- Associated Press - Sunday, September 25, 2016

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) - Linda McMahon, the former wrestling executive who shook up Connecticut with two expensive and contentious, yet unsuccessful U.S. Senate races, has jumped into a larger political ring, becoming a sought-after Republican mega donor who’s involved in campaigns across the country, including the battle for president.

During this year’s campaign cycle, McMahon has attended the Republican National Convention and been a frequent guest at fundraisers for federal candidates, rubbing elbows with top GOP leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan. She recently held a fundraiser at her Greenwich, Connecticut, home for Arizona Sen. John McCain, who had stumped for the former CEO of WWE during her 2010 and 2012 Senate campaigns.

McMahon also hosted an event for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, her admitted top choice in the Republican primary. Records show she contributed $550,000 to America Leads, a super PAC that supported Christie’s candidacy.

McMahon, 67, who has focused a lot of her efforts on helping Republican women get elected, said the impetus for this new phase of her political life mirrors why she first ran for the U.S. Senate.

“I really got in, hoping to be able to make a difference. And when I wasn’t elected, I still wanted to still help, hopefully electing good people to do good things,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press at her offices in downtown Stamford, where she also oversees a new joint venture, Women’s Leadership LIVE. The company promotes leadership opportunities for women in business, public service and other careers through conferences, mentoring and eventually small investments in women-owned enterprises.

While “one never says never,” McMahon said she has “no plans to run for office” despite urgings for her to run for governor in 2018. She said she likes this new phase of her life and will focus more of her attention on Women’s Leadership LIVE after the elections wrap up. She’s also co-hosting a new five-part PBS series on the history of women in America.

The Center for Responsive Politics ranks McMahon and her husband Vince - the current CEO of WWE, formerly known as World Wrestling Entertainment - as 78th among the so-called “mega donors” contributing in this election cycle to outside spending groups, such as super PACs, spending $1.17 million so far. In 2014, the couple were ranked at 19th, contributing $2.74 million to outside groups. Those figures don’t include contributions to individual candidates. She’s also supporting GOP congressional and legislative candidates in Connecticut, hoping to help switch control of the state Senate from Democrats to Republicans.

The grandmother of six, who spent a total of approximately $100 million on her two Senate races, said she’s responsible for much of the political contributions, acknowledging her husband “wants no part of it.” She and her small staff field calls from candidates and campaign managers across the country - including from one of her own former campaign managers - seeking McMahon’s financial support.

National GOP organizations, such as the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, which she contributes to, update her regularly about new candidates, their platforms and plans, as well as their chances for victory and how a donation would help them get elected.

McMahon is supporting candidates in a variety of states, ranging from Indiana U.S. Rep. Todd Young, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, to incumbent Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. In Ohio, records show she contributed $100,000 to the Fighting for Ohio Fund, a super PAC supporting U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and his re-election bid. McMahon also contributed $200,000 to Future45, a super PAC that opposes Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who McMahon knows personally but contends has shown “a pattern of dishonesty over the years.”

McMahon has known the GOP presidential nominee, Donald Trump, for 30 years. Trump famously shaved Vince McMahon’s head in 2007 during a WWE match titled “Battle of the Billionaires.” While not her first choice for president, she is strong supporter today, predicting he’ll be a good president who will surround himself with competent people. She credits him with becoming “a vessel that has housed this anger and this dissatisfaction” in the country, which she said has intensified since she first ran for office.

McMahon and her husband contributed a total of $5 million to Trump’s foundation in 2007, a donation McMahon said she did “not remember how it came about.” She said she has no misgivings about making the contribution, ultimately the largest to Trump’s foundation.

“Once you’re his friend, he is loyal to the end,” she said. “He’s an incredibly loyal, loyal friend.”

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