Where Are They Now?
Last year’s top givers aren’t exactly gone, and in Washington they’re definitely not forgotten.
by Jennifer Hattam and Jamie C. Trost
April 17, 1997
The 1997 Mother Jones 400 is missing something — two of last year’s biggest contributors. After topping last year’s list, Cleveland billionaire Fred Lennon gave just $71,700 in 1995-96, not quite enough to reach the bottom of the new list. Likewise, the $73,750 given by Archer Daniels Midland CEO Dwayne Andreas and his wife Inez pales in comparison to the $348,950 that put them at number three in 1996. And while lawyer William Lerach, Chiquita CEO Carl Lindner, and oil baron Marvin Davis — numbers two, four, and five from ’96 — are on the new list, they each dropped 50 or more places.
So what happened? Did the recent focus on campaign finance make things too hot for these donors? Did they develop new ethical principles and decide not to tamper with the sanctity of democracy?
An ailing tycoon hands down the family tradition.
Fred A. Lennon, 91, Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Total contributions, 1996 MoJo 400: $524,450 (#1). Total contributions, 1997 MoJo 400: $71,700. Party: R (both years).
After stepping from obscurity to top last year’s 400, Cleveland billionaire Fred Lennon has dropped back out of sight, and off the list. Lennon is already notoriously secretive — he shuns the media, and his Crawford Fitting Company even conceals its production volume by operating many small factories without signs on them — but personal matters may be pushing him even further into his shell. His wife passed away in late 1995, and, at 91, Lennon himself is reported to be in worse health than when Mother Jones profiled him last year.
The longtime Republican devotee is still well enough to write checks, though, including some to worthwhile causes. In addition to his political contributions to Bob Dole and other Republicans over the last two years, Lennon was one of the top donors to Cleveland’s Operation Save-A-Life, a program to reduce house fire fatalities by equipping low-income homes with smoke alarms. He recently came into a little extra cash — Midwestern National Life Insurance Co. of Ohio, of which he owned 79 percent, was merged into a New York holding company for $14 million.
But while the ailing Lennon’s campaign contributions wane, his son-in-law Edward Lozick, CEO of pipe fittings manufacturer Nerts Inc., seems to be following in his footsteps, both politically and personally. Although Lozick’s yacht ferried special guests Bob and Dolores Hope while leading the Cuyahoga River’s “Parade of Lights” last year, he generally follows his father-in-law’s motto: “Secrecy is success. Success is secrecy.” He is wary of the media — when Mother Jones called Nerts, receptionists answered with their own names, not the company’s and were even reluctant to say what kind of manufacturing they did. The $63,050 that Lozick gave to Republicans in the last election cycle was nearly enough to make the Mother Jones 400 this year. Imagine what he’ll do with his inheritance. — J.C.T.
Tired of waiting for his payoffs to pay off, this lawyer took political matters into his own hands.
William S. Lerach, 51, San Diego, Calif. Total contributions, 1996 MoJo 400: $480,043 (#2). Total contributions, 1997 MoJo 400: $152,700 (#126). Party: Both (both years).
Attorney Bill Lerach may have slipped from his lofty position as the Democrats’ biggest contributor, but he’s as active as ever in the courtroom — and the political arena.
Lerach’s firm, Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, has been up to more than its usual tricks recently. While continuing to file class action lawsuits against such firms as SyQuest Technology and Silicon Graphics, last year Milberg Weiss spearheaded Proposition 211, a California initiative that would have made it easier for stockholders to sue companies, and made board members personally liable in cases of investor fraud. And, of course, it would have brought nearly unlimited business to firms specializing in shareholder class-action litigation — including Milberg Weiss.
Prop 211 wouldn’t have been necessary without 1995’s Securities Litigation Reform Act, which made it harder to sue corporations for stock fraud. Companies liked it; Lerach hated it. The bill enjoyed wide bipartisan support, but in order to pass it Congress had to override a surprise veto by President Clinton — likely a “good faith” gesture towards Lerach, who had personally lobbied Clinton four days earlier.
When good faith and huge contributions to Democrats didn’t get Lerach what he wanted, he took a more direct route: He and his firm poured nearly $5.3 million into the “Yes on 211” campaign, but were still handily outspent by their Silicon Valley opponents in a battle that became the most expensive ballot initiative in history.
Despite all this big spending, Lerach and company still found it in their pocketbooks to help out a few needy politicos. Partners Melvyn I. Weiss (#27) and David J. Bershad (#382) contributed $274,500 and $82,500 respectively. And the firm itself tossed $150,000 to the DNC. The “Lerach Initiative” may have failed, but there’s plenty of influence left to go around. — J.H.
The agribusiness baron is making a different kind of contribution now.
Dwayne (78) and Inez Andreas, Decatur, Ill. Total contributions, 1996 MoJo 400: $348,950 (#3). Total contributions, 1997 MoJo 400: $73,750. Party: Both (both years).
Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Chairman Dwayne Andreas might not be backing political candidates the way he used to, but his company is definitely pouring money into the federal government.
Last October ADM pleaded guilty to price fixing and agreed to pay a $100 million fine, the largest ever in a criminal antitrust case. The evidence against the giant agricultural company — tapes of ADM executives discussing price fixing — was provided by a vice president turned FBI mole, Mark Whitacre, who was fired shortly after the FBI raided ADM in June of 1995. Two days after the guilty plea two high ranking executives, Terrance Wilson and Dwayne’s only son Michael “Mick” Andreas, left the company; both were later indicted for price fixing along with Whitacre, and will be tried next year.
As the only company executive remaining on the board of directors, Andreas, renowned for disliking activist shareholders, had to apologize at the annual meeting just days after ADM’s plea. Ironically, it seems he was the architect of his own troubles: FBI investigators first met Whitacre in 1992, when Andreas asked them to come investigate a suspected plant sabotage.
Andreas’ history of generous political giving may have insulated him from the price fixing debacle. Whitacre, who also was indicted for embezzling from ADM and is being sued by them for fraud, recently told Fortune that he had tapes of Andreas “being updated on the price fixing discussion.” Yet the government didn’t indict Andreas or bar him from federal contracts; instead, the Agriculture Department decided last January that the government may continue to buy goods from ADM for use in federal programs like school lunches and foreign food aid.
Sometimes it pays to pay friends in high places. — J.C.T.
A businessman gives to Republicans in the open — and to Democrats on the sly.
Carl Lindner, 77, Cincinnati, Ohio. Total contributions, 1996 MoJo 400: $337,500 (#4). Total contributions, 1997 MoJo 400: $220,500 (#55 ). Party: Mostly D (1996), Both (1997).
Chiquita Brands International Chairman and CEO Carl Lindner has stayed higher on the 400, and perhaps in better favor with government officials, than any of last year’s top five donors, giving big to both Democrats and Republicans. In fact, Lindner’s manuvering may have opened up a European trade route for Chiquita.
On March 18, the World Trade Organization (WTO) issued a preliminary ruling to wipe out European Union (EU) trade barriers against Latin American bananas, like Chiquita’s. The EU claims the decision could spell economic disaster for already impoverished Caribbean nations, but for Lindner it means multimillions in European sales — a handsome return on the $2 million in soft money he and his firms have shelled out to politicians over the past seven years.
Last April Lindner told Mickey Kantor, the then-U.S. Trade Representative whom President Clinton would soon appoint Commerce Secretary, that the EU rules were unfair. Although few American jobs were at stake, Kantor drew Lindner’s gripe from hundreds filed by American companies and pitched it to the WTO on April 12. The next day, Time magazine reported, Lindner and his executives began bankrolling Democrats to the tune of $500,000, mostly though less-examined state party accounts — where donors are sometimes not even required to list their employers — in order to avoid public scrutiny.
Lindner isn’t all Democrat, though. The strict Baptist also came home to the Republicans this cycle — his holding company, American Financial Group, gave $240,000 to the GOP; he let Bob Dole campaign aboard his corporate jet; and his brothers Robert (#130) and Richard (#288) were also heavy Republican contributors.
But for all his clout with U.S. politicians, Lindner lacks finesse with foreign leaders. After Colombia cut a banana deal with the EU that was unfavorable for Chiquita, Lindner tried muscling the country’s president Ernesto Samper Pizano into changing policy by taking him to a Miami hotel room and slapping down photos of himself with Ronald Reagan and George Bush, while bragging of his relationships with Dole and Newt Gingrich. Samper was reportedly shocked, and Carlos Lleras, the Colombian ambassador to Washington who was present at the meeting, told Time, “I was very angry.” — J.C.T.
This billionaire mixes one vice — politics — with another: gambling.
Marvin Davis, 72. Los Angeles, Calif. Total contributions, 1996 MoJo 400: $331,500 (#5). Total contributions, 1997 MoJo 400: $87,500 (#364). Party: Both (both years).
Mother Jones reported last year that billionaire financier Marvin Davis had made a tentative foray into the gaming industry: acquiring a New Jersey casino license. Now he’s made a wholehearted strike, pursuing interests in at least three more states.
Davis now holds a permit to enter the Las Vegas market, where he’s expressed interest in buying the renovated Desert Inn, an upscale hotel and casino which could fetch more than $300 million. His planned $60 million complex in Boonville, Mo. recently got a green light from the Missouri State Gaming Commission, paving the way for Davis to be the proud owner of mid-Missouri’s first casino gaming operation.
Davis has also offered to lend the Forest County Potawatomi tribe of Wisconsin $75 million to expand their small casino in Milwaukee — if they repay him with interest and turn over 25 percent of the profits for five years. It’s a good bet: Though the casino currently offers only bingo and 200 slot machines, it’s the only tribal casino for 100 miles around, and it already clears more than $60 million annually.
Davis seems preoccupied with business this year rather than politics, giving small amounts to Democratic and Republican candidates. The bulk of his giving was $60,000 to the DNC, paltry by Davis standards; by comparison, he gave $49,000 just to Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan’s successful re-election campaign.
Davis — an oilman, real estate mogul, and Hollywood producer — has never been one to limit his interests, so it’s unlikely that simply adding casinos to his kingdom will satisfy him. He still has his hands in a broad spectrum of industries, including a savvy early investment in hot startup WebTV Networks, which recently received a $425 million offer from Microsoft, and a reported interest in buying the Los Angeles Dodgers.
He’s also keeping up his “corporate raider” persona: Although a recent bid to buy Carter-Wallace Inc., maker of Trojan condoms and Arrid deodorant, for $928 million was rejected, billionaire Davis hints that he would offer more if necessary. There’s no doubt that he’d be able to come up with the cash. — J.H.