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    Playing it Safe

    By Dwight L. Morris
    June 10, 1996

    As the list of Florida's top contributors to federal campaign committees clearly demonstrates, the story of a family's political clout is frequently written in more than one hand and from more than one address. That clout is often earned by playing both sides of the political fence, at least to some degree.

    Consider for example the four Fanjul brothers, who followed their parents to the United States from Cuba when Fidel Castro confiscated the family's sugar business and proceeded to build Flo-Sun Inc., one of the two most dominant companies in Florida's sugar industry. While the brothers have staunchly maintained their Cuban citizenship in the hopes of one day playing a power-role in post-Castro Cuba, they have adapted well to the political realities of their adopted home.

    Since 1991, Jose F. Fanjul, Sr., has donated $139,250, virtually all of it to Republican candidates, Republican party committees, and various political action committees (PACs) – a total that places him 14th on the list of top Florida donors. A member of Team 100, the Republican's $100,000 donor club, Fanjul is a key member of Sen. Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign finance committee.

    Jose's Republican connections have been nicely complimented by his brother Alfonso's Democratic connections, earned by bestowing much of the $79,100 he's donated since 1991 on various Democratic candidates and party committees. During the 1992 presidential campaign, Alfonso, who ranks 44th among Florida's top givers, served as state co-chair of Bill Clinton's campaign.

    Not far behind on the list of Florida's top donors are their brothers, Andres B. and Alexander L. Fanjul, who have donated $71,314 and $69,614, respectively to federal candidates, party organizations and causes. Emilia M. Fanjul, Jose's wife, has tossed in another $53,250 for good measure. The brothers have augmented their personal contributions by writing soft-money checks from Flo-Sun to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) totaling $51,000. In all, the Fanjuls – including several not among the top 75 donors – have directly or indirectly donated $539,528 to federal campaign coffers since 1991 – $194,300 to Republicans, $159,728 to Democrats and $185,500 to various PACs.

    Playing both sides of the political fence and having the ears of both presidential candidates undoubtedly helped when it came time to fight off congressional attempts to kill the sugar subsidy earlier this year – a prominent example of what many of its critics called "Corporate Welfare." The Fanjul's certainly cared deeply about the subject since the subsidy program brings Flo-Sun at least $64 million a year, according the General Accounting Office.

    Monte Friedkin – number 19 on the list of Florida's top donors to federal campaign committees – builds homes in Michigan and processes aluminum in Miami. His companies manufacture sunglasses and run cemeteries. But unlike the Fanjuls, his political contributions have little to do with his business interests. As he told one Florida newspaper, "I clearly have a pro-Israel agenda."

    That agenda is clearly shared by his wife and children. While Monte has donated $120,871 to federal candidates and causes since 1991, his wife Ada has contributed $90,000, earning her 37th place on the list of top donors. Their son, Shawn Adam Friedkin, has contributed $72,000 since 1991 while his sisters, Dawn and Lisa, have anted up $67,250 and $64,000, respectively. Together, the Friedkins have donated $566,791 to Democratic candidates and causes and a measly $500 to their Republican counterparts over the past five years in the hopes of impacting U.S. foreign policy. Various PACs have collected $12,135.

    According to Friedkin, his family's hefty donations also provide him with access to the president and others whenever he does have thoughts about domestic policy. In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Friedkin noted that he had once called President Clinton to discuss his ideas about excluding the children of wealthy parents from childhood immunization programs. "I told him my kids didn't need free immunization," Friedkin recalled. As the Sentinel story was quick to point out, several weeks later, Clinton announced a new immunization program which excluded the wealthy.

    In 1976, minister Hugh A. Westbrook founded Vitas Health Care Corporation, a for-profit company that manages hospice centers. Apparently, business has been good. Since 1991, Westbrook has donated $107,220 to federal candidates and causes. As one would expect of someone who served as national finance chairman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 1994, Westbrook's contributions to candidates and party committees went exclusively to Democrats. Like the Fanjuls and Friedkins, Westbrook has succeeded in making his political passion a family affair.

    His wife, Carole Shields Westbrook has donated $108,500 to federal candidates and causes since 1991, and like her husband, all of the money donated to candidates and party committees has gone to Democrats. Sons Matthew and Stephen have given $59,000 and $49,000, respectively.

    In Stephen's case, it may be unclear exactly where the money came from, but its quite evident who was directing the donations. "My father has some say about who I donate to," Stephen told the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel in 1993. "It's my money and I could say no if I wanted to...He doesn't just make suggestions about candidates though. He gives me information about them." When the Sun-Sentinel asked him what office Tom Daschle had sought in 1992, Stephen responded "I don't really know." Two $1,000 checks signed by Stephen made their way into Daschle's Senate campaign coffers on November 30, 1991.

    Adding to the impression that dad may be calling the contribution shots is the fact that on December 31, 1991, Hugh Westbrook gave $14,000 to the DNC. That same day, the DNC received $20,000 checks from Carole, Matthew, and Stephen.

    Given that Florida is home to thousands of "snow birds" – wealthy northerners who "winter" in the Sunshine State – several of Florida's top donors also report huge contributions from homes in other states. These donations have not been included in the totals listed on the Top Florida Contributors chart.

    William D. Rollnick, the former president of Genstar Rental Electronics and the top Florida donor at $331,550, also reported contributions totaling $84,500 between 1993 and 1995 from an address in New York. S. Daniel Abraham, chairman of Thompson Medical and Slim-fast has donated $61,500 from his New York home in addition to the $233,500 he's given from his Florida address. Inez Andreas, the wife of agribusiness-business mogul Dwayne O. Andreas of Decatur, Illinois, Monte Friedkin, and John A. Moran, who are all among the top 20 Florida donors also gave money from other states.

    This article originally appeared on the PoliticsNow Web site.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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