His family made its fortune thanks to minimum wage workers working drive-through lanes. Now Rob McKay is putting that money to work hobnobbing with the wealthiest members of the left to pump as much as $100 million into President Barack Obama’s election efforts.
McKay, son of taco titan Rob McKay Sr., leads the Democracy Alliance, a 150-member group of liberals dedicated to keeping Obama in the White House. Full-members shell out $200,000 per year to groups selected by McKay and VIP progressives representing major unions and foundations.
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The Alliance did not return numerous requests for comment.
Under McKay’s leadership, the Alliance has grown closer to the Obama Administration: In 2011, the group lifted its prohibition on campaign fundraising at the request of Vice President Joe Biden. It soon began including the Obama affiliated Super PAC, Priorities USA, at its ritzy conventions. The move led several members, including co-founding billionaire Peter Lewis, to renounce the group.
McKay, who has visited the White House eight times since 2009, has extensive ties to the world of Super PACs, thanks to his generous donations to Democrats. He hosted a $35,800-a-head fundraiser for Obama in January and has also contributed $100,000 to American Bridge 21st Century, an opposition research Super PAC founded by Media Matters creator David Brock.
In addition to serving as chairman of the Democracy Alliance, McKay sits on the board of America Coming Together (ACT), a George Soros-backed group. While Priorities has come under fire for linking Mitt Romney to the death of a woman by cancer in a campaign ad, its problems pale in comparison to ACT's. In 2007, the Federal Election Committee smacked ACT with a $775,000 fine for violating campaign fundraising laws in 2004.
"There is a revolving door on the left where you see these fundraisers coming and going with deep ties to people on the electoral side [of politics]," said Jacob Laksin, author of The New Leviathan. "There’s a lot of movement between these organizations and the high reaches of the Democratic Party and White House."
McKay runs the McKay Foundation, which he created after the Rodney King riots in 1992 to finance liberal causes. The foundation has made a number of donations to the Alliance and its endorsed groups.
Since 2005, the foundation has donated $75,000 to the Alliance, along with $255,000 to Media Matters and $95,000 to the Center for American Progress.
McKay owes his reputation to his father, who brought Taco Bell from a single franchise to a household name as its president in the 1970s. McKay Sr. sold his stake for $13 million to Pepsico in 1978 and started his own venture capital fund.
While McKay’s politics differ from his Orange County Republican parents, he still accepts what appears to be an annual allowance from Rob Sr. and Elaine McKay. From 2007 to 2010, the elder McKays fully funded their son’s foundation, largely using Pepsico stock. The injection of cash allowed the foundation to write grants to liberal organizations and pay McKay Jr. his $75,000 salary.
"Let me tell you what I am not: I am not sort of liberal white rich guilt, which frankly in the Bay Area we see plenty of," McKay told the San Franciscon Chronicle in 2002. He now owns homes in San Diego and San Francisco worth nearly $10 million.
McKay did not return requests for comment.
McKay’s deep ties to progressive politics have increased his clout in Washington, D.C., especially in media. He sits on the board of the liberal magazine, Mother Jones, and was a director of the Salon Media Group. His ties to media operations do not surprise political philanthropy expert Bradley Smith.
"They’re focused on blogs and op-eds; media is a game of persuasion to them," he said of the rich liberals tied to the Democracy Alliance.
McKay also has maintained extensive ties within the Alliance network. His wife, Anna, serves as a development co-chair of the Rainforest Action Network, an environmental group run by fellow Alliance board member James Gollin. The foundation provided RAN with $50,000 from 2008 to 2010.
Rob McKay also sits on the board of ProgressNow with Alliance members Ted Trimpa and Doug Phelps.
"They travel in a bubble with right-thinking people," Smith said. "These guys who are a part of the same culture that you find in the media and Hollywood … they tend to look with disdain on people outside of their bubble."
The Alliance works hard to protect those in the "bubble." It does not disclose its recipients or members, and prohibits them from discussing the organization with the press.