Meet the Macker

New Obama bundler Terry McAuliffe has a history of cronyism

Bill Clinton, Terry McAuliffe / AP
August 2, 2012

One of President Obama’s newest campaign bundlers is a career Democratic fundraiser with a history of shady business dealings and failed political ambitions.

Terry "The Macker" McAuliffe, who has raised millions of dollars for clients such as former President Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), is one of the most well connected players in American politics.

McAuliffe’s impressive Rolodex, which he told the New York Times boasts more than 18,000 names, has helped him amass an impressive personal fortune over the course of a business career that is littered with questionable transactions.

His latest venture is GreenTech, an electric car company that recently opened a plant in Horn Lake, Mississippi. McAuliffe, who purchased the company from China following his unsuccessful run for Virginia governor in 2009, tapped his extensive political network to help raise more than $100 million in start-up capital.

The New York Times described GreenTech as "a monument to the power of a politically connected company." Anthony Rodham, brother of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, leads the company’s primary investment group.

Earlier this month, McAuliffe celebrated the opening of the GreenTech plant at a ceremony attended by Bill Clinton and mega-lobbyist and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former business partner of McAuliffe’s who enticed GreenTech to Mississippi with a "package of tax and infrastructure incentives."

Marianne McInerney, executive vice president of sales and marketing for GreenTech, said the incentive package reflected the state’s "desire to attract an electric car company," and included a $3 million loan.

The event was also attended by a host of wealthy investors from China, where GreenTech is currently building a massive manufacturing facility as part of a joint venture with a Chinese investment firm.

McAuliffe’s political connections may have played a role in securing a deal with China. In February 2012, GreenTech automotive executives attended a U.S. State Department luncheon honoring Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, during which Vice President Joe Biden personally introduced McAuliffe to Xi.

McAuliffe told the Associated Press the company had raised money through the federal government’s EB-5 visa program, which allows foreign nationals to obtain U.S. residency status in exchange for investing in businesses here.

It is unclear how large a stake in the company is owned by foreign investors. McInerney told the Free Beacon that "as a privately held company, GreenTech does not comment on our financial or related strategies," noting that the firm "has been built on private capital investment, not government money."

The film studio of another Obama campaign bundler, DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for allegedly bribing Chinese officials in an effort to secure film right in the communist nation.

In addition to the massive amounts of money he has raised for Democrats through his career, McAuliffe has personally donated more than $160,000 to Democratic candidates and committees since 2007, including nearly $10,000 to Obama.

In April, the president attended a fundraiser at McAuliffe’s home in Virginia. Bill Clinton was also in attendance.

McAuliffe is a new addition to the Obama campaign’s list of campaign bundlers. He has pledged to raise at least $500,000 in donations.

That should be no trouble for McAuliffe, who once raised more than $26 million in one night as part of the Democratic Party’s effort to elect Al Gore in 2000. Gore described McAuliffe as "the greatest fund-raiser in the history of the universe."

Before that, McAuliffe served as finance chair of the Clinton-Gore reelection campaign and helped raise an impressive $43 million over an eight-month period. He went on to lead the party’s fundraising efforts as chairman of the DNC from 2001 to 2005.

McAuliffe’s close relationship with Bill Clinton is well documented. The New York Times described him as the former president’s "Professional Best Friend." According to Time magazine, the two enjoy a "close friendship" punctuated by mutual fondness for "food, storytelling, golf, three-dimensional Scrabble, and ironic humor."

Clinton’s relationship with McAuliffe has been lucrative. In addition to leading the former president’s fundraising efforts, McAuliffe has raised more than $300 million for Clintonian causes, including $75 million for the Clinton presidential library, $8 million for legal bills following the Monica Lewinsky sex and perjury scandal, and $5 million for Hillary Clinton’s New York Senate campaign.

McAuliffe also put down $1.4 million in 1999 to secure a mortgage on the New York home the Clintons purchased in advance of Hillary’s Senate run, when the couple’s finances were drained by legal fees.

How the relationship has benefitted McAuliffe is less obvious. It has thus far failed to boost his political ambitions, which suffered a crushing blow in 2009 when state Senator Creigh Deeds trounced him by more than 20 points in Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. Deeds went on to lose to Republican Bob McDonnell.

McAuliffe is widely believed to be eyeing a second run for governor in 2013.

If he does decide to run, McAuliffe’s dubious business career could pose a problem for his candidacy.

Potential voters could be turned off by McAuliffe’s decision to build the GreenTech plant in Mississippi, even though the company is headquartered in Virginia. The questionable dealings with the Chinese may also raise doubts in voters’ minds.

McInerney said GreenTech "has committed to invest at least $60 million and create at least 350 full-time jobs" in Mississippi.

GreenTech, however, is just the most recent example of McAuliffe’s controversial career as an investor.

In 1999, he netted an $8 million profit by selling shares of Global Crossing, a telecommunications firm. When the company filed for bankruptcy several years later, 10,000 employees lost their jobs; investors lost $54 billion. McAuliffe’s Democratic opponents in 2009 argued the deal exemplified why he could not be trusted to create jobs in Virginia.

McAuliffe had close ties to Global Crossing CEO Gary Winnick, for whom he once arranged a golf outing with Bill Clinton in exchange for a $1 million pledge to the former president’s library in Arkansas.

In the early 1990s, McAuliffe made millions from a Florida real estate development bankrolled by a union pension fund. In one case, he partnered with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to develop a shopping center, and was awarded 50 percent in the venture despite putting up just $100 of his own money. The union’s pension fund contributed almost $40 million. McAuliffe made a $16 million profit off the deal.

"McAuliffe's business pedigree is not so simple," wrote the Washington Post in 2009. "He is a dealmaker who made millions from investments. And many of his biggest deals came in partnership with prominent donors and politicians, creating a portrait over the years of a Washington insider who got rich as he rose to power within the Democratic Party."