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Grass roots and hedge funds lined Marco Rubio's path to the Senate

WASHINGTON — On the same day in June that the U.S. House of Representatives passed expansive Wall Street reforms, an influential hedge fund manager who strongly opposed the legislation was holding a fundraiser in his Manhattan apartment for Marco Rubio.

Rubio was in Miami but collected thousands of dollars for his U.S. Senate campaign that day, and people associated with the hedge fund contributed $117,000 overall as his long-shot bid took off.

Now as Rubio and other newly elected Republicans take office, the financial industry is depending on their clout to undo some of the regulations.

The same is true for the health care industry that poured millions into candidates like Rubio who pledged to "repeal and replace" the landmark legislation Congress approved this year.

Elected to great fanfare, Rubio, 39, will be one of the most-watched lawmakers in Washington. A review of the roughly $20 million he collected provides a window into what issues he could champion — and who may have his ear.

Rubio said no person or cause has undue influence and the campaign was a grass roots effort, drawing $7 million in small donations from regular people. "I've always told people they buy into our agenda, we don't buy into theirs," he said. "We tell people where we stand on the issues, and if people want to help us get elected, with some exceptions, we're willing to accept their help."

Conservative donors and interest groups such as the Club for Growth contributed heavily, as did the securities and investment sector with nearly $600,000.

The health care industry gave over $270,000. Real estate interests gave $350,000, according to data collated by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The oil and gas industry, which has been fighting to drill in the waters off Florida, gave the pro-drilling Rubio at least $109,000.

Taken together, his financing shows a politician with strong grass roots support, but also one closely aligned with the establishment GOP and the hard-line posture that drove the election.

"If you're looking for him reaching across party lines hither and yon, you are probably expecting too much," said Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.

His numbers, while sizable, are only part of the story.

Outside groups spent a record amount this election and Rubio got more than $2.5 million from GOP-leaning groups. His largest backer overall was Karl Rove's American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which invested $1.9 million in ads attacking Rubio's rival, Gov. Charlie Crist.

The groups, which do not disclose their donors, are pressing for tougher illegal immigration laws and to prevent Democrats from letting some tax cuts expire.

Rubio emphasized the grass roots. Through Election Day, he took in more than $7 million in donations of $200 or less — 36 percent of the $19,717,639.65 collected since the campaign began in May 2009.

Rubio started out the traditional way, focusing on big donors. But almost all the Republican players were backing Crist, long seen as a shoo-in for the Senate seat. July 2009 campaign finance reports showed Crist raised $4.3 million to Rubio's $340,000. Rubio considered running for state attorney general.

Instead, he began an aggressive small donor campaign and it worked in waves, cultivating an outsider image. Rubio's Federal Election Commission filings shows page after page of $1, $5, $10, $50 and $100 contributions from Florida and beyond.

"I love Marco Rubio. He is the future of the Republican Party," said Bernadette Zgorski of Churchville, Md., a tea party activist who gave Rubio $50. She said it was the first time she ever contributed to a candidate.

One man in the Panhandle showed up to an event with a box full of wrapped coins, $70 worth.

"He did not become the Republican nominee and win this race because of the traditional large special interests," said Rubio fundraiser Ana Navarro. "We all know where they were a year ago, they were all fighting Marco Rubio. That's one of the beauties about Marco, is that he is fairly free. He's not particularly indebted to special interests."

Special interests did start to pay attention when Rubio began to erase Crist's lead, however.

By the time of the fundraiser in Manhattan, Crist had left the GOP, knowing he would lose the primary, to run as an independent. Rubio's fundraising soared. He posted record numbers for Florida — $4.5 million in the second quarter of 2010 and $5 million in the third.

People affiliated with Elliott Management, the $17 billion hedge fund run by Paul Singer, were Rubio's second highest contributors, with $117,000. Singer gave to many Republicans (the June fundraiser was for several candidates), hoping to fight what he deemed overreaching policies of Democratic financial reform.

Rubio generally agrees that some of the restrictions are burdensome, a spokesman said.

Rubio, in all, got at least $600,000 from securities, investment, financing and banking interests, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tallied reports through Oct. 13.

Wall Street had been contributing to Democrats, who held the White House and Congress after 2008. But while the reforms were weakened somewhat, what passed was still substantial.

Rubio's top donor was the conservative activist group Club for Growth, with $328,500. Group spokesman Mike Connolly said it liked Rubio's message of fiscal discipline and smaller government. After the election, Rubio called to thank them.

"We have very high hopes for him," Connolly said, calling Rubio "a principled leader."

Under the category "industry: Republican/conservative," Rubio took in $965,000, second only to retirees who gave $1.5 million, many of them uneasy with changes in Washington.

Rubio got at least $26,000 from people associated with Koch Industries, an oil giant run by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch who have criticized the health care overhaul and question climate change.

Florida business — including Flo-Sun, a sugar company run by the Fanjul family — also helped Rubio. People associated with Publix Supermarkets gave over $11,000. Rubio also got money from South Florida fuel distributor Max Alvarez, who sought favors from Rubio when he was a state legislator.

In Washington, Rubio said federal spending, tax policy and national security will top his agenda.

"There's a lot of other issues this institution deals with and I want to learn about them and be informed," he said. "But ultimately we're going to do what we think is right by the people who elected us."

Top 5 industries that gave to Marco Rubio

Industry Total Indivs PACs
Retired $1,502,109 $1,502,109 $0
Republican/Conservative $965,218 $924,168 $41,050
Securities & Investment $494,763 $488,763 $6,000
Real Estate $350,408 $344,008 $6,400
Lawyers/Law Firms $276,861 $252,218 $24,643

Top 5 contributors, 2005-2010, Campaign Cmte

Contributor Total Indivs PACs
Club for Growth $328,500 $328,500 $0
Elliott Management $116,954 $116,954 $0
Senate Conservatives Fund $96,418 $86,418 $10,000
Flo-Sun Inc. $34,600 $34,600 $0
Crow Holdings $29,700 $29,700 $0

Source: Center for Responsive Politics

Grass roots and hedge funds lined Marco Rubio's path to the Senate 11/19/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 20, 2010 12:40am]
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