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Who is Behind the Union-Busting “Club for Growth” Pushing the Tea Party into a Phony Debt Crisis?

Even though, in the hours following the Monday pitches to America by President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, the Congress was flooded with phone calls and emails that locked up the House’s web servers for a time, Tea Party Republicans are ignoring voters and listening to shadow groups like the “Club for Growth,” saying the “economy is too fragile” to raise taxes on the rich.

Who is the Club for Growth? Union activists in Wisconsin will recall their ad campaign to keep union workers from protesting at the state capitol.  Who backs them? Why do they wield more influence than the American people?

According to the Club for Growth, founded in 1999, is a “heavy hitter” a conservative political action group that promotes fiscally conservative public policies with a lot of money and clout that makes it the 8th largest giver to political campaigns by OS estimates.  It used to operate below the radar, a group that Republican candidates fought to gain sponsorship from, until the 2010 elections and the uproar in Wisconsin over Governor Walker’s union-busting.  The Club is primarily a conduit for its bigger givers to give to “outside” organizations via the Club’s 527, then funnel the money directly to aid candidates, either with attack ads, or with supportive position ads, that could not be donated due to the limits in individual giving directly to a candidate. [1]

The organization spends millions. Of the $4.14M the organization raised directly in 2010, $3.26M went 100% to Republican, usually Tea Party or Tea Party-friendly, candidates. They gave $806,346 to “outside groups” to advocacy groups that run attack ads against Democrats or policy ads supportive of ultra-Right candidates.  [2]

Of course, that’s just the main organization. Their 527 Committees pump millions more into attack ads without mentioning specific Republican candidates. 2010 numbers are not available, but in the 2008 campaign, Club for Growth’s 527s spent $5.9M.One of their political action committees (PACs) in 2008 spent $3.2M and then $2.5M in the 2010 mid-term.

The top candidates it has given to are familiar Tea Party extremists like Arizona’s Sharron Angle, Pat Toomey, who was the former operating honcho of the Club for Growth, Florida’s Marco Rubio, and the failed Tea Party candidate from Alaska, Joe Miller.   Their Democratic giving? $18.  They spent more than $2.7M alone in their bid to defeat the U.S. Senate candidacy of Democrat Joe Sestak.

Who’s a Member of the Club?

The Club is actually a conduit made up of several pieces. There is the Club itself, then they have their own PAC and their 527 corporation.  Remember the Supremes passed that law that Corporations are people too?  Well 527s are not only people, but they’re not required to say jack squat about who gives them a nickel.

When you see the Club’s list of public heavy hitters though (see below) you have a Who’s Who of the wealthy scum and villainy of the ultra-Right who’ve been free-trading, off-shoring, and generally pillaging this country for decades.  When you look at their Leadership Council, and see guys like Brent Bozell of the ultra-Right cash cow the Media Research Center, you know that this is the same group of billionaires, dead and living, trying to reshape America in their image and subjugate the middle class and the poor.

Their public list of major givers is long. The full list is here, but here are some of the scarier, grosser ones:

J.W. Childs Associates – $650K in 2010 – A private equity firm with $1.75B in assests under management from universities, pension funds, insurance companies, etc.  Its CEO, John W. Childs, sits on the Club’s Board of Directors. Even though he modestly lists himself from Vero Beach, he is one of the wealthiest Bostonians, managing billions for Insurance companies, then working flipping brand names like Snapple into billion dollar enterprises which he subsequently sells off to other companies.  He is also very good at keeping his name out of news and the most perfunctory of biographies. The man behind everything from Cinnabon to Brookstone and Meow Mix prints money, which is good for the Tea Party, because he lives up to his nickname, “The Republican ATM.” [3]

Exoxemis Inc – $625,000 in 2010 – Jackson T. Stephens of Little Rock, Arkansas, is the CEO of a wholesale drugs and sundries company that was one of the top ten givers to outside spending groups in 2010 with $775,206, most of which went to the Club for Growth.[4]  That makes sense, though, as he is on the Club’s Board of Directors.  On a the public candidate and PAC side, he has given to such Tea Party extremists as Jim DeMint, Marco Rubio, and Sharron Angle.  He has an LLC, Excited States, which also forked over $150,000 to Common Sense in America, an ultra-Right Christian media watchdog group which makes this charming claim above its flag waiving underneath a Christian cross:

“For the last forty years the Country has been in a new civil war between those that believe in those same values that made us great, and those that would take us down the path of socialism and big government, creating in their wake a splintered country of squabbling victim groups. For forty years a battle has been raging to make the abnormal normal, and the normal abnormal… Our hope is that by exposing much of what is going on in the Country today, and by suggesting common sense solution to the problems we face, we can enlighten and motivate many good people to join in the battle for the Country’s future.”[5]

Better still, though, he is a total hypocrite if he’s preaching smaller government.  Stephens’ company pulled 100% of a $1.6M earmark for “Surgical Wound Disinfection and Biological Agents” which all of Arkansas’ Senators and Democratic congressman Marion Berry of Arkansas sponsored. Jim DeMint and other Republicans on Stephens political giving list of that year endorsed. The Seattle Times listed Exoxemis as one of the bigger players in receiving earmarks in 2008 in a piece that they titled “The Favor Factory.”

Uline Corp $210,000 in 2010 –  Mr. Richard E. Uihlein, the Co-Founder and CEO of the packaging materials giant dropped short of a quarter million on the Club for Growth, making him the number three contributor to the organization. He ranks 30th in 2010 of top givers to outside spending groups on that one gift to the Club.  He has also been a consistent giver to campaigns for Tea Party regulars Michelle Bachmann,  Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and many others.

Mountaire Corp – $125,000 in 2010 – An $1.22 Agribusiness specializing in animal feeds, located in North Little Rock, one of the top companies in Arkansas.  CEO is Ronald M. (Ronnie) Cameron.  He has been a big giver to Republican causes and  Tea Party-infused candidates, including Jim DeMint, Evan Cantor, and Sarah Palin’s PAC.

The Cato Institute ($90,200 – 2010) – is the well known Libertarian think-tank funded by the Koch Brothers.  They have their hands in a lot of dirty Tea Party water. Several employees of the Cato Institute have also given.  Wherever they go, the Brothers Koch cannot be far behind, leaving the distinct suspicion that they may be invisible funders of the Club’s 527 program.  Many of the directors and givers have social and/or financial and/or giving ties to the Cato Institute or the Kochs.

Milliken & Co.  ($50,000 – 2010) – Roger Milliken died in 2010, but not before the textile and chemicals magnate left the Club for Growth a tidy $50K, his largest publicly recorded  gift that year.  He was a South Carolina GOP heavyweight for years, serving as a Republican delegate in eight GOP nominating contests. [6] He backed  Tea Party favorites like “You Lie!” Joe Wilson, Marco Rubio, Jim DeMint, and Florida’s freewheeling Allen West.  Don’t think that, just because he’s dead, that will be the end of it. As we pointed out in “Dissecting Right Wing Political Extremism” his trusts and/or foundations join the Dead Billionaires Club which funds Tea Party extremism from beyond the grave.

Other notable givers include web hosting giant Akamai Technologies, Trib Total Media a Western Pennsylvania newspaper conglomerate run by Rightie Ralph Martin, Jelly Belly Candy, Marathon Petroleum, United Steel Structures, Wells Fargo, Chicago Title, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, the University of Chicago,  Bank of America, IBM, and numerous capital management, real estate, and Wall Street firms. [6]  See also the Sunlight Foundation list.

Members of the Board & Leadership Council

For the full list you can visit their website.  Some of the residencies used are not their home town where they make their money, but where they own second, third or fourth homes.  Selected lowlights:

The Directors

We’ve already told you about John Childs and Jackson T. Stephens (above).

THOMAS L. RHODES, New York, NY -Chairman Emeritus – Chairman and political editor of the conservative publication The National Review and a former employee of Goldman Sachs from the 1970s through the 1990s. He also is the Chairman of two investment companies based in Denver, Colorado. He sits on a number of ultra-conservative boards including the Heritage Foundation, a think-tank founded with money from the Dead Billionaires Club. Another giver to DeMint, Pat Toomey and Marco Rubio.

RICHARD GILDER, New York, NY – Chairman Emeritus  – The brother-in-law of John Childs, Gilder and wife Lois Childs were the No. 17 givers to outside organizations with $200,000.  He was also the No. 16 giver in 2006 to 527s with $600,195, $600,000 of which went to the Club for Growth.  A principal of Gilder Gagnon Howe & Co. LLC, a firm specializing in leverage and short selling, two of the leading causes of the 2008 Wall Street Meltdown, this “gentleman” sits on boards of New York and American historical societies. He was also a Chairman of the conservative Manhattan Institute, an advocacy group pushing for welfare reform and school choice.  Another giver to the DeMint, Rubio, Toomey trio, Rand Paul, and a surprising contribution to NY Dem Senator Chuck Schumer.

HOWARD “Howie” RICH, Philadelphia, PA – Rich  is a Manhattan-based real estate developer who funds Libertarian-oriented political initiatives such as term limits, school choice, parental rights regarding education, limited government and property rights. He is an associate of the Koch Brothers, and is a mover and shaker at the Koch’s Cato Institute as well. Rich also champions the position of holding “judges accountable to the rule of law,” which is generally standard Republican code for laws they advocate.  He is one of the All-Stars of funding Astroturf grass-roots groups which push his agenda. PBS Now did a piece “Taking the Initiative” in September of 2006:

“Over the past 30 years, New York real estate magnate Howard Rich has steered millions of dollars toward the libertarian causes he has long championed, though he has managed to largely remain under the political radar while doing so… Organizations associated with Rich have funneled nearly $7 million into 2006 state initiatives aiming to limit government in 12 states, according to an investigation by The Oregonian published last month. Rich has generally declined to reveal how much of the money comes from his personal wealth, and is not required by campaign finance laws to report how much he privately funds his various groups.”

FRAYDA LEVIN, Mountain Lakes, NJ – Identifies herself as Retired in giving forms, but is quite active in the Koch Brothers circles. Aside from her seat at the Club’s table, she serves on the board for Americans for Prosperity and is a prominent donor to the Koch’s Cato Institute. She is a big giver to Tea Party candidates and organizations like the Win Back America PAC.

KEN BLACKWELL, Cincinnati, OH – The former Mayor of Cincinnati and a Vice-Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC)’s national platform.  Blackwell successfully led the campaign for the 2004 Ohio Constitution Amendment banning state recognition of same-sex marriage and civil unions, despite opposition from many other Republican leaders. He is a proponent of gun ownership rights, and has stated that he is against abortion except in order to protect the life of the mother. [7]  That a member of the RNC sits on the board of such an ultra-Right group is truly disturbing.

CHRIS CHOCOLA, Bristol, IN – Chocola, a Republican and former member of the House of Representatives is giving back. The day-to-day leader of the Club for Growth since August, 2009, he received $149,385 from the Club in his 2005-2006 fundraising cycle. He replaced Pat Toomey (R-PA) who was heavily funded by most of the Club members in his bid for a House and then a Senate seat. When he is done, look for him to make a very well-funded run for a Senate seat in Indiana. [1]

The Leadership Council

In addition to Bozell (See above), the mouthpiece of the Dead Billionaires Club, the Leadership Council of the Club for Growth features several people, including one that would seem a HUGE conflict of interest:

JEAN BELANGER, Austin, TX, Head of an event-driven logistics firm with ties to Austin’s version of the Silicon Valley.

BRUCE BENT, New York, NY,  Founder, Chairman CEO and inventor of the Reserve Funds, the world’s first money fund, in 1970. The rules for the game that he established drive a $3.0T section of the investment business.  He tried to run for Nassau County (NY) Executive, but he was defeated.

MARC CENEDELLA, New York, NY, CEO of a job search firm for high-income positions. Probably the highest profile of anyone involved in the club, he even has his own website to toot his horn and several videos. He would seem to be the go-to guy for how to leverage the web for a bunch of older monied septuagenarians, and the dead,  who don’t Tweet much.

TERRY CONSIDINE, Denver, CO, CEO and Chairman of Aimco, an apartment investment and management company in Colorado. He also was a Republican member of the Colorado State Senate from 1987 to 1992.

DAN COOK, Dallas, TX, MHT Partners/Retired. – Before working for that investment firm, Dan ran the Goldman Sachs office in Dallas. He was a money man for George H.W. Bush’s campaign. He also ran Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s State Treasurer campaign. He sits on the board of the National Center for Policy Analysis, which advocates Social Security Privatization.  A hunting buddy of Dick Cheney, he also was padding Cheney’s retirement by chairing the Vice President’s Residence Foundation.

OLIVER GRACE, Palm Beach, FL,  Development Services LLC. Gave $74,500 to Tea Party and PAC groups in 2010, most out of his area of residence, although he did back Allen West. He backed Rubio, Toomey, Joe Miller, SarahPAC, and even found $250 for Christine “Bewitched” O’Donnell.

JERRY HAYDEN, Barrington, IL. Peacock Engineering.  Hayden gave $400,000 to outside spending groups in 2010, $300,000 of which went to the Club for Growth.

PATRICIA HERBOLD, Bellevue, WA, – She began her career as a water pollution control expert, became a lawyer, and was appointed by the George W. Bush Administration as our ambassador to Singapore.  She has given more than $1.5M to cancer research, and a handful of dollars to the Tea Party cancer on the government.

VIRGINIA JAMES, Lambertville, NJ – Retired. Gave $350,000 to the Club for Growth in 2010, part of a whopping $461,800 given to Tea Party candidates and hard-Right PACs including the Koch-backed school voucher group All Children Matter.  She is actively engaged in Wisconsin, with donations to help the Tea Party beat back recalls.[8]

LANCE SHANER, State College, PA, – His company owns hotels under the Marriott label, runs support services for the hotel biz, and its own Real Estate Investment Trust (Shaner Growth Fund II LLC). A big giver to the NRC’s campaigns and even a $2,400 donation to Speaker Boehner in 2010

LEE TENZER, Naples, FL  – Retiree. A $25K gift to the Club for Growth and some nice contributions to Sharron Angle.

LOUIS WOODHILL, Houston, TX – Chairman of Digabit, gave generously to the Tea Party and the Club in 2010.

JOHN BRYAN, Lake Oswego, OR – Gave $66,600 in 2010 to numerous Tea Party candidates, and Ultra-Right PACs.

REX SINQUEFIELD of Clayton, MO gave $250K to the Show Me Institute a Missouri PR Think-Tank for other ultra-Right organizations working the state.

GEORGE MITCHELL,  of Whitefish Bay, WI is the President of School Choice Wisconsin and a pal of Governor Scott Walker. His personal giving, beyond the Club, reaches out to Paul Ryan, Pat Toomey and Tom Campbell.

The kicker? LAWRENCE KUDLOW, the CNBC talk show host, is an active sponsor of the Tea Party by way of his participation in the Club.I may be mistaken, but didn’t NBC lay into Keith Olbermann for political giving? If Kudlow reported it to his network, why would they let him on the air, even with his conservative leanings, without disclosing his relationship to this ultra-Right organization?

Many of these people are beyond your reach.  Those making millions off of you more directly, though need a loud message that their political giving affects their bottom line.  Drop the VP for CNBC a message about Kudlow. Walk past Cinnabon and don’t buy any Jelly Belly while you’re at the mall.   Skip the Meow Mix and give your precious feline something else. Dump Microsoft products and grab a Mac.   Cancel your Trib Total Media subscription.

If you go to the University of Chicago, you might ask what the heck your school is doing giving anything to the freaking Club for Growth!

Of every dollar you pump into those businesses, a percentage finds its way into the hands of people unwraveling our government for their own gain, or to remold America into a corporate slave state.  Don’t let them get away with it.  Write. Complain. Boycott! Knowledge is the best way to speak truth to power.

My shiny two.

About Brian Ross

Brian Ross is a writer, screenwriter, political satirist, documentarian, filmmaker and chef. Ad hoc, ad loc, quid pro quo... so little time. So much to know!

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