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Households divided by campaign donations

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2012

Husbands and wives may share checking accounts, but they don't always share political preferences. So what happens when one-half of the marriage wants to donate to a candidate?

A wife writes a $1,000 check to her preferred candidate, President Obama. A week later, her irritated spouse fires back with a $1,000 check to Republican Mitt Romney. The money cancels out, leaving the candidates even, television stations and campaign consultants a little bit richer — and the couple quite a bit poorer.

When politics meet family, emotion often trumps reason.

A Washington Times survey of campaign contribution records found 20,000 families that split affections over the past four presidential elections. Their reasons range from a union of two opposite true believers who make the marriage work to couples who spar through their wallets.

Dick Wright, the owner of an Ohio tool-making company, has given $37,000 to Republicans this election cycle, with money going to Mr. Romney and rivals Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Ron Paul.

His wife, Dianne, has given $2,000 to Mr. Obama and $1,000 to House Democrats' campaign fund. Mr. Wright donated heavily until March, when his contributions stopped. But his wife made one last donation to Mr. Obama in May.

"We have had some very wild fights," she said, adding that she is "pretty good at debating."

Mrs. Wright recalled that after she won arguments, her husband would give to a Republican out of spite.

"If he weren't giving anything, I wouldn't feel that I had to," she said.

"I tried to explain to him that we're doing nothing but enriching advertisers. I keep explaining to him that I have one vote, you have one vote. We're canceling each other out."

Giving patterns

As with the Wrights, it's typically the husband who backs the GOP and the wife who supports Democrats. And usually, the husband's contributions wind up being larger than the wife's.

But sometimes the records show an escalating conjugal arms race.

Consider David C. Abrams, founder of Massachusetts-based Abrams Capital, and his wife, Amy. In 2011, Mrs. Abrams gave $35,800 to Mr. Obama, then watched her husband give $2,500 to Mr. Romney and $2,500 to Scott P. Brown, the state's Republican senator who is locked in a re-election battle with Democrat Elizabeth Warren. In March, Mrs. Abrams gave $5,000 to Mrs. Warren. A week later, Mr. Abrams gave $4,900 to Mr. Brown.

In April, Mrs. Abrams gave another $20,000 to Mr. Obama.

The Abramses are not alone:

• Last year, Christine Yorda of Connecticut gave $950 to Mr. Obama. Her husband, Jaime, a top executive at Citigroup, came back with $1,000 to Mr. Romney. She gave $500 more to Mr. Obama on March 30. Her husband gave another $1,000 to Mr. Romney on April 10. The next month, she escalated the spending wars, giving to Priorities USA Action, the super PAC backing Mr. Obama that can accept contributions of any size.

• Wayne Weaver, the former owner of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, gave $25,000 to Restore Our Future, a Romney super PAC. Four months earlier, his wife, Delores, a longtime Democratic supporter, gave $10,000 to Mr. Obama.

• Don Foss, a Michigan financier, gave to Mr. Gingrich but also is one of the well-heeled donors to Restore Our Future. He gave $35,000 in March. His homemaker wife, Constance, gave $5,000 to Mr. Obama the next month. A week later, she asked for a refund from the campaign.

"We don't have political arguments. I don't really let him. I just cut him off and say, 'Save it for your friends,'" Mrs. Foss said.

The Fosses have separate bank accounts, and she said he has more money in his. She described her donation as more of a social dalliance than a political statement.

"He's very involved politically. Me, not so much," she said. "I just wanted to get my picture taken with Obama and I missed the cutoff, so I asked for it back. My reasons were really more selfish. Neither one of them are really my first choice."

Doubling up

In some cases, spouses even use their partners in life to expand donations to preferred candidates.

Because campaign laws limit individual donations to $2,500 per year, it is common to give a second, equal donation in a spouse's name. But sometimes the spouses were, on paper, giving to candidates they opposed.

Samuel and Elizabeth Keesel of Los Angeles each gave the maximum to Mr. Gingrich on March 31, records show. But Mrs. Keesel had, on her own, given to Mr. Obama a few weeks earlier.

The Times' analysis found 1,500 conflicted couples through this May — including many who split during the bitter GOP primary, where the decision to back Mr. Romney or one of his opponents loomed large. Mr. Romney has received more than $3.8 million from people whose families might prefer to see someone else occupy the White House — often Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

But that pales in comparison with the 2008 cycle, when at the same point there were five times as many divided households. It wasn't just the result of Mr. Obama's heated battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton; eight times as many couples gave to opposite political parties in 2008 compared with this year.

The election four years ago also put a modern spin on adolescent rebellion, with Republican-donor parents often watching their children send their own, more modest contributions to Mr. Obama's campaign. This year hasn't provoked that kind of stubborn gesture among teenagers, but one major father-daughter feud has erupted.

Joe Ricketts, a founder of TD Ameritrade, drew outrage from liberals when he put a half-million dollars behind a super PAC that pledged to fire up social conservatives by painting Mr. Obama as a "metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln."

His only adult daughter, Laura Ricketts, a lesbian and major fundraiser for Mr. Obama, shares in the family fortune. Earlier this month, she started a super PAC expected to run hundreds of thousands of dollars in ads for Democrats who support gay rights.

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