A Donor, But Not For Favors The No. 2 Political Giver In The U.s. Says He Seeks To Support Democrats, Not His Own Agenda.

Posted: October 26, 1998

A national Democratic figure once called him a ``kook'' for turning down a luncheon with President Clinton because he felt party honchos were seeking to buy his support.

But that has not stopped Peter L. Buttenwieser from continuing to donate to political causes. A Mother Jones magazine survey lists him as the No. 2 money donor in America - and the best friend that Democrats have.

The Chestnut Hill investor, who says he lives mostly on inherited money from his father and mother, who were both from families in investment banking, is seldom seen at political events.

But his impact is widely felt. Mother Jones, in an issue out today, says he made $610,000 in federal campaign contributions during 1997 and the first half of this year.

Buttenwieser, 62, ranked No. 94 on the magazine's survey a year ago. He is joined on the current list, at No. 51, by Terry A. Marek, his wife. Marek was reported to have contributed $138,500, also to Democrats.

First on this year's list of the top 400 contributors were Amway Corp. founder Richard M. DeVos of Grand Rapids, Mich., and his wife, Helen. They contributed $1,018,800, mostly to Republican causes, the magazine said.

Big donors often want some kind of favor from government.

Helen DeVos, Mother Jones said, once wrote that her family was ``the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party.'' She wrote that she had stopped ``taking offense at the suggestion we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. We do expect some things in return.''

In an interview, Buttenwieser said he never had asked for anything.

In 1996, when it seemed to him that Democrats were offering him a ``truly intimate luncheon'' with Clinton in exchange for a $50,000 donation to the party, he cried foul. He said the offer smacked of a ``quid pro quo,'' and he declined the lunch.

Terry McAuliffe, a former finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee, retorted with the kook comment.

Buttenwieser, who has also been a major contributor to Mayor Rendell, said that if not wanting to barter for favors - even a lunch - is the definition of a kook, well, then, maybe he is a kook.

Working with the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, San Francisco-based Mother Jones examined contributions reported to the Federal Election Commission.

These included direct donations to U.S. Senate and House campaigns, and donations to political action committees that contributed to candidates for Congress. They also included donations to the two major national political parties, which may have used some of the money to support candidates in various state and local elections.

Buttenwieser was the principal of two alternative schools in Philadelphia in the 1960s and 1970s. He has described himself over the decades as an education consultant.

He said he did not know offhand how much he had given to national political causes. He said the magazine's $610,000 figure ``strikes me as pretty accurate.''

Asked why he gave so much, he replied:

``Because I think the far right of the Republican Party is a frightening prospect, and the Republican Party now is dominated by these people. . . . I want to help the Democratic Party, in its progressive center, to survive. . . . I've been fortunate to inherit a reasonable amount of money, and I've tried to use it philanthropically and politically.''

Asked for his reaction to the White House sex scandal, he said: ``I feel very disappointed about the Clinton mess, but I am among those who feel it is not an impeachable offense, and it's time to move on.''

With a mayoral race coming up next year in Philadelphia, Buttenwieser is sure to be asked to donate to one or more candidates. He said he was not inclined to do that.

Only one other Philadelphia-area Democrat was on the magazine's list - Gregory S. Rubin, a Paoli attorney, who was said to have donated $35,750, at No. 398.

Eight spots on the list went to area Republican donors: Charis P. Cole and Chris Cole of Bryn Athyn, donors to conservative candidates and PACs (No. 71, $123,395); the late Herbert Barness, a major GOP fund-raiser from Bucks County (No. 75, $121,217); Drew Lewis of Lederach, Pa., a former Reagan administration cabinet member and gubernatorial nominee (No. 90, $109,900); Marian Ware and Marilyn Lewis, members of a prominent Lancaster County-based family (Nos. 94 and 229, $107,000 and $55,500); John M. Templeton of the Radnor-based Templeton Fund (No. 220, $57,000); Warren Musser, founder of Safeguard Securities in Wayne (No. 260, $50,500); and Ralph W. Hooper of Wayne, a longtime contributor to conservative causes (No. 380, $37,250).

comments powered by Disqus