Since federal courts struck down key campaign cash restrictions in 2010, a few dozen super-rich activists have gone on a historic spending spree that has reshaped American politics. The group skews older and male, and a single death in its ranks can fundamentally reorder the political landscape.
“Obviously, I knew that he was older and that he had his health issues, but he was always really vibrant and on the go, never frail,” [CREW's Melanie] Sloan said of [liberal mogul Peter] Lewis. “I always knew that Peter was not making bequests to his groups — that the money was going to be left to his kids. So I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t leave anything for us, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a shock.”
Like Lewis, neither Houston homebuilder Bob Perry nor billionaire Dallas investor Harold Simmons left much in the way of a political money succession plan, and their 2013 deaths shook the financial foundation of the right. The pair had combined to donate $132 million in federal contributions, including $44 million to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC.
“When they lost those two donors last year, it was really debilitating,” a prominent conservative fundraiser said of American Crossroads.
Thus, the most influential political money networks on the left and the right have increasingly encouraged their donors’ kids to attend the closed-door confabs that serve as de facto private conventions for the big-money set, complete with strategy presentations from operatives and get-to-know-you sessions with the most in-demand politicians.
Chase Koch, the 37-year-old son of billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, has been spearheading an initiative to involve the children of wealthy contributors in the Koch brothers’ vast political network, partly by holding special events for them at the network’s twice-annual donor seminars.