TO THOSE WHO dislike the fact that 527s can accept limitless donations, supporters like Callahan point out that givers are cut off from the candidate completely, and thus cannot be involved in any sort of quid pro quo or pay-for-access arrangement. That claim’s a stretch — a half-million donation to a Democratic-leaning 527 surely has more value to John Kerry than $2000 given to his personal campaign, so it’s at least as likely to be tainted. But in reality, the wealthy have always given huge sums to progressive organizations — through 501(c)(3) organizations, which are your common, everyday foundation. Those groups can’t get away with the kind of electioneering that 527s can, but they come awfully close. So, if nobody’s had a problem with huge donations to 501s, why the grousing about 527s? At least with 527s, unlike 501s, the donations are publicly reported.
Even so, with such large amounts of money involved, the question remains whether these mega-donors are in the game to advance their own self-interest. Grossman, who knows "some of the individuals" on the $50 million–Dems list, says that the ones he knows give based purely on ideology. "They have a passionate belief in America, a passionate belief in inclusion, and a passionate belief that people should participate in a democracy," he says. "I have an enormous respect for what they are doing."
So does Scott Klinger, co-director of Responsible Wealth, a Boston-based organization through which rich people lobby against their own financial interests — in favor of the estate tax, for example. "People giving to 527s, they’re not looking for a payoff," Klinger says. "George Soros has enough money, he could buy a small island and never deal with any of us again."
Corporations have been known to cover their bets by contributing to both the Democratic and Republican Parties, but the donors on our Dirty Dozen list are not playing both sides. Not one of the 12 has given to a Republican or conservative cause in this election cycle.
For their trouble, these big givers are setting themselves up as targets for the right wing. So far, Soros has been the only one publicly hit: the National Republican Senatorial Committee has labeled him an "out-of-touch, left-wing radical" with an "extreme agenda." Ickes says he has had meetings with people who would like to give, but don’t want that kind of public grief. "They’re not naive — when you weigh in against this president, that’s what you’ll get."
And lastly, remember that the jaw-dropping chunks of cash listed below should be viewed in context. A few years ago, Peter Lewis bought a yacht for $16.5 million; that he is willing to spend as much on the future of the free world should perhaps not be so surprising.
THE DEMS’ DIRTY DOZEN
1) Peter B. Lewis
Chair, Progressive Corp., Cleveland, Ohio
$14,038,000 total election-cycle contributions
• $14,030,000 to 527s
$7,750,000 Joint Victory Campaign
$2,995,000 America Coming Together
$485,000 Marijuana Policy Project
$250,000 Young Democrats of America
• $8000 in hard money
Lewis is chair of Progressive Corp., the automobile-insurance company, which he took over from his father in 1965. He has done well with it: Lewis, 68, has a net worth estimated by Forbes at $1.1 billion.
A lover of art and architecture, he has given huge sums in the past to museums and other institutions. Political giving, and progressive causes in particular, seem to be a more recent avocation. In the late 1990s, Lewis donated relatively small amounts to candidates of both parties. In the last presidential contest, he gave $500 to George W. Bush and $2000 to Ralph Nader. Apparently, his mind has changed.
Oh, yes — he’s also a known pothead. "Marijuana is, for almost everybody who uses it, a positive," Lewis told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2002. This was two years after he got caught leaving New Zealand with hashish and marijuana.
2) George Soros
Chair, Soros Fund Management, New York City
$12,481,250 total election-cycle contributions
• $12,400,000 to 527s
$5,000,000 America Coming Together
$4,550,000 Joint Victory Campaign
$300,000 Campaign for America’s Future
$50,000 New Democrat Network
• $81,250 in hard money
International financier George Soros, worth an estimated $7 billion, according to Forbes magazine, has been the most visible face of the 527s. His contributions have been profiled in USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. In the past, Soros’s philanthropy has been relatively apolitical, but voluminous: he gives $450 million a year through his Open Society Institute to promote freedom worldwide, according to his spokesperson, Michael Vachon.
The Bush administration’s foreign policy, which Soros took to task in his recent book The Bubble of American Supremacy: Correcting the Misuse of American Power, seems to have driven his desire to influence the upcoming election. "Soros has never given to Democrats before," Ickes says. "He is very outspoken and articulate about his deep, deep concern about where George Bush is taking this country, both abroad and domestically."
3) Stephen Bing
Writer/producer, Encino, California
$8,210,424 total election-cycle contributions
• $8,186,924 to 527s
$6,964,846 Joint Victory Campaign
$150,000 Americans for Progress and Opportunity
$100,651 Campaign for America’s Future
• $23,500 in hard money
Bing is almost certainly the only person on this list who has had sex with Elizabeth Hurley. Grandson of New York real-estate mogul Leo Bing — and heir apparent to a reported $600 million — 39-year-old Stephen has led a Hollywood-playboy life that includes a tabloid-cover child-support battle with Hurley and dueling lawsuits with Sean Penn. His film credits include directing the forgettable 1993 Judd Nelson thriller Every Breath, writing the screenplay for 2003’s Kangaroo Jack, and producing 2004’s The Big Bounce.
This is not Bing’s first political plunge; in 2002 he gave $8,675,000 to the Democratic Party in soft-money donations, making him the second-largest giver (behind Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers TV producer Haim Saban) during that election cycle. Bing also gave $900,000 to John Edwards’s New American Optimists PAC in 2002.page 1 page 2 page 3
Issue Date: July 23 - 29, 2004
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