This article on fundraising by Linda Chavez and her family incorrectly described the circumstances surrounding her withdrawal from consideration as labor secretary. She withdrew after news reports said that she housed an illegal immigrant.
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In Fundraising's Murky Corners
In the 2004 and 2006 election cycles, Chavez's anti-union PAC raised $913,469 and spent less than a fifth on political activity. The Latino Alliance raised $1.2 million and spent 3 percent on political activity. The Pro-Life Campaign Committee raised $7.7 million and spent less than 1 percent on political activity, as did the Republican Issues Committee, which raised $14.6 million, the analysis found. Most of the money came from small donors.
The amounts the PACs spent on telemarketing could not be readily tallied. But an FEC investigation of the Pro-Life Campaign Committee turned up documents showing that the Arizona telemarketing firm Capitol Communications regularly retained as much as 95 percent of the money it collected, to cover its fundraising expenses. Chavez's husband, Christopher Gersten, said the firm handled fundraising for the Republican Issues PAC in the same manner.
Over the past five years, Chavez's family members have been directly paid $261,237 from the PACs, according to FEC reports. In 2001, the PACs paid Christopher Gersten $77,190, her son Pablo $25,344 and her son David $9,687.
Chavez and her immediate family members also earned income from executive positions they held in their nonprofit foundations, such as One Nation Indivisible and Stop Union Political Abuse. Her salary from her Center for Equal Opportunity foundation ranged from $125,000 to $136,250 between 1997 and 2003 and was $70,313 in 2004, the last year for which records are available.
The foundation paid her son David $83,200 in 2004 as its vice president for development. From 1998 to 2001, Christopher Gersten was paid $64,000 a year from another family foundation, the Institute for Religious Values.
Several of those who donated to the Pro-Life Campaign Committee, run by Pablo Gersten, said they were surprised to learn how little of the money was spent where they expected. David Barnes, 45, a typesetter from Williston, Tenn., gave the group $500 in February 2006, figuring "the money would go to back candidates who are pro-life."
"I'm appalled," Barnes said. "I try to be a responsible giver. I'm aware that with many charities you have to be careful. I knew better. I contributed based on an outward appearance and didn't do my homework."
Chavez and her husband began operating their first political organizations in the 1980s. They had met in college and moved to Washington, where Chavez worked for the House Judiciary Committee and Gersten was an intern and then the national director of the voter registration arm of the AFL-CIO. At 29, Gersten became the political director of the Operating Engineers International Union and helped build it into a powerhouse.
"I wrote the book on unions using the 'check-off' so their dues could be directed to political giving," he said in an interview.
Chavez was the staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights under President Ronald Reagan from 1983 to 1985, giving her a prominent platform to talk up traditional family values, to criticize affirmative action and to debate comparable pay for men and women. Gersten, meanwhile, became political director of AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel political committee.
In 1986, Chavez unsuccessfully ran for the Senate on the Republican ticket in Maryland. By then, Gersten had launched a nonprofit group to build ties between Republicans and Jews and a second one to promote reform of the criminal justice system. The latter failed, Gersten said. "I was very amateurish."
A Religious Turn
The family took a break from politics when Bill Clinton was elected president, briefly operating a Mexican restaurant in Gaithersburg called the Santa Fe Express, with Chavez taping television interviews on politics during the day and working the cash register at night. The restaurant went broke. As Gersten recalls it, that was around the time the "partial birth" abortion issue attracted attention.