Liberal and conservative political organizations have been learning some painful financial lessons as wealthy donors die and major sources of support dry up.
Lesson one is that they ignore the siblings and adult children of large donors at their own peril.
For example, the left lost a major source of financial support with the death of insurance billionaire Peter Lewis, who succumbed to a heart attack in November of last year at age 80.
Over the years, Lewis donated $300 million to organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Media Matters for America, the Center for American Progress, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
But he left no money to any of them, and Lewis’ children, who inherited most of his fortune, have given little to any of the political groups, "despite assiduous courting by some of them," Politico reports.
The result was "a huge loss for CREW and for the progressive movement," said Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director.
Sloan had forged a close relationship with Peter Lewis but not with his children or his younger brother.
"I always knew that Peter was not making bequests to his groups —
that the money was going to be left to his kids," Sloan said. "So I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t leave anything for us, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a shock."
Conservative political groups have also been affected by deaths of major donors. Dallas investor Harold Simmons and Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, who both died last year, made political donations totaling more than $130 million combined, including $44 million to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.
Their deaths were "really debilitating" to the group, a major conservative fundraiser said.
In response to these developments, money networks on the right and left have taken steps to encourage donors’ children to attend private meetings with political strategists and prominent politicians.
Chase Koch, son of billionaire businessman Charles Koch, a supporter of conservative and free-market causes, has begun holding special events in an effort to involve the children of contributors to the Koch brothers’ political activities. Miriam Adelson, wife of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, has been involved in key decisions and is courted by political operatives who regard her as the inheritor of her husband’s political legacy.
Sheldon Adelson, who is reportedly worth $37 billion, is a major donor to Republicans. He brought his wife and daughter to a June 2012 Koch seminar in California, where he expressed hope that his daughter would some day take the helm of his political operation.
On the left, the Democracy Alliance
is attempting to cultivate the next generation of big-time donors. The group was launched in 2005 after the sons of Peter Lewis and billionaire financier George Soros traveled across the United States to recruit new donors. It includes Susan Sandler, daughter of founding members Herb and the late Marion Sandler.
Through the end of last year, the Sandler family foundation has given more than $650 million to liberal causes.
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