The Munificent Seven

How did the organizations that make up Howard Rich’s money machine suddenly grow deep pockets this year?

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The fate of four ballot initiatives that seek to radically overhaul land-use and environmental regulations in four Western states may be decided today, but a big question mark remains: Who financed them?

Howard Rich, the political activist in New York City who seems to have orchestrated the multimillion-dollar effort with funds moved through an interlocking array of tax-exempt organizations and other accounts, has said that the identities of donors must be kept secret to shield them from retribution.

While it’s not publicly known whether the money behind the “takings initiatives” and similar efforts came from one mammoth benefactor, a few huge donors, or lots of small contributors, this much is clear: the Rich political machine somehow struck it rich this year:

Consider just seven pieces of the machine and the amounts they’ve spent so far this year, compared with their total reported spending in 2004 (the most recent year for which such figures are available):

  • Americans for Limited Government, Inc., a tax-exempt organization in Chicago that Rich chairs. 2006: at least $8 million 2004: $206,981
  • Fund for Democracy, which shares Rich’s address in New York City and describes itself as “a revocable trust dedicated to assisting citizens assert their constitutional rights.” 2006: at least $4.4 million 2004: unknown
  • America At Its Best, a tax-exempt organization in Fairfax, Virginia, that received more than 97 percent of its funds this year from Rich-operated entities. 2006: at least $2 million 2004: unknown, but less than $25,000
  • Montanans in Action, a tax-exempt organization in Winifred, Montana, that Rich has acknowledged financing through his other entities. 2006: at least $1.7 million 2004: did not exist
  • U.S. Term Limits, a tax-exempt organization at Rich’s address in New York City that lists him as its president.2006: at least $1.2 million 2004: $1.5 million
  • Colorado At Its Best, a tax-exempt organization in Chicago that lists Rich as a director. 2006: at least $1.2 million2004: $122,705
  • Club for Growth State Action, a tax-exempt organization in Chicago that Rich heads. 2006: at least $270,0002004: $108,030

In all, at least $14.9 million in contributions to pro-initiative efforts came from these seven entities in 2006; the same entities reported total spending of less than $2 million in 2004.