Some high-dollar donors to the Club for Growth, including several on its founding committee and board of directors, have recently given money to Democratic campaigns, even as the conservative political group’s president continues to condemn centrist Republican organizations for similar behavior.
A Roll Call study of Club for Growth donors reveals that many are effectively eschewing the club’s strict ideological goal of lower taxes, less government regulation and less spending by supporting Democratic candidates who espouse radically different policies.
Most prominently, Club for Growth co-founder and board member Richard Gilder, a wealthy New York financier who donated $850,000 to the club, has given to various Democratic candidates in New York City and even hosted a record-breaking $500,000 fundraiser for Democratic City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz in March. Moskowitz’s voting record on the council shows she has voted at least once to raise taxes — a big no-no for club-backed candidates.
Club for Growth Founding Committee members Earl Durden, Harlan Crow and Frank Baxter have also given to Democratic candidates. And like Gilder, board member J.T. “Steve” Stephens has also contributed to Democratic candidates.
Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, executive director of the centrist Republican Main Street Partnership, called it “unfortunate” that the club’s board members have been contributing to Democrats “especially when they’re claiming to be the heart and soul of the Republican Party.” She added that the club “should stop selling one thing and doing something else.”
While it is not unusual for political donors to give to members of both parties, Club for Growth President Stephen Moore attacked Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) in April for being supported by the centrist Main Street Individual Fund, which, like the Club for Growth, is a largely unregulated 527 political committee allowed to take unlimited donations.
Moore charged that the fund — which ran ads favoring Specter in his primary race this year against club-backed Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) — accepted contributions from large donors who were registered Democrats or who had given to Democratic campaigns.
Moore also criticized the fund for accepting $50,000 from liberal billionaire George Soros. However, Resnick, who also serves as spokeswoman for the fund, said the fund returned the money after Soros stated his goal was to defeat President Bush.
“How can Arlen Specter pretend to be a Bush Republican when he is getting aid from the very donors who want to elect [Democrat] John Kerry president and destroy the Republican Party?” Moore said at the time.
Given Moore’s comments about Specter, as well as the club’s stated goal of ridding Congress of “Republicans in Name Only” — or RINOs — Resnick said she was surprised that the conservatives at the Club for Growth would tolerate Democratic giving from its founding members and those on its board.
But Moore defended his donors, saying the club was never meant to be strictly for Republicans.
“We’re not a Republican organization,” said Moore. “Our members are conservatives first and Republicans second. We see the Republican Party as a means to an end.”
Still, Moore acknowledged that the club has “exclusively, to this point, backed Republicans” for public office, and he said, “We feel it’s important for Republicans to maintain the majority” in Congress.
Resnick, whose centrist Republicans in Congress have often been labeled RINOs by the Club for Growth and targeted by club-sponsored conservative primary challengers, countered, “Their promotional materials promote them as fiscally conservative Republicans. … You’re either pure or you’re not.”
Since the club’s founding in 1999, Durden, a railroad executive who has contributed $77,500 to the club, has given money to Democrats such as then-Rep. Bob Clement (Tenn.), Reps. James Oberstar (Minn.) and Nick Rahall (W.Va.), and Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.). Durden, who said Clement “is a personal friend,” said he only gave to the other candidates at fundraisers held by the American Shortline and Regional Railroad Association, an industry organization to which he belongs.
Federal Election Commission and IRS records show that Crow, an investor, has given $380,000 to the Club for Growth and various contributions to Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) in the past five years. He did not return a phone call.
Baxter, an investment company CEO, has funneled $85,000 to the club even though he contributed money to the Democratic presidential campaigns of former Vice President Al Gore and former Sen. Bill Bradley (N.J.), according to FEC records and PoliticalMoneyLine. Baxter also did not return a call.
Stephens, the CEO of a biotechnology company in Little Rock, Ark., who has given $225,000 to the Club for Growth, acknowledged supporting the campaign of Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) because “she’s a very ardent in her support of the elimination of the death tax.”
Gilder defended his decision to host a fundraiser for Moskowitz, saying, “Eva Moskowitz is the leading light on school reform in the city. … She’s a tigress who’s been attacking the unions vigorously.”
Other high-dollar donors to the club have found Democrats they like as well.
Investment company executive Bruce Rauner gave $200,000 to the Club for Growth in January of this year, after giving $25,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2003 and $40,000 to the Democratic National Committee in 2000. Rauner has also donated to the campaigns of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.).
Rauner described himself as a social liberal but conservative on fiscal policy. “The Club for Growth doesn’t get into social stuff. It’s about low taxes and low-regulation,” he said.
Pennsylvania attorney Bob Guzzardi has given nearly $120,000 to the Club for Growth while also writing checks to Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), and the presidential campaign of Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.). Guzzardi also has given to the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.
Despite following the club’s advice to support Toomey’s bid to oust Specter in Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate primary, Guzzardi cut a check to Specter in 2003 and has supported Specter’s Democratic challenger, Rep. Joe Hoeffel, for several years.
Guzzardi explained that he has written checks to Democrats “mainly because certain people have asked me to” and because of their support for Israel.
Travis Anderson, an associate of Gilder’s, also has given to both conservatives and to Democrats. Despite giving $51,000 to the Club for Growth, Anderson contributed $1,000 to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Anderson declined to comment for this story.
Despite evidence that club members are hedging their political bets, Moore said there was a difference between his donors giving to Democrats and Main Street donors doing so. They “back candidates that are for higher taxes and bigger government,” he said.
Moore also reiterated his accusation that the Main Street Individual Fund and RMSP are funded by supporters of Kerry.
But Resnick said the club’s hypocrisy on the issue of accepting campaign contributions was confounding.
“Our goal is to expand the Republican Party, and if you want to contribute to us, then great,” Resnick said. “It angers us for being attacked if we’re taking money from people who are trying to help the Republican Party.”
Moore added that if a “pro-growth” Democrat were to emerge, the club would support that candidate. The club is holding a party for retiring Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) during this week’s GOP convention.