Longform

BRUCE'S GENEROUS PALS

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Weil earned his political stripes early on, serving in 1970 and 1976 as campaign treasurer to Conservative James Buckley's senate campaigns in New York. In 1984 he was a chief fundraiser in New York state for Ronald Reagan's re-election effort, a job for which he was rewarded by being named U.S. Ambassador to Nepal in August 1984.

In 1992 Weil co-founded an organization called PACK-UP, or Political Action Committee to Kick Out Unproductive Politicians. The group is the political arm of Change-N.Y., an antitax group that was formed by former New York GOP gubernatorial candidate Lewis Lehrman and includes Weil as a member. PACK-UP, acting as a sort of local GOPAC, intends to seek a Republican majority in New York's legislature.

Locally, former Colorado cable man Carl Williams has placed his faith in the party, choosing to act as a major padder of the GOP's soft-money war chest. Williams, a former state legislator and, like Benson, a former state Republican Party chairman, has written Benson two checks--one in June and another in July--totaling $25,000.

This year Williams donated $60,000 to the GOP National Committee. It wasn't his first large contribution to the Republican cause. His name has also shown up on the GOP's Team 100, soft-money donors of at least $100,000 who have enjoyed good access to top elected Republicans. (Benson is on the list. So is local oilman--and Benson contributor--Frederic Hamilton. Cable magnate Bill Daniels made Team 100, too; he has not donated to Benson.)

Last year Williams, a former pilot, showed his support of the new airport by donating to the city of Denver a vintage 1920s biplane that he salvaged from Long Island and had flown out to Colorado. The plane, worth an estimated $2 million, will stand in Denver International's Concourse B. What is not clear is how Williams's contribution to DIA will dovetail with Benson's contributing-to-but-not-actually-supporting-it stance.

Also uncertain is how longtime Denver politician Don Friedman's contribution will affect Benson. Friedman was in the Colorado Legislature for seven terms and unsuccessfully challenged Pat Schroeder for her congressional seat in 1976. He has donated $8,000 to Benson's campaign. Friedman's primary preoccupation in politics recently has been abortion rights; he has been an active member of Colorado Republicans for Choice.

In 1985 Friedman testified in favor of a law that would have allowed Coloradans to donate money on their state income-tax forms to be used to pay for state-funded abortions (the law never passed). This angered people who saw it as an end-run around the intent of a state initiative passed the previous year that prohibited state funding of abortion.

For Benson, of course, abortion is a sticky issue. Once a supporter of publicly funded abortions for poor women, he reversed his position a few years back. He says he still supports a woman's right to choose whether she wants an abortion, but he does not agree that taxpayers should pay for it.

Another place to keep an eye on Benson, should he become governor, is Stapleton International Airport. One of Benson's biggest financial supporters is Richard Gooding, Denver's Pepsi tycoon, who donated $50,000 to the Republican's campaign.

Gooding, who did not return phone calls from Westword, is a heavy investor in the Stapleton Redevelopment Foundation. He gave $150,000 to the nonprofit group, which has proposed buying the old airport from the city and then directing its redevelopment.

The foundation has since received about $750,000 from the city of Denver to do long-term planning. It's far too early to tell what the foundation's role will be in Stapleton's future, but if it does gain control of the airport, it could conceivably end up in front of the state requesting assistance for anything from tax breaks to environmental clean-up efforts.

The Prodigal Son Connection

Benson has made much of the fact that he is a self-made man, someone who began his education as a roughneck out on the oil fields of the West and pulled himself up to the heady company of millionaires. It is not necessarily a trait he shares with his more generous campaign contributors, many of whom had the ante prepaid before they even entered the game.

Wisconsin saw its share of Kohlers long before Benson supporter Terry came along. Terry's father was Walter Kohler Jr., governor of Wisconsin from 1951-57. And Terry's grandfather was Walter Kohler Sr., governor of Wisconsin from 1929 to 1931.

Terry Kohler hasn't enjoyed his relatives' electoral success. He was defeated in the 1982 Wisconsin governor's race. Kohler was particularly disliked by labor: When he tried to crash the state's AFL-CIO convention to solicit support, he wasn't even allowed in. "Get the hell out of here," the chairman said. "This isn't a right-to-work meeting."

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Eric Dexheimer
Contact: Eric Dexheimer