By Michael Beckel
Center for Public Integrity
Hamburger chain White Castle, the for-profit education provider Apollo Group and a firm connected to a controversial high-stakes gambler and golf course developer were among the largest donors to a super PAC dedicated to keeping Republicans in control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
These three corporate contributions amounted to about 30 percent of the $557,000 raised by the Congressional Leadership Fund in the first six months of the year, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of campaign finance records.
The GOP super PAC’s largest donation so far this year — $125,000 — came from John W. Childs, the founder and chairman of a Boston-based private equity firm that specializes in leveraged buyouts. Childs was one of the top bankrollers of super PACs during the 2012 election cycle, giving $4.2 million to pro-Republican groups.
Its second-largest donation — $100,000 — came from a Nevada-based limited liability company called T STAR III LLC. Nevada business records identify William T. “Billy” Walters and Michael E. Luce as the company’s managers.
Walters is a well-known sports bettor who made $3.5 million betting on the New Orleans Saints in the 2010 Super Bowl. In 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported he made as much as $15 million a year gambling.
He is also the chief executive officer of The Walters Group, a real estate company based in Las Vegas that specializes in high-end golf courses. One of them includes the option of “Par Mates” — “extremely attractive and outgoing young ladies / girl caddies that will keep the golfers company during their round.”
Walters has been indicted by the Nevada attorney general three times on charges of money laundering over the years. Each time, the charges were dismissed before trial. He originally moved to Nevada in 1980 after being convicted of illegal bookmaking in his home state of Kentucky.
Luce is the president of The Walters Group. Company officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Among the Congressional Leadership Fund’s other top donors were for-profit education provider the Apollo Group — the parent company of the University of Phoenix — which contributed $50,000, and hamburger chain White Castle, which gave $25,000.
Apollo Group spokesman Ryan Rauzon told the Center for Public Integrity that the company supports “candidates in both parties” who “understand our important role” in higher education.
White Castle Vice President Jamie Richardson said that “responsible citizenship” motivated his company’s contribution.
“From time to time, we contribute to candidates and causes on both sides of the aisle,” Richardson added. “We support those who care about the same things we do — creating economic opportunity for our team members and working together to improve our neighborhoods."
White Castle has not made any other corporate super PAC donations so far this year, according to federal campaign finance records. The Apollo Group has also donated $11,300 to Jan PAC, the super PAC affiliated with Arizona’s Republican Gov. Jan Brewer.
For his part, Apollo Group founder John Sperling has made just two federal-level political donations so far this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics: $2,600 to Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., and roughly $30,300 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which seeks to increase the party’s ranks in the U.S. House of Representatives.
House Majority PAC, the super PAC that backs Democratic House candidates its biggest gift so far this year — $350,000 — from hedge fund manager Donald Sussman, the husband of Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine. It has also received large donations from several labor unions and the law firm of Texas trial lawyers Steve and Amber Mostyn.
Other five-figure donors to the Congressional Leadership Fund so far in 2013 include:
- The American Action Network, a related “social welfare” nonprofit, which gave roughly $81,000 in the form of in-kind contributions for shared staff and office space
- The Associated Builders and Contractors trade group, which gave a combined $55,000 through its advocacy arm and political action committee
- Scott Bommer, president and CEO of New York-based hedge fund SAB Capital Management, who gave $50,000
- Thomas McInerney, co-founder and CEO of Connecticut-based private equity firm Bluff Point Associates, who gave $35,000
- Dennis Washington, the Montana-residing billionaire industrialist whose interests range from mining to rail transportation to shipbuilding, gave $25,000
Ahead of the 2012 election, the Congressional Leadership Fund made headlines for accepting a $2.5 million corporate contribution from oil giant Chevron Corp. That year, the super PAC spent $9.4 million on advertisements designed to aid the GOP.
Already this year, the Congressional Leadership Fund has launched ads attacking freshmen Reps. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., and Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y.
Dan Conston, the super PAC's communications director, declined to answer specific questions about its fundraising but said the group would "have the resources to be truly effective again this cycle."
According to the group’s website, it seeks to “counter efforts on the left.” It is headed by former Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and has close ties to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Boehner himself appeared at a fundraising event for the super PAC earlier this year, according to Politico, and he recently golfed a round in New Jersey with billionaire businessman Donald Trump — who gave the Congressional Leadership Fund $100,000 last year.
The Center for Public Integrity is a non-profit, independent investigative news outlet. For more of its stories on this topic go to publicintegrity.org.