Christopher Findlater: The Super Rich

Florida millionaire and Democracy Alliance member decries big spending while spending big

August 17, 2012

Editor’s Note: Details of the WFB’s Democracy Alliance exposé can be found here.

A deep-pocketed Democratic donor is calling for campaign contribution limits despite giving an average of $312,000 per year to left-wing candidates and a shadowy advocacy group.

Former online media scion Christopher Findlater has provided Democratic candidates, committees, and groups more than $430,000 since 2008, including $40,800 to the Obama Victory Fund in 2011 and 2012. OVF avoids campaign finance limits by splitting its money between the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Findlater has visited the White House three times and accompanied Obama to a Broadway production in 2010. His last White House visit came two months after making his first donation to the reelection effort.

Findlater is also a member of the elite, secretive, invitation-only Democracy Alliance, according to documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. Full Alliance members are required to contribute at least $200,000 per year as membership dues and contributions to allied organizations.

Findlater blasted that type of shadowy behavior in a 2009 letter mailed to Democratic congressmen. He joined 57 other wealthy liberal donors to plead with the lawmakers to pass the Fair Elections Now Act, which would have imposed stricter limits on giving.

"With so much at stake in Washington today, we believe it is shortsighted to continue down the present unsustainable path of skyrocketing campaign spending," the letter read. "The Fair Elections Now Act is a common sense idea whose time has come, a change that will set us on a better path in the years ahead."

Neither Findlater nor the Alliance responded to emails and calls for comment.

"Politics and hypocrisy are a perfect marriage," said Jacob Laksin, author of The New Leviathan: How the Left-Wing Money-Machine Shapes American Politics and Threatens America’s Future. "It is pretty embarrassing of him to support the ideal in public but not in practice."

Findlater cofounded the pioneering online auto insurance business, NetQuote, which connects insurance agents with prospective buyers. The company was sold for over $50 million in 2005.

The lucrative company has come under fire from industry insiders and consumers who claim that its information gathering consists of spam tactics—such as utilizing unrelated Internet surveys requesting personal information—rather than legitimate lead gathering. Twenty-two complaints have been filed with the watchdog group

"NetQuote is doing bogus advertisements to capture people's information on the Internet and then send the information to insurance agents," one agent said. "I plead with others to not use these insurance lead programs. It is a big scam!"

Findlater’s newfound wealth provided left-leaning groups in his native Florida with a much-needed boost by financing 527 groups and political action committees that are exempt from contribution limits.

Findlater pumped nearly $900,000 into Fair Districts Florida, a liberal group that spent more than $9 million to curb Republican redistricting efforts. He also founded the Florida Watch Ballot Committee in 2010, and used it to funnel $500,000 from liberal billionaire George Soros to FDF. Despite the large amount of cash changing hands, the committee never filed any campaign reports, and disbanded shortly after voters approved the redistricting amendments.

"They failed to file their final report due in July 2011," said Florida Elections Division spokesman Chris Cate, though they were able to avoid prosecution because "they were not referred to the Elections Commission."

Democratic political consultant and former U.S. Senate candidate Bill Phillips served as the group’s treasurer. Phillips now runs American Sunrise, a Super PAC focused on ousting Rep. Allen West, an outspoken black conservative. Sunrise spent nearly $55,000 on anti-West Internet ads that were made by Phillips’ company, Visuality.

Phillips did not return calls for comment.

The former CEO has frequently used third party political groups to funnel campaign donations to causes and candidates he supports. He donated $20,200 to ActBlue since 2007. ActBlue is a clearinghouse that connects liberal donors and candidates. The organization allows donors to hide the identity of their recipients by filing contributions under the ActBlue banner.

Such donations are becoming more common under recent campaign finance laws, according to John Samples, author of The Fallacy of Campaign Finance Reform.

"In an election year, privacy can be very important," he said. "We’ve seen what the left has done to people who do business with the Kochs. These donors are trying to avoid that, and the Democracy Alliance provides that service."

The Alliance partners with liberal communication hubs, such as Media Matters and the Center for American Progress. Those groups embody Findlater’s efforts to use media to support Democrats. He financed online journalism websites in Wyoming and Florida to provide critical coverage of the GOP and donated $25,000 to American Bridge PAC in December 2011 to produce opposition research on Republican officials.

Findlater has also used his fortune to finance several Soros-related operations, including the Secretary of State Project, a 527 group that seeks to elect Democrats at the state level.

Findlater has focused his 2012 contributions on preserving Democratic control in Washington. He donated $30,800 to the DNC in 2012, bringing his three-month fundraising push for Obama to $71,600.