GOP donor John Jordan, shaking a bottle of wine at a scantily clad woman in his parody video "Blurred Vines."
Meet John Jordan. As National Journal's Shane Goldmacher writes, Jordan runs his own vineyard, flies his own planes, cuts his own pop-song music video parodies (here he is with some barely clothed women in "Blurred Vines")—oh, and he's a huge donor to Republican candidates and committees. He raised and donated seven figures for Karl Rove's Crossroads organization in the 2012 cycle. Last year, he went solo, pumping $1.4 million into his own super-PAC, the deceptively named Americans for Progressive Action, in an effort to elect Republican Gabriel Gomez in a Massachusetts special US Senate election. (Gomez lost by 10 points.)
Goldmacher visited Jordan at this 1,450-acre vineyard in northern California and came back with no shortage of juicy quotes and flamboyant details. For all his political giving, it turns out, Jordan doesn't really like politicians:
"I'm not trying to spoon with them," he says. "I don't care. In fact, I try to avoid—I go out of my way to avoid meeting candidates and politicians." Why? "All too often, these people are so disappointing that it's depressing. Most of these people you meet, they're unemployable... It's just easier not to know."
Jordan dishes on Rove and his Crossroads operation, which spent $325 million during the 2012 election season with little success:
"With Crossroads all you got was, Karl Rove would come and do his little rain dance," Jordan says. He didn't complain aloud so much as stew. "You write them the check and they have their investors' conference calls, which are"—Jordan pauses here for a full five seconds, before deciding what to say next—"something else. You learn nothing. They explain nothing. They don't disclose anything even to their big donors." (Crossroads communications director Paul Lindsay responded via email, "We appreciated Mr. Jordan's support in 2012 and his frequent input since then." Rove declined to comment.)
Jordan's thoughts on his super-PAC's $1.4 million flop in 2013 offer a telling glimpse into the world of mega-donors, the type of people who can drop six or seven figures almost on a whim:
Jordan had blown through more than $1.4 million in two weeks on a losing effort—and he loved every second of it. "I never had any illusions about the probability of success. At the same time, somebody has to try, and you never know. You lose 100 percent of the shots you don't take, so why not do it?" he says. "And I've always thought it would be fun to do, and I had a great time doing it, frankly." Now, Jordan says that the Gomez race was just the beginning—a $1.4 million "potential iceberg tip" of future political efforts.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a rising star in the Republican Party, says she's not interested in running for national office, even as she's name-dropped by pundits and party luminaries as a potential 2016 candidate for vice president or even president. Here's another strong indication of her party-wide appeal: Every major Republican leader on Capitol Hill, from House Speaker John Boehner to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, is featured on the guest list for a May 21 fundraiser for Martinez in a tony neighborhood just outside Washington, DC.
According to an invitation obtained by Mother Jones, other "honored guests" slated to attend Martinez's event in Chevy Chase, Maryland, include: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, House budget committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, National Republican Senatorial Committee chair Sen. Jerry Moran, and National Republican Congressional Committee chair Rep. Greg Walden. A handful of US senators (John McCain, Jeff Flake), ex-governors, lobbyists, and DC-area consultants are also set to attend.
The fundraiser will be held at the $2.2 million home of Susan Neely, the president and CEO of the American Beverage Association, the soft-drink industry lobby. The host committee includes the American Beverage Association, DC mega-fundraiser Fred Malek, former Gov. Tom Ridge, and a slew of DC-area consultants and donors.
Days after Martinez's fundraiser, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is scheduled to join her in New Mexico to raise cash for her reelection campaign. When it comes to the money chase, Martinez is trouncing the five Democrats vying for the chance to defeat her in November: As of mid-April, her campaign had $4.2 million in the bank, while the best-funded of her potential challengers, Alan Webber, had only $440,000 on hand.
Read the invitation to Martinez's May 21 fundraiser:
For the first time since the McCutcheon v. FEC decision, the Supreme Court's latest ruling further rolling back restrictions on the flow of money in American politics, members of the Senate on Wednesday tackled the onslaught of "dark money" washing through 2014 races and the future consequences of McCutcheon. (Short answer: More wealthy Americans pumping more money into political races in 2014 and beyond.)
Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens headlined Wednesday's hearing, organized by Sen. Angus King (I-Maine). Stevens took a decidedly progressive tack in his remarks, declaring that "money is not speech" and calling on Congress to write campaign-finance rules that "create a level playing field" for all political candidates. But perhaps the more revealing set of comments came from an unlikely source: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the self-styled populist always trying, as he reminds us, to "make DC listen" to the little guy.
In short, Cruz, who's as conservative as they come, may have more in common with the campaign-finance reform crowd than he realizes.
He raised eyebrows, for instance, as he described his vision for America's campaign finance system. "A far better system," he said, "would be to allow individual unlimited contributions to candidates and require immediate disclosure." The unlimited contributions part of that statement is standard conservative fare: If billionaires like Tom Steyer or Sheldon Adelson or Michael Bloomberg want to underwrite their preferred candidates with bottomless dollars, go ahead and let them. But the latter half—"require immediate disclosure"—is significant. It's a break from GOP leaders including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus who've soured on the idea of disclosure. Angus King later said he was so struck by Cruz's comments that he'd scribbled them down. Might Senate Democrats have an unlikely ally in Cruz if and when the DISCLOSE Act gets another vote?
At the hearing, Cruz went on to assail his fellow members of Congress for caring more about hanging onto their seats than pursuing real legislative solutions. "Our democratic process is broken and corrupt right now because politicians in both parties hold onto incumbency," he said. "We need to empower the individual citizens." Funny thing is, that's what Democrats who support the Government By The People Act and other fair elections programs want as well. Fair elections backers say candidates spend too much time raising money from wealthy individuals, which not only shrinks the field of people who can run for office but arguably makes those candidates who do run more receptive to well-heeled funders. Give candidates a reason to court lots of small donors—say, offering to match donations of $150 or less with six times that in public money—and you expose them to a diverse array of people. Meanwhile, your Average Joe, without his Rolodex full of well-to-do friends, can now mount a competitive bid for office. If Cruz wants to "empower the individual citizens," fair elections is one way to do it.
Not that Cruz hung around long enough on Wednesday to hear these kinds of ideas. He high-tailed it out of the hearing after delivering his remarks. Maybe he had a fundraiser to get to.
The founder of the multibillion-dollar hedge fund Elliott Management, Singer is a Republican mega-donor without peer. He cuts checks to candidates and political committees, mingles at the donor retreats convened by Charles and David Koch, and, more recently, has used his wealth to nudge the Republican Party into the 21st century. He bankrolls a super-PAC that supports pro-gay marriage Republicans, funds pro-immigration reform groups, and recently started his own club of donors, a la the Kochs, to join him in his efforts.
Now, the most recent round of federal campaign filings has revealed a new cause of Singer's: Winning Women, a fundraising committee devoted to electing more Republican women to Congress and so countering the claim that the GOP is anti-women. Winning Women is funded largely by Singer, employees of his hedge fund, and donors with ties to Singer. In addition, Singer cohosted a fundraiser to help the female GOP candidates backed by Winning Women so far.
Winning Women was formed in February, records show. In the first quarter of 2014, the committee funneled more than $320,000 to three candidates: Barbara Comstock, a former GOP consultant and opposition researcher vying to replace retiring Rep. Frank Wolf in Virginia's 10th congressional district; Elise Stefanik, a former Bush administration aide running to represent New York's 21st; and Martha McSally, a retired Air Force colonel in Arizona's second district trying for the second time to unseat Democrat Rep. Ron Barber.
For each of three candidates, Winning Women's money provided a major cash infusion.* In Stefanik's case, the $110,917 she received from Winning Women made up 41 percent of the donations to her campaign from January to March. The $109,832 McSally pocketed in the same period made up 25 percent of her first-quarter fundraising. Comstock, who won her fiercely fought GOP primary this past weekend, overall raised the most, $761,354, of the three candidates. More than $100,000 of that haul came from the Singer-linked committee.
Winning Women raised $361,000 in the first quarter of 2014, and much of that money came from Singer, his family, and donors with ties to the Singers. Sixteen employees of Elliott Management and its London office, Elliott Advisers, contributed $104,250, including Singer and his son, Gordon. Thirteen attorneys at Kleinberg Kaplan Wolff Cohen, a law firm close to Singer and Elliott, chipped in $7,850. And other Singer-affiliated donors included employees of Singer's family office and foundation, hedge fund investor Clifford Asness (a GOP ally of Singer's in the marriage equality push), and consultant Phil Musser, a former executive director at the Republican Governors Association. (Singer did not respond to a request for comment.)
Singer's role with Winning Women underscores the growing clout of wealthy donors in the post-Citizens United era. Another federal PAC tied to Singer, Friends for an American Majority, has raised $1.2 million and handed out six figures in donations to Senate candidates including GOPers Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Steve Daines of Montana. In February, Singer's donor club, the American Opportunity Alliance, debuted with an Aspen retreat reportedly featuring House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).
Like Charles and David Koch on the right and the Democracy Alliance on the left, Singer and his donor friends are taking greater control over their political giving, carefully deciding who gets their money and how it gets spent.
Bill Allison, the editorial director at the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan transparency group, says Singer's efforts to aggressively shape the direction of the Republican Party by providing cash infusions to preferred candidates and causes illustrate the impact of recent court decisions regarding campaign finance. "Now you have the ability to set up these networks of influence separate from the parties," he says. "It creates these power centers outside the traditional two-party system, and these can pull the candidates in directions that are not necessarily where the party wants to go."
Winning Women also bears the imprimatur of the Chicago-based Ricketts family, another powerful force in Republican money circles led by Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade. Sylvie Légère Ricketts, the wife of Chicago Cubs owner Todd Ricketts (Joe's son), co-hosted the Winning Women fundraiser with Singer for Comstock, Stefanik, and McSally. Four members of the Ricketts family—Sylvie, Todd, Marlene, and Cecelia—also gave a combined $45,000 to the committee. (Interesting side note: Although much of the Ricketts family leans Republican, Laura, the daughter of patriarch Joe Ricketts, is a major fundraiser for Democrats and LGBT organizations.)
The Ricketts clan has plans for a donor alliance of its own. As Bloomberg reported last month, Joe Ricketts hopes to expand his political operation, Ending Spending, to include more activist donors like him. Already, Ricketts has recruited Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the biggest donor in modern history, to give to Ending Spending. "It has become clear to me that policy is made by the people who show up," Todd Ricketts, who is Laura's sister, told Bloomberg. "We're showing up."
The money contributed by Elliott Management's London branch to Winning Women could raise questions for McSally, Comstock, and Stefanik. Elliott Advisers, run by Paul Singer’s son, Gordon, stands accused of insider trading by a French financial regulator, which is considering whether to fine Elliott Advisers $55 million for market manipulation and trading on inside information regarding a French motorway company called APRR. (Elliott has denied any wrongdoing in the matter.)
None of the three candidates who received Winning Women’s help responded to requests for comment. Kristen Douglas, a spokeswoman for McSally, told the website Arizona's Politics: "Winning Women was formed to support three promising female candidates and we are honored for the nationwide support to get us to victory in November."
In January, Mother Jonesbroke the story of one of the newest affiliates of Charles and David Koch's sprawling political machine, a consulting firm named Aegis Strategic created to identify, recruit, and groom free-market-minded candidates for elected office. Aegis bills itself as a one-stop shop for aspiring politicians, able to handle general consulting, fundraising, direct mail, social media, and more. The firm is run by Jeff Crank, a radio host and two-time congressional candidate who previously ran the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group founded by the Koch brothers.
When we reported on the firm earlier this year, Aegis Strategic had only one client: Marilinda Garcia, a New Hampshire state lawmaker running for Congress. But new campaign filings show that Aegis has since signed up at least one more congressional hopeful: Bruce Westerman, the former Republican majority leader of the Arkansas state House.
Westerman is running to replace Rep. Tom Cotton in Arkansas' 4th Congressional District. (Cotton is now running for Senate and hoping to oust the incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor. Americans for Prosperity has spentmillions of dollars attacking Pryor on the airwaves.) Westerman's campaign paid Aegis $4,000 for strategy consulting in March, campaign records show. (In January, Westerman also tweeted a photo of himself with Brad Stevens, Aegis Strategic's director of candidate identification, with the message, "Caught up with part of campaign team.")
According to Westerman's campaign website, he was the first GOPer to lead the Arkansas House in 138 years. And he wouldn't have been in that position without the help of the Kochs' political network, especially Americans for Prosperity. During the 2012 election cycle, AFP reportedly spent upwards of $1 million in Arkansas on mailers, a bus tour (featuring Cliff from the TV show Cheers), phone banking, and grassroots canvassing. That effort helped flip both the state House and Senate from Democratic to Republican control. AFP figured so prominently in the 2012 cycle that the Arkansas Timesnamed the Koch brothers "Arkansans of the Year."
Both of Aegis' two congressional clients also have received financial support from Kochworld. Garcia received a $2,500 donation from Koch Industries' political action committee, two $2,500 checks from AFP-New Hampshire's Greg Moore, and $250 from Alan Philp, whom Aegis lists as its chief operating officer. Westerman also got a $250 check from Philp.
Now, after AFP helped Westerman succeed in Arkansas, another offshoot of the Koch political operation is working to send him to Washington.