POLITICS

Meet The Top Politicians And Donors Who Mingled At A Secretive Conference This Month

03/19/2015 08:06 pm ET | Updated Mar 19, 2015
ASSOCIATED PRESS

By Dave Levinthal and Michael Beckel

This story is from The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C. To sign up for more of their money in politics investigations, go here or follow them on Twitter.

Eleven potential Republican presidential candidates, several media titans and a gaggle of top political donors ranked among attendees this month of a secretive politics and policy conference, according to an attendee roster obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

Likely White House hopefuls listed as participants include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former Amb. John Bolton.

Their names, along with about 300 others, appear within disclosure documents filed today by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii — who, along with Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, was one of the handful of Democrats who participated in the annual conference sponsored by the conservative American Enterprise Institute. 

The "World Forum" event, conducted March 5 through March 8 at a luxurious resort in Sea Island, Georgia, has been conducted annually since 1982. 

Sessions at the invitation-only, off-the-record affair came with such titles as "Campaign 2016: What to Expect," "The Shape of Education Reform in the Post-Obama Era" and "Bipartisan Agreement in Economic Policy."

Among the top Republican bankrollers and fundraisers on the attendees roster: political consultant Karl Rove, coal king Joe Craft, real estate developer Harlan Crow, Goldman Sachs executive Jim Donovan, businessman Sam Fox, brokerage executive Joe Ricketts, who founded what's now TD Ameritrade. 

They joined World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon, former Facebook executive Sean Parker, developer Ross Perot Jr. — son of 1992 presidential candidate H. Ross Perot — and businessman Dick DeVos, who leads agriculture giant Amway.

Media figures include Rupert Murdoch, whose corporate empire controls Fox News and the Wall Street Journal among other media outlets, and New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger. Add Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, former CNN journalist Campbell Brown and New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks to the list, as well.

Other bold-faced names include former Vice President Dick Cheney, former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, soon-to-be former Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois and Chick-fil-A honcho Dan Cathy. 

Legistorm first reported that House Majority Leader Steve Scalise — who has faced withering criticism of late for once speaking before a white supremacist group — skipped the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Selma, Alabama, civil rights march to attend the conference.

The American Enterprise Institute conference stands in start contrast to other early-year conservative gatherings such as the annual Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington, D.C., which is open to the public and press.

Judy Mayka Stecker, an American Enterprise Institute spokeswoman, previously told the Center for Public Integrity that "the event is private and off-the-record" in order to "maintain intellectual freedom and free discourse."

As a sitting member of Congress, Gabbard was required to file disclosure documents with the U.S. House because the American Enterprise Institute paid for her travel, lodging and meals. Gabbard reported their value was about $3,700.

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