Palm Beach Fundraiser Shows Out-of-State Money Key for McConnell

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As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell seeks to reintroduce himself to Kentucky voters as a champion of the state’s interests, a recent campaign finance report that shows he raised over $200,000 hobnobbing with billionaires in Palm Beach, Florida highlights the importance that wealthy Americans and out-of-state interests have for McConnell.

The fundraiser had gained some prior press attention for being held in part at “Windsong,” the home of billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, Jr., only days after McConnell had proclaimed, “Don't tell me Republicans are the party of millionaires and billionaires.” The event benefitted McConnell Victory Kentucky, a joint fundraising committee that splits its proceeds between McConnell’s 2014 re-election campaign and the Republican Party of Kentucky.

  • Filings with the Federal Election Commission show that McConnell Victory Kentucky raised at least $213,900 around the time of the fundraiser from donors in the region surrounding Palm Beach and from family and business partners of another co-host, John Castle.
  • Two of the wealthiest 200 Americans were in attendance, according to comparisons with the Forbes Billionaires List: Wilbur Ross, a distressed assets investor who has been called a “vulture investor” ($2.6 billion), and Charles Johnson of Franklin Resources ($5.7 billion). Residential real estate tycoon Dwight Schar, a former billionaire who was listed as being worth $1.0 billion in 2010, also attended. Each of the three gave $15,000.
  • The fundraising event came while McConnell’s Republican minority in the Senate was maintaining a years-long obstruction of Richard Cordray’s nomination to be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Ross may have had an interest in encouraging McConnell to keep that filibuster going, as then-Ohio Attorney General Cordray sued one of Ross’s businesses, American Home Mortgage Servicing, in 2009 for unfair business practices.

That McConnell received such a large amount of money from out of state isn’t surprising. A recent report by Public Campaign Action Fund found that 2011 and 2012 marked the first time Kentucky was not McConnell’s largest source of individual contributions. Texas (20 percent) and the New York tri-state area (19 percent) both accounted for more than Kentucky’s 13 percent.

The highbrow fundraising events that pack McConnell’s schedule offer a significant opportunity for wealthy out-of-state donors to give McConnell their advice on how the government should be run. Everyday Kentuckians who can’t afford such large donations may wonder if McConnell hears their interests—which are not backed up by big checks—as clearly as those of his donors.