How to Make Friends and Influence Elections

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from Bloomberg Businessweek,

A rich political donor disillusioned with large super PACs is spending millions through his own group.

John Jordan, who runs his family’s award-winning Jordan Winery in Sonoma County, Calif., has a lot of stuff. There’s the 58,000-square-foot chateau and the 1,200-acre estate his parents bought in 1972. He has a bass fishing boat, which he keeps docked on one of two man-made lakes on the property, and three private planes, one of which he keeps parked near the estate so he can fly to nearby Santa Rosa for sushi on a whim. He has a startup, which has developed an app for restaurant wine lists, and a marketing team that makes videos of Jordan and his staff dancing to pop songs like Gangnam Style and Blurred Lines to post on the company website.

Before the midterm elections, Jordan, a longtime Republican political donor, decided he wanted something else, too: his own political operation. In October he set up Bold Agenda PAC and spent almost $600,000 promoting an 11-point policy agenda modeled on the 1994 Contract with America. It included rolling back taxes for small businesses that introduce employee profit-­sharing and cutting the salaries of elected officials. Jordan poured some of the cash into running ads for Elan Carr, a Republican who lost his bid for the Los Angeles-area House seat vacated by longtime Democratic Representative Henry Waxman.

Jordan paid for polling data as well as ad-making and media-buying advice, but rather than hire a political operatives to make decisions, he did the grunt work of drafting scripts and reading poll numbers himself. “By nature I’m a hands-on guy,” says Jordan, 43. “I’m not the sort of country club Republican that is just happy to write a check and be done with it.”

Jordan, who was one of the top 25 individual donors to super PACs in 2014, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, represents a new breed of political funder created by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. Rather than signing over contributions to a candidate’s campaign or to a super PAC, rich political enthusiasts like Jordan can run their own minipolitical operations with almost no limits.

Starting a personal political operation gives Jordan a degree of control he wouldn’t have as a donor to the influential network of super PACs and nonprofits run by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who’ve said they intend to spend $900 million supporting conservative candidates and causes in the 2016 elections. Financed through a combination of the brothers’ wealth and donations from other contributors, the Koch groups have grown to rival traditional party organizations in size and scope.

Typically, solo donors have a particular issue in mind. California billionaire Tom Steyer, 2014’s top super PAC spender, put up more than 90 percent of the $74 million his NextGen Climate Action Committee spent supporting Democratic candidates. The group’s strategy was set by veteran Clinton operative Chris Lehane; many of its favored candidates, including Colorado Democratic Senator Mark Udall, lost.

Jordan, a lawyer who served in the Naval Reserve before taking over the winery business from his parents in 2005, has been a donor to Republican causes for years.

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