American Action Network: Who’s Putting Up The Money?

Norm Coleman and Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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With some of the country’s top Republicans at the fore of the effort to create a new conservative think tank in Washington, the American Action Network is almost sure to become a political force when it launches later this month.

The public roll-out is scheduled for Feb. 22, so it’s a good time to look at a few of the people who are reportedly helping to fund the American Action Network.

Asked about the funding model of the group in an interview with TPM last week, former McCain campaign adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin said, “We do have some people who have committed to help us for the first several years. We’ve also got nickels and dimes, and we’re looking for more.”

Holtz-Eakin is to lead the policy arm of American Action Network; former Sen. Norm Coleman is the chairman of the new group. Other GOP heavy-hitters reported to be involved include Jeb Bush and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

While Holtz-Eakin declined to go into the details of the new group’s finances and plans, he said the success of fundraising will determine how quickly American Action Network will expand the set of issues it works on.

The New York Times identified a trio of businessmen who are either donors to the American Action Network or sit on its board, or both.

Fred Malek

Malek, who founded private equity firm Thayer Capital Partners, has spent his life moving in the very highest circles of business and Republican politics. An aide to Presidents Nixon and George H.W. Bush, Malek is perhaps most famous for his central role in responding to Nixon’s request for a count of Jews employed in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He also once parachuted out of a plane with George H.W. Bush for the former president’s 80th birthday.

Malek’s business accomplishments include a stint as the president of Marriott and his role leading the buyout of Northwest Airlines and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. (He also served on the board of troubled mortgage giant Fannie Mae from 2002 to 2005.)

On his blog, Malek explains how, as Finance Chair of the McCain campaign in 2008, he met Sarah and Todd Palin. “I do admire her and feel she is filling a need in this country like few other political leaders,” Malek writes.

Robert Steel

Steel came to the Treasury Department of the George W. Bush Administration after a nearly 30-year illustrious career at Goldman Sachs. He joined Goldman in the mid-1970s, ultimately rising to the position of vice chairman. From 2006 to July 2008, he was under secretary for domestic finance under his old friend Henry Paulson, with whom Steel had a “Batman-and-Robin-like relationship,” according to the Washington Post.

Steel’s considerable resources allowed him to sink money into investments as varied as “Georgia timber, real estate in Greenwich and Bordeaux wine futures,” the New York Times reported in 2008.

In a 2005 Financial Times op-ed, Steel floated the idea of “reductions in entitlements” to “defuse the Medicare time bomb.”

Kenneth Langone

The investor who provided the seed money for Home Depot, Langone’s net worth was put at $1.1 billion by Forbes in 2007. He butted heads with then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in the 2000s in the scandal over the super-sized pay package for Dick Grasso, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, where Langone was a director.

Langone has been a longtime friend and business associate of Ross Perot, whose presidential bid Langone backed in 1992. In 2008, he was an early backer of Rudy Giuliani, later switching his support to McCain.

His political interests appear to be primarily economic. He was assured by American Action Network’s founders that “we’re not going to go near the social issues,” he told the Times.

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