Top donors give lots, say little

WASHINGTON-Connecticut’s biggest individual political donors are not too eager to talk about why they’ve opened their wallets this election season. They’re content to let their money speak for them.

Together, the five top contributors in Connecticut have given nearly $800,000 to federal candidates and political committees so far this election cycle. And despite the bleak political outlook for Democrats, all but $1,000 of that has gone to Democratic contenders or party committees as they seek to keep control of the House and Senate come 2011.

The No. 1 political giver in the state is the Fass family. Daniel Fass, a Greenwich radiation oncologist, and his wife Jessica, have written nearly $200,000 in campaign checks to more than a dozen politicians and party committees, according to an analysis conducted for the Mirror by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics. CRP’s tally covers donations made from January 2009 through June 2010, the most recent data available.

The Fasses have contributed to several Connecticut incumbents, including Reps. Jim Himes, D-4th District, and Chris Murphy, D-5th District. But they’ve also given to several out-of-state Democrats, including Sen. Michael Bennett, of Colorado, and they’ve forked over a combined $52,900 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which doles out money to help vulnerable House Democrats.

In addition, Jacob Fass, a student who listed the same street address in Riverside as Daniel and Jessica Fass, donated $30,400 to the Democratic National Committee-the maximum contribution allowed to a party committee per year.

Another top donor, Anthony Malkin, has a personal interest in Connecticut’s marquee U.S. Senate contest. Malkin is the brother-in-law of Connecticut’s attorney general, Democrat Richard Blumenthal, who faces an expensive, hard-fought race against Republican Linda McMahon to replace retiring Sen. Christopher Dodd.

Of course, McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, is the biggest spender on political campaigns of all: She has already spent more than $24 million of her own fortune on her Senate bid, and has vowed to spend as much as $50 million.

Blumenthal’s own personal holdings are modest, but his wife Cynthia is the daughter of Peter Malkin, a New York real estate magnate who heads an investment group that owns the Empire State Building and other properties.

Anthony Malkin, Cynthia’s brother and the president of Malkin Holdings LLC, along with his wife Rachelle have given a combined $188,000 to various federal candidates this election. (They list both New York and Greenwich addresses for their various donations.)

Most notably, they both gave the maximum contribution-$4,800-to Blumenthal, as well as $60,800 each to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which helps support Democratic Senate candidates. The DSCC just moved last week to purchase $300,000 worth of TV air time in Connecticut to boost Blumenthal’s bid.

The Blumenthal campaign did not respond to a request for comment. An assistant to Malkin said he was traveling and would not be available for comment. She did not respond to a list of emailed questions.

Similarly, Craig Cogut, co-founder of a private equity investment firm in Cos Cob, did not return messages left at his office. He and his wife Deborah have donated about $137,000 so far this election cycle. The Coguts gave mostly to New York and Connecticut Democrats, but also to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, and Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, both of who face tough re-election bids.

In fact, none of the donors named in this story returned calls seeking comment. Only one responded directly at all: “Pass,” said an email from Stephen Mandel, another investment financier who, with his wife Susan, has given about $133,000, all to Democrats.

Last on the Top-5 list are Richard and Ellen Richman, who gave close to $130,000 to Democrats. They each gave the maximum contribution to Blumenthal’s campaign, as well as to the Democratic National Committee and to Reid.

But the Richmans didn’t just open their own wallets. They also helped pry money from other well-heeled Greenwich residents. Last month, they hosted a $30,400 per-person dinner featuring Blumenthal and President Barack Obama at their estate, an event that raised about $1 million for the DNC.

Daniel Fass was alone among the top five donors in Connecticut to give money to a Republican, although that donation went to Rep. Parker Griffith, a one-time Democrat from Alabama who switched his party affiliation last year and was recently defeated in his home-state’s primary earlier this year. Fass did not return messages left at his Greenwich office.

Among Connecticut donors further down the list, the political leanings turn toward the GOP.

Henry Miller, chairman of Miller Buckfire & Co, and his wife Barbara gave a total of $126,405, putting them at No. 6 on the top donor list. They gave to Republican state party committees in Connecticut, Minnesota and Massachusetts, as well as to local Republican House candidates Dan Debicella and Sam Caliguiri, who are hoping to unseat Democratic incumbents Himes and Murphy respectively.

Clifford Asness, former director of quantitative research at Goldman Sachs, gave a little under $120,000 dollars to Republicans, including $30,400 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.  Among his contributions is also a seemingly misplaced $490 to Dodd. A spokesperson for his company, AQR Capital Management, said Asness was not available to comment.

What motivates this political largesse? Peter L. Francia, an associate professor of political science at East Carolina University, divides political donors into three categories. First, there are “investors” who give money in the hopes of getting some legislative or political benefit.

Others, he said, give to promote certain issues, such as abortion rights or lower taxes. And then there are donors who give because they enjoy the social events and recognition it brings them, not to mention the chance to rub elbows with powerful politicians.

He said it’s somewhat surprising to see the top five donors giving largely to the Democratic Party.

“Of course, the terrible electoral environment for Democrats has created a sense of urgency among its base,” he says.

Big Democratic donors in other states, however, have been holding back, in part because of the bleak outlook for the party. And many corporate political action committees have started to split their contributions between Democrats and the GOP.

But so far at least, Connecticut’s most active individual contributors don’t seem to be hedging their bets.