropist and a director of the L.K. Whittier Foundation.
Woods previously worked in clinical research positions at pharmaceutical companies in the Bay Area. She currently heads the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, which she formed after being diagnosed with the disease, and the Laurel Foundation, which focuses on programs for underserved women and children.
Woods has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic committees across the country. Recently the philanthropist has organized fundraisers with the Progressive Women of Silicon Valley, a group of female donors that supports “EMILY’S List, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Organizing for Action” according to its website. The women’s group helped raise campaign money for Allison Lundergan Grimes of Kentucky in May and will help EMILY’S List to fête Senate hopeful Natalie Tennant (D) of West Virginia in June.
In April of this year, Woods gave $60,000 to Women Vote!, a super PAC associated with the abortion rights group, on top of her $95,000 in first quarter contributions to Organizing for Action.
Woods is not new to the political fundraising circuit, however.
FEC data shows that Woods was also a major player in the 2012 election cycle — making more than $190,000 in political contributions, including $80,000 to the North Carolina state Democratic Party, $56,300 to the Obama Victory Committee and several thousand dollars to federal Democratic committees in various states.
Woods’ giving to OFA has jumped in 2014 — her $95,000 contribution to the political nonprofit in the first quarter nearly matched her total giving to the group for all of 2013 ($95,500).
Wayne Jordan and Mary Quinn Delaney, $150,000
Wayne Jordan is the founder and principal of Jordan Real Estate Investments of Oakland, Calif., a real estate investment firm with holdings in Oakland, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Jordan and his wife, Mary Quinn Delaney, were some of the earliest backers of Obama’s upstart bid for the presidency and have continued to be major financial backers of the president’s campaign-turned-advocacy arm. Their support for Obama, however, extends much further.
The couple held a fundraiser for then-Sen. Obama in 2007 at their Piedmont, Calif. home, where attendees who contributed $2,300 or more had the chance to mingle with the candidate and enjoy food from celebrity chef Alice Waters.
That cycle saw Jordan bring in between $50,000-$100,000 in hard money contributions to Obama’s campaign, according to its 2008 campaign ‘bundlers’ list compiled by OpenSecrets.org. Four years later, that figure skyrocketed to more than $500,000 bundled for the campaign, followed by $250,336 to the president’s second inaugural committee.
Jordan has given more than $1.7 million to state and federal committees (including super PACs) since 1996, including $200,000 went to Priorities USA in 2012, the super PAC backing Obama’s presidential bid. The developer has also poured $400,000 in to American Bridge 21st Century, the Democratic opposition research group.
Influence Explorer reveals his Delaney, a lawyer who formerly served on the Northern California ACLU’s board, has given at least $933,858 to federal committees, including $100,000 each to the House Majority PAC and Planned Parenthood Votes in 2012.
Jordan and Delaney are active in a number of philanthropic organizations in California, including the Akonadi Foundation, which supports the “development of a powerful social change movement to eliminate structural racism and create a racially just society” through grant making.
According to the same foundation website, Jordan serves on the “investment committee” of Democracy Alliance, a Democratic ‘dark money’ group dubbed “the liberal answer to the Koch donor network” by Mother Jones. The organization’s “dynamic investments” — which include Organizing for Action — can be seen in documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon this May.
William H. Freeman, $135,000
A co-founder of real estate investment and management firm Freeman Webb in Nashville, Bill Freeman learned party loyalty the hard way. He had to resign about a month after being named treasurer of the Tennessee Democratic Party in early 2009 amid criticism of earlier contributions he’d made to Republicans — including GOP opponents of the sitting Democratic governor, Phil Bredesen, and the Republican National Committee.
Freeman hasn’t contributed to a single Republican since, records show, and has strengthened his Democratic bona fides by giving, with his wife Barbara, more than $429,000 to various Democratic candidates, party committees and other entities at the federal level from 2009 through 2013; the largest was a $100,000 gift to the liberal opposition research group American Bridge. For Obama, besides investing in both of the president’s campaigns, he raised at least $500,000 for him in 2012; he also sent checks to help fund both the 2009 ($30,000) and 2013 ($75,000) inaugurals. And he’s written op-eds for his local newspaper in support of Obamacare. One return on all this: Bill and Barbara Freeman have visited the White House at least half-a-dozen times since Obama took office for various events, including the state dinner for British Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012.
In February, Freeman — who in 2012 said former Vice President Al Gore was the person, other than his family, with whom he’d most like to spend time on an island — hosted a fundraiser for Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., which reportedly raised about $100,000. And he may be investing more heavily in the Clintons: Last month, Freeman threw a fundraiser for the Clinton Foundation at his home, complete with the former president in attendance.
Freeman has said he’s considering running for mayor in Nashville in 2015.
Sandra McNeil-Rogers $125,100
As Sunlight reported last year, Sandra McNeil-Rogers of Morristown appears to be the same Sandra Rogers who won over $100 million in New Jersey’s 2010 “Powerball” sweepstakes.
She was not a major political donor before the multi-million dollar windfall but, since then has become a prolific giver to Democratic causes, accounting for more than $100,000 to Democratic committees since winning the lottery.
In addition to her support of Organizing for Action, McNeil-Rogers was a $30,500 contributor to the president’s 2013 inaugural committee. She has also given to charitable organizations like Aids Walk New York and the Jersey Battered Women’s Service.
Bonus donor: Coming in under the six-figure mark but interesting enough to warrant a profile is:
Paul Boskind, $70,000
A psychologist in San Antonio, Texas, Boskind is the owner and CEO of Deer Oaks EAP Services, a behavioral healthcare company that offers “Employee Assistance, Elder Assistance, and psychological assessment and treatment services throughout the United States.”
Boskind is a long time supporter of Democratic candidates and causes, and has contributed exclusively to Democratic candidates and party committees, as well as a few liberal PACs, over the last 10 years; his gifts total more than $250,000. After supporting Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid in 2008, Boskind bundled between $100,000 and $200,000 for President Obama’s re-election in 2012.
Boskind, who is gay, has also given generously to LGBT organizations like Human Rights Campaign and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. He sits on the board of both groups.
He’s active in other organizations promoting liberal or progressive causes, as well. More than just a donor to OFA, he’s an advisory board member. He was also recently listed as a “New Partner” of Democracy Alliance — a secretive group of wealthy liberal donors — according to documents discovered by the Washington Free Beacon.
Boskind’s support for liberal causes in general and the president in particular has not gone unnoticed, it appears. According to White House visitor logs, Boskind has made more than a dozen trips to the White House.