Jane Fonda Biggest Giver to 527 Groups

Posted September 24, 2003 at 6:01pm

Jane Fonda, never one to shy away from political controversy, is the top individual donor to so-called 527 groups during the past three years, according to a new study to be released today by the Center for Public Integrity.

The actress gave a total of $13 million to five tax-exempt 527 groups — with most of that money, $12.9 million, going to a group called Pro Choice Vote. She also made contributions of $100,000 to the Gore/Lieberman Recount Committee, $25,000 to Americans for Equality, $22,000 to Georgia Senate 2002 and another $20,000 to New York Senate 2000.

Fonda’s contributions were just a drop in the overall bucket, however. According to the center’s comprehensive analysis of 527 financial activity, in the past three years, such organizations have spent just under $450 million since federal laws mandating disclosure with the Internal Revenue Service first went into effect in 2000.

This year alone, the groups reported raising about $25 million — with 40 percent of that money going to the Republican and Democratic governors associations.

Others leading the 527 fundraising pack include the conservative Club for Growth, which pulled in $1.6 million, and the New Democrat Network, an organization of business-friendly Democrats that raised $1.1 million.

Besides Fonda, top contributors to 527s include liberal philanthropist Alida Messinger, who gave $2.4 million; and Jay Harris, a former investment banker and heir to the Standard Oil fortune who gave away nearly $2.4 million mostly to environmental groups, including more than $2 million to the League of Conservation Voters.

Interestingly, nine of the top 10 givers to 527s, all of whom donated upwards of $800,000 to the tax-exempt groups in the past three years, are liberals.

Only one top 10 contributor, Daniel Searle, a Yale graduate with a Harvard MBA, gave to conservative groups. A friend of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Searle has given more than $1 million to the Club for Growth.

Other contributors in the top 10 supporting liberal groups are Internet mogul Steven Kirsch; Stephen Bing, the millionaire grandson of New York real estate magnate Leo Bing; Peter Buttenwieser, heir to the Lehman Brothers securities fortune; Louise Gund, a reclusive philanthropist and an heir to the Cleveland family’s fortune; John Hunting, a grandson of one of the founders of Steelcase, an office furniture manufacturer, and supervisor of the Beldon Fund, a private foundation that funds environmental and health programs; and Arnold Hiatt, the former chief executive of the Stride Rite Corp., a Massachusetts footwear manufacturer.

Democratic and liberal labor organizations also head the list of top 527 group spenders.

AFSCME topped the list of organizations, having spent nearly $38 million. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has made extensive use of 527s such as joint fundraising committees that share the contributions among the DSCC, state parties and other recipients, spent $30 million through such entities since 2000.

The Democratic Governors’ Association came in a close third, with more than $23 million in spending; the Service Employees International Union spent slightly more than $18 million; and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee rounded out the top five with $14.6 million in spending through 527 committees.

To read the center’s complete report on 527 activity and use a searchable database, go to www.publicintegrity.org/527/.