5 Women Give Millions to Middle of the GOP Presidential Pack

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Ted Cruz with supporters at the National Federation of Republican Women convention in September 2015.

Credit: Gage Skidmore on Flickr, under Creative Commons

Ted Cruz with supporters at the National Federation of Republican Women convention in September 2015.


(WOMENSNEWS)–The 2016 presidential election is a milestone for women: for the first time women are vying for the White House in each of the majority parties’ primaries. But among mega donors, those who have contributed $1 million or more to the candidates for the period ending June 30, it is still 1950 with women taking a backseat to their billionaire husbands, most of whom have matched their donations.

Only 14 women–all of whom obtained their wealth through marriage–are on The New York Times’ list of 62 mega contributors, an increase of three since 2012.

Most are traditional housewives who married young, had large families and volunteered at local hospitals and charities while their husbands built businesses from the ground up by capitalizing on opportunities in shale oil, online finance or entertainment. All are white. Most live in the Sun Belt.

The female mega-donors are largely invisible. Unlike their husbands and children who have taken strong stands on opposing the federal deficit and environmental protections, the female mega-donors are rarely seen in the corridors of the White House or Congress. Most jealously guard their privacy, omitting their ages, education and work history from the web sites of their family foundations.

Despite their low profiles and relative scarcity, the female mega-donors are still, by the sheer size of their contributions, huge factors in the 2016 presidential race, which raised $400 million in the first half of 2015. Attempts to limit campaign donations by wealthy contributors date back to 1867, but it was not until 1974 that Congress took action. Fueled by the public outrage over the role large contributors played in the Watergate scandal, Congress passed an amendment to the Federal Election Act of 1971 limiting individual contributions to $1000.

Then came 2010 and the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, which lifted the restrictions on how corporations, associations and unions could use their money to influence elections. That unleashed a floodgate of contributions from mega-contributors.

These donations help explain the girth of the GOP field. The money has flowed to GOP challengers who were unknown outside their states and needed funds to establish headquarters and hire staff.

But donations by these donors–all of whom are on the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans–may be insufficient to keep these campaigns afloat during the next 11 months. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who attracted $10 million from female mega-donors, dropped out in September over concerns about the lack of long-term financing.

Some candidates who are now rising in the polls, such as Republicans Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, and the retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, have not received donations from female mega-donors in the early stages of the campaign. Republican firebrand Donald Trump has financed his campaign with his own money.

But for the regional challengers still in the race–defined as politicians whose names were not well known nationally before the primary campaign–these five female mega donors have been providing crucial support.

Joann Wilks, $5 million to Cruz

"We support Cruz because he believes in the morality of the free market, in keeping our country safe and in the right of the unborn not to be killed," Wilks and her husband Farris wrote in a September email to Reuters. Farris and his brother Don sold 70 percent of their interest in Frac Tech, a hydraulic fracturing and oil field services company in Pleasanton, Texas, to Temasek Holdings, a Singapore state-owned investment firm, for $3.5 billion in May 2011.

The brothers were among the first Texans to capitalize on fracking, the controversial natural gas drilling technique that has boomed in the last decade.

Joann and Farris have 11 children. Joann has focused on child rearing and Farris, in addition to his business activities, is the pastor of the Assembly of Yahweh Seventh Day Church, Rising Star, Texas, which interprets every word of the Bible literally. The couple is focusing on the Thirteen Foundation, which they established with $100 million in 2011. The foundation has given contributions to the Texas Right to Life Committee Education fund, the National Institute of Marriage, which opposes same sex unions, and the Texas Home School Fund.

Owners of undeveloped land in Montana, Idaho, Texas, Kansas and Colorado, the couple has also supported American Majority, based in Purcellville, Va., which trains activists in techniques that will "reject self-destructive policies that advance government expansion."

Staci Wilks, $2.5 million to Cruz

Like her sister-in-law Joann Wilks, Staci has concentrated on raising children. In her case there are six. She also spearheads the Heavenly Fathers Foundation, which she and her husband Dan founded in 2011 in Cisco, Texas, with $110 million. Other GOP candidates they have backed include former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in his presidential bid and Rob McCoy, senior pastor of Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park, Calif., who was defeated for a state assembly seat in Ventura county in 2014.

Laura Perlmutter, $2 million to Rubio

Laura and her husband Isaac, who wrestled control of Marvel Entertainment from investors Ronald O. Perelman and Carl Icahn in 1998, are rarely seen and photographed. Until Marvel’s acquisition by the Walt Disney Company in 2009, Isaac was Marvel’s CEO and its largest stockholder.

The reclusive billionaire is so secretive, Vanity Fair reported in 2009, that he attended a premier of "Iron Man" disguised in glasses and a moustache. He has never given an interview.

Laura met Isaac, who had emigrated to the U.S. in 1967 after serving in the Israeli army during the Six-Day War, at a resort in the Catskill Mountains of New York. They now live in West Palm Beach and New York City.

In 1978, Laura began volunteering at the New York University Medical Center. She has served as the president of the auxiliary and as a trustee. The couple has donated more than $58 million to the institution. Their most recent donation in February will establish a research facility on the Haifa campus of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and a joint program between NYU and Technion.

Abigail Wexner, $1 million to Kasich

The former Abigail S. Koppel had a distinguished legal career in New York and London before she married Leslie H. Wexner, founder and CEO of L Brands, in 1993. The apparel retailer is based in Columbus, Ohio, and includes Victoria’s Secret and Bath and Body Works. A graduate of Barnard College and New York University School of Law, Abigail was 31 years old when she married, Leslie was 55.

Kasich appointed Abigail to a nine-year term on the Ohio State University Board of Trustees in 2014. Leslie had previously served on the board for 18 years, including a stint as chair.

A native New Yorker, Abigail is the founder and chair of the Center for Family Safety and Healing, which works to combat family violence in central Ohio. In 1998, Wexner founded the New Albany Classic Invitational Grand Prix and Family Day to combine her love of horses and raise funds for the center, which provides counseling, shelter and links to other services for domestic-violence survivors.

Alexandra Cohen, $1 million to Christie

The former Alexandra Garcia met Steven A. Cohen, founder of SAC Capital Advisors, a group of hedge funds based in Stamford, Conn., through an online dating service in 1991. He sent a post to 20 women and she was the only one to respond.

Born in Harlem, Garcia was a single mother raising a child. She married Cohen at age 23 and now has four daughters with him.

In 2013, Steven agreed to pay $1.2 billion to settle an insider trading case launched against SAC Capital Advisors by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The U.S. attorney in Brooklyn last week moved to have the court dismiss the insider trading convictions of seven of SAC’s top employees, in response to an appeal court decision.

SAC Capital Advisors is now known as Point 72 Asset Management and is run by Steven Cohen.

In August, Alexandra hosted a $2,700 a plate luncheon for Christie at the couple’s $60-million beachfront mansion in East Hampton. The family foundation has been a supporter of the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, a major project of Christie.

Alexandra manages the day-to-day activities of the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Charitable Foundation, which has provided grants to numerous children’s charities, such as the Fresh Air Fund, which sends children to camp and the pediatric programs at North Shore Long Island Jewish Hospital and New York University.

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