The Democratic billionaires are back.
Last month was the first time a super-political action committee supporting President Barack Obama attracted the attention of multiple big-money contributors, a review of Federal Election Commission records shows.
The billionaire donors to Priorities USA Action were: Irwin Jacobs, who built Qualcomm Inc.; Jon Stryker, an architect whose fortune comes from his family’s medical supply business; and Haim Saban, a media executive who was one of President Bill Clinton’s top fundraisers.
The trio gave a combined $3 million, about half what the super-PAC raised in June, its best fundraising month yet. It was the first time any of those donors had contributed to Priorities.
Meanwhile, George Soros, a billionaire financier who underwrote much of the failed effort to oust President George W. Bush in 2004, cut a $1 million check in June to American Bridge, a super-PAC that focuses on opposition research.
The donations are significant because Obama’s supporters have lagged far behind the fundraising pace of Republican super-PACs seeking to defeat him. Priorities has raised $21 million, compared with $122 million collected by the two primary groups opposing him.
Republican super-PACs have secured multiple contributions from billionaires including Las Vegas Sands chairman Sheldon Adelson, Houston investor Harold Simmons and William Koch, head of Oxbow Carbon. Their money has flowed mostly to American Crossroads, a super-PAC formed with help from Bush’s political strategist Karl Rove, and Restore Our Future, which was founded by former aides to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Returning to the Democratic fold in a big way is former Bill Clinton bundler Saban, a 67-year-old billionaire music and television producer who made his fortune with the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers children’s series.
A strong supporter of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary, Saban made his first contribution to an Obama campaign on Dec. 19, 2011, giving his re-election bid $5,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based group that tracks federal donors.
Just 18 days earlier, White House visitor records show, Saban paid a visit to the West Wing where William Daley, then Obama’s chief of staff and now the president’s campaign co-chairman, signed him in for a meeting.
Saban told The Hollywood Reporter afterward that he and Obama “talked policy” during a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office.
On June 25, Saban gave $1 million to Unity 2012, an umbrella group for Priorities and several other Democratic super-PACs. Saban was the only donor listed in the new group’s July quarterly report, and $333,333 of his money went to Priorities.
Saban has maintained his relationship with Bill Clinton. The former president headlined a Democratic National Convention fundraising event in June at Saban’s Beverly Hills, California, home, according to the convention website. Bill Burton, a co-founder of Priorities, is also seeking Clinton’s help in raising money, he said July 14 on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt.”
Saban, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Israel, has told reporters previously that his interests include support of the Jewish state and abortion rights. He is chief executive officer of Broadcast Media Partners Inc. and chairman of Univision Communications Inc., the Spanish-language network.
“As a long-time supporter of the Democratic Party, I recently made contributions to multiple super-PACs that back causes central to the party,” Saban said in an e-mailed statement last night. “I have, and always will be, a champion of the Democratic Party, President Obama, and the party’s elected officials.”
Before June, the only billionaire who’d given to Priorities was director Steven Spielberg. He wrote a $100,000 check a year ago and hasn’t contributed since.
“They’re concerned about the hundreds of millions of dollars that’s coming in from the right in this election,” Burton said of his recent donors on Political Capital.
Restore Our Future has raised $82 million and American Crossroads $40 million, and both groups have been using that cash to broadcast attack ads against the president.
Burton, a former Obama White House aide, and longtime Democratic strategist Paul Begala are among the leaders of Priorities.
Obama gave his blessing to the super-PAC in February. He had previously expressed his distaste for super-PACs, created by a series of 2010 court decisions and federal regulations.
Super-PACs can accept unlimited sums of money from individuals, corporations and unions, and freely spend to help elect a particular candidate.
The first billionaire to contribute to Priorities in June was Irwin Jacobs, who has $1.1 billion in Qualcomm stock, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. He gave $2 million on June 11.
The 78-year-old founded and was former chairman of San Diego-based Qualcomm, the world’s largest maker of chips that run mobile phones. He is now chairman of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, based in San Diego.
Attempts to reach Jacobs through the Salk Institute were unsuccessful.
Jacobs, who listed himself on the contribution as retired and living in La Jolla, California, gave $100,000 this year to the American Bridge super-PAC. That’s the only super-PAC to which Soros has donated this year, after giving a combined $175,000 last year to super-PACs working to elect Democrats to Congress.
The Center for Responsive Politics shows that Jacobs is a frequent donor to Democrats, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Jacobs is tied with Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive officer of Dreamworks Animation, as the super-PAC’s top donor. Katzenberg gave Priorities $2 million in May 2011 and hasn’t contributed to it since.
A day after Jacobs cut a check, Priorities listed a $750,000 contribution from Jon Stryker, who has $1.6 billion in Stryker Corp. stock, data compiled by Bloomberg shows. The company, founded by his grandfather, is based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and develops, manufactures and markets surgical and medical products.
Jon Stryker listed his profession as an architect with an address in New York City. He is a major donor to state Democratic candidates in Michigan, records show.
He’s also founder and president of Arcus Foundation, which is described on its website as advancing social justice, including gay rights, and conservation causes, particularly those focused on the great apes.
The foundation declined to make Stryker available for an interview. Stryker funded Arcus with $247 million, according to a 2008 article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.