Chicago investor Muneer Satter has spent more than $1 million in the past three years helping Republicans win. He's so focused on the party taking back the White House that he paid for a poll assessing the 2016 Republican field, the results of which convinced him to get behind former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
But one Democrat has managed to capture Satter's wallet: his hometown mayor, Rahm Emanuel, who is up for reelection Tuesday.
Satter doesn't just scatter campaign checks to the wind, fellow Illinois Republican donor Ronald Gidwitz said in an interview. Rather, his support is both tactical and complete. "He wants to see the best person win and is putting his money where his desires are," Gidwitz said.
Satter and his wife, Kristen Hertel, have put more than $352,000 into Emanuel's mayoral campaigns and supportive political committees, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records. They're among his top-flight donors, despite having spent heavily in 2012 trying to oust Emanuel's former boss, President Barack Obama. The mayor was White House chief of staff until October 2010.
Although he has a robust history of Republican contributions, Satter began giving to Emanuel in 2007, when he was an Illinois congressman, and Hertel was one of the first contributors to his first campaign for mayor. It's a reflection of donor pragmatism in Chicago, a city that last elected a Republican mayor in 1927.
"In Chicago, as everywhere, leadership is everything," said Lisa Wagner, Satter's spokeswoman. "Muneer looked at all of the candidates in the mayor's race, and Rahm was the only candidate who could effectively tackle the problems of our city."
Satter, 54, is a die-hard Chicagoan. He spent more than a dozen years commuting to New York City for his job as a partner at Goldman Sachs, where he built the world's largest family of mezzanine funds, which are financial vehicles that make loans to companies at higher rates than banks and buy their preferred stock. His wife, a former commercial banker, and five daughters, three of whom are triplets, stayed in Winnetka, a North Chicago suburb. In those commuting years, Satter's life resembled that of George Clooney's in the movie Up in the Air: He flew so often that American Airlines agents knew him by name without seeing his ticket, according to a profile in Crain's Chicago Business.
When he retired from Goldman Sachs in 2012, he said he wanted more time "to pursue my many entrepreneurial, charitable and political endeavors."
At the time, his chief political endeavor was Mitt Romney.
He'd been encouraging the former Massachusetts governor for years, giving money to Romney's testing-the-waters presidential accounts as far back as the mid-2000s. Satter raised money for Romney's failed 2008 bid and then again in 2012, when he secured the Republican nomination.
During the second Romney run, Satter helped lead the Illinois team that raised more than $25 million for Romney's campaign and supportive groups. And he stepped up his own investment, along with his wife pumping $885,000 into Restore Our Future, American Crossroads and other super-PACs, Federal Election Commission reports show.
Beyond politics, Satter is a frequent donor to Room to Read, a program to distribute books to children in developing countries; the Navy Seals; Northwestern University; and the Nature Conservancy. His Satter Investment Management LLC, based in Chicago, invests mostly in life sciences and medical technologies.
"He's a warrior for people and does everything he can to make a difference," Wagner said.
Satter's influence in the Republican Party was on display earlier this year. An extensive private poll that he commissioned served as a reality check when its results were shared with Romney last month, according to The New York Times.
Now, he's all in for Bush, brother and son of two past presidents. So, too, are Gidwitz and Wagner, as the Romney diaspora increasingly moves to Bush. Satter sat chatting with Columba Bush, Jeb Bush's wife, throughout the possible candidate's foreign policy speech last week in Chicago. His relationship with Bush goes back years. The two have met privately and helped some of the same candidates.
"While he has a healthy respect and appreciation for many of the other candidates, he believes Governor Bush is the one who is most ready to assume the Oval Office and would be outstanding if elected president," Wagner said of Satter's decision to support Bush. "He is game-day, battle-tested ready."
Beyond Satter, Bush and Emanuel at least one other common denominator: Common Core. Emanuel and Bush both back the set of national education standards, which some unions and conservatives oppose. In October 2013, Emanuel was the closing speaker—at Bush's education summit.