The biggest donors to Howard Rich’s network of “grass-roots” organizations have a few things in common.
Most are deep-pocketed philanthropists, business executives, or tax-exempt organizations that appear to subscribe to Rich’s libertarian views on school choice, term limits, and limited government.
The donors have one other common characteristic: They’re not talking.
In the past week, the Center for Public Integrity attempted to contact 22 contributors to five of Rich’s tax-exempt organization: Legislative Education Action Drive, LEAD Foundation (now known as Parents in Charge Foundation), America at its Best, U.S. Term Limits, and U.S. Term Limits Foundation. The donors gave a combined total of more than $6.7 million to the five organizations.
All but four of the Center’s calls or e-mails went unreturned. Only one donor, the American Education Reform Foundation in Milwaukee, answered each of the Center’s questions about the nature and purpose of its contribution.
The Center was able to identify 11 individuals who in 2004 contributed a total of more than $1.5 million to tax-exempt organizations headed by or otherwise connected with Rich. Only Paul R. Farago, a chiropractor who was heading a campaign to reinstate term limits in Oregon, responded to the Center’s request for comment.
In an October 26 e-mail, Farago confirmed making a contribution to U.S. Term Limits but refused to answer questions about the purpose of the donation. Farago’s e-mail also included a threat of legal action against the Center for possession of what he called “proprietary information.”
At least nine tax-exempt organizations, a revocable trust, and a for-profit business also contributed to Rich’s network of organizations, giving a combined total of more than $5.2 million.
Roughly 70 percent of those funds – $3.6 million – came from Americans for Limited Government, Inc., which Rich chairs. The organization has been the driving force behind this year’s regulatory-takings and eminent-domain ballot initiatives in the West. Neither Rich nor John Tillman, the president of Americans for Limited Government, responded to a request for comment about its seven-figure contribution to America At Its Best, another organization connected to Rich.
Nearly all of the foundations and other tax-exempt organizations that have given to Rich’s groups declined to provide information or answer questions about their contributions. Only the American Education Reform Foundation (see above) and the Indianapolis-based Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation provided any additional information about their contributions.
A spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union, in Alexandria, Virginia, which gave $620,000 to Legislative Education Action Drive and $100,000 to America At Its Best, told the Center that the organization had “partnered with numerous organizations” but did not directly answer the Center’s questions about its contributions.