Marion Sandler, 1930-2012

Left-wing philanthropist leaves mixed legacy

Marion Sandler, the prominent left-wing philanthropist who helped pioneer a controversial mortgage-lending practice at the heart of the 2007 mortgage crisis, has passed away at her San Francisco home, according to her personal website.

Sandler, a former Wall Street securities analyst, was prominently featured, along with her husband Herb, on Time magazine’s list of "25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis." The Sandlers co-founded Golden West Financial, which through its World Savings Bank unit became the first financial firm to offer the so-called adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM), a controversial home loan that allowed borrowers to make low monthly payments while increasing the balance owed.

After introducing the ARM in the early 1980s, Time wrote, the Sandlers "pushed the mortgage … with increasing zeal and misleading advertisements over the next two decades."

The Sandlers pocketed $2.4 billion from the 2006 sale of Golden West to Wachovia, which nearly collapsed two years later before being bought by Wells Fargo. Critics blamed the preponderance of toxic ARM loans acquired from Golden West for Wachovia’s demise.

A satirical sketch on "Saturday Night Live" suggested the Sandlers "should be shot" for their roles in the financial crisis, though the sketch was ultimately edited for rebroadcast to remove the claim.

The Sandlers put their fortune to use, financing a variety of left-wing causes. They donated millions to help start the Center for American Progress in 2003, and had contributed about $20 million to the left-wing think tank as of 2008.

The Sandlers donated considerable sums over the years to prominent liberal groups such as Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACORN, and

The couple contributed $8.5 million in 2004 to Citizens for a Strong Senate, a 527-group set up by former staffers of disgraced Sen. John Edwards (D., N.C.). Years later they spent tens of millions to launch the left-leaning journalism outfit ProPublica.

Marion Sandler personally donated tens of thousands of dollars to Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and other Democratic candidates since 2008. Her husband gave $2.5 million to the Voter Fund in 2004.

Both were members of the secretive cabal of liberal elites known as the Democracy Alliance, which recently held a secret conference in Miami to discuss strategy in the 2012 election.

Marion Sandler was 81.