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Following the money: who were the big N.H. contributors in the '08 election?

All in all, New Hampshire residents who made donations of $200 or more contributed $11.7 million in the last two-year federal election cycle which ran from October 006 to early last month. And the total doesn't include most of last month's surge in what has been a deluge of campaign cash.

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That might seem like a lot of money, but it pales in comparison to donations nationwide, which topped $2.2 billion during the same period.

Among the higher-profile contributors was Steve Duprey, a developer and owner of Foxfire Property Management, a Concord-based developer of hotels and other commercial buildings, who worked as an adviser and fund-raiser for Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

And there was Gary Hirshberg, the chief executive of--Stonyfield Farm, the Londonderry-based yogurt manufacturer, who was an early backer and fundraiser for President-elect Barack Obama.

Like so many others participating in the last election, Duprey and Hirshberg and their families gave more than their time. The Hirshbergs contributed a total of $87,000 last election cycle, with $41,000 going to Obama, while the Dupreys gave $75,000 with $51,000 going to McCain.

But they weren't the largest New Hampshire contributors by any means. Family members of Yalcin Ayasli, the founder of Nashua-based Hittite Microwave, donated $366,650 to both sides, and particularly to candidates supporting Turkey.

Executives from White Mountains Insurance's Hanover headquarters donated more than $205,000, with more than half of it going to McCain, while executives from the former Hampton-based Fisher Scientific (since merged into Thermo Fisher Scientific) and its various offshoots--including Latona Associates and Liberty Lane Partners--dropped nearly $160,000 on federal candidates and political committees. Former Fisher executives donated $47,000 to Latona's own PAC, which gave to both Republican U.S. Sen. John Sununu and the opponent who will replace him, former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. Former Fisher/Latona executives also donated another $14,000 to the two Senate candidates, with $2,000 more going to Sununu than Shaheen. Another $27,500 went to the failed presidential campaign of Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and $9,000 going to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

With the presidential primary, said Hirshberg, New Hampshire residents "are used to giving with their feet," but now they have "dug deep" into their pockets as well. And that digging has been to Hirshberg's liking.

Even excluding the small Internet donations that Obama has made his trademark, the president-elect swamped his opponent among bigger New Hampshire donors, raising nearly $1.94 million, compared to McCain's $865,000. As a whole, Democrats also raised more money, though the difference wasn't as great--$5.3 million to $4.7 million.

Business executives and business owners make up the greatest percentage of those who were able to donate $200 or more. In the past, they have tended to contribute to Republicans. But not this year.

"The Democrats have done a very good job convincing the business community that they have their best interest at heart," said Duprey. "The next two years will be very telling in that regard."

Of course, most business executives in New Hampshire, like Duprey and Hirshberg, appear to be donating out of personal beliefs, not because they are hoping for something in return. Duprey, a former Republican Party chairman, said that he doubts that "a federal politician is going to do much to help property management."

And Hirshberg, who has a dock ticking away the last seconds of the Bush administration outside his office, said his contributions "are not at all related to my business interests."

Mystery donors

Not all of the big givers were affiliated with for-profit corporations.

There were professionals affiliated with institutions like state government, universities and hospitals, and their donations were skewed more Democratic. And there are other donors more affiliated with the private market, some with companies from out state, and some that depend on government contracts.

Other contributors worked in the private market, but their business interests could not be identified. While contributors are supposed to fist their occupation on the disclosure form, many left the line blank, or simply put descriptions like "executive" or "owner," without identifying what was owned or which company or institution was the employer.

Others wrote "retired" without mentioning that they still were a major stockholder in the company. And often these executives' family members made comparable donations, with similar nondescript terms used to describe their occupation.

All told, those donating some $4.15 million could not be tracked to any organization. As a whole they were split, with Obama receiving the largest chunk of change, some $886,600.

One such mystery donor is Anthony Ryan, of Lyme, the single biggest individual contributor residing in New Hampshire, donating $114,000 (not counting the $27,500 donated by his wife Sue Ryan). Sue Ryan once listed herself as retired from Zephyr Technology, but NHBR could not determine which of several businesses by that name she was affiliated with, and if that was the source of the Ryans' wealth. (Both Ryans declined comment for this story.)

Anthony Ryan appears to have bought or inherited some family property in Lyme in the 1970s and did once attempt to win election to the town budget committee. But his giving shows an interest more in national affairs. The Ryans' biggest donation ($30,000) went to the Club for Growth, a conservative political action committee that often challenges moderate Republicans, which it chastises as RINOs, or "Republicans in Name Only."

In the 2008 presidential race, the Club for Growth was critical of Mike Huckabee, using funds from backers of Mitt Romney to attack him as a tax-increasing former governor of Arkansas. Huckabee, in turn, has referred to the PAC as the Club for Greed. But most of the club's recent ads attacked congressional liberal Democrats as anti-business, pro-tax and in favor of more government bureaucracy.

NHBR gained more information about other unaffiliated contributors.

Joseph Petrone and his wife Augusta, of Dublin, donated more than $100,000 each, for a total of $207,125, primarily to Republican candidates, with nearly half of that money going to McCain. Petrone is a former U.S. permanent representative to the European Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva during the Reagan and first Bush administrations. Before that, Petrone spent most of his career in the military. Their political involvement goes back a long way. Augusta co-chaired the 1984 Reagan-Bush campaign in Iowa.

State Rep. Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, who chairs the state House Ways and Means Committee, and her mother Katherine were the next biggest unaffiliated donors, giving $83,000 between them. Katherine is the widow of Thomas P. Almy, who was chair of the Department of Medicine at Dartmouth College. Their largest donations, some $16,500, went to the Democratic National Committee.

Hittite Microwave

Yalcin Ayasli, whose family hails from Turkey and now lives in Nashua, founded Hittite Microwave, a manufacturer of high-performance integrated circuits for communications systems, in 1985. He built it into a company that reported $45.5 million in revenue, with a profit of $13.7 million, in the last quarter.

In 2007, about half of its revenue came from government contracts, primarily the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force and NASA.

Although Ayasli resigned as chief executive in 2004 and as board chairman in 2005, his family still controls about a third of the company's stock according to latest filings with the SEC.

Ayasli and other family members gave more than $330,000 during the last election cycle, and for the most part did not give locally. The two top recipients were the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ($74,000) and the National Republic Congressional Committee ($72,000).

Nearly $39,000 went to the Turkish Coalition PAC, which at one point gave Hittite's address as its own, along with that of the Turkish Cultural Foundation.

The groups support Turkey in its various disputes, including the conflict in Iraq, supporting occasional Turkish military operations against Kurdish groups that cross back and forth over the Iraqi border. The groups also disputed the Armenian claim--and a U.S. congressional resolution--that the Turks engaged in genocide against the Armenians in 1915.

The Ayaslis spent nearly $14,000 to back Katrina Swett's aborted attempt to win the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination in New Hampshire. Swett is the daughter of the late Congressman Tom Lantos, who condemned Kurdish attacks in Turkey, though he also supported the congressional resolution against the Armenian genocide. Swett bowed out of the race after Shaheen declared her candidacy.

Nearly $11,000 of the Ayaslis' money went to Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., who sponsored a resolution congratulating Turkey for celebrating Republic Day. Foxx's son-in-law is a Turkish businessman and Foxx herself is a member of the congressional Caucus on U.S.-Turkish Relations. She has been a leader against the Armenian genocide resolution.

But recipients of Ayasli money also served on congressional committees that might be useful to Hittite. For instance, the Ayaslis donated about $9,200 to U.S. Rep. Edward Whitfield, R-Ky., the ranking minority leader of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Trade. And they gave $7,700 to U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), who heads the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and the Subcommittee on Trade. AIM they contributed $5,400 to Brad Miller, D-N.C., who is on the House Committee on Science and technology, chairing its Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee.

Both Hittite Microwave and Yalcin Ayasli did not return NHBR phone calls by deadline.

Beacon Capital Partners

President Clinton once referred to Fred Seigel of North Hampton, president of Boston-based Beacon Capital Partners and contributor of some $86,000 during the last election cycle--as the "Energizer bunny" of political fund-raising.

Seigel, former deputy finance director for Bill Clinton's campaign in New England, and his business partner Man Leventhal helped raise some $3 million for the Democratic National Committee during the Clinton presidency. Both were invited to the White House to have coffee.

Seigel laughs now when he is reminded of President Clinton's reference to his fund-raising prowess, but he wasn't laughing after a 1997 Wall Street Journal article alleged he was mixing business and politics too closely.

Despite an immediate correction, the article resulted in the U.S. Department of Housing Urban Development pulling out of a major deal involving Seigel's Energy Capital Partners that would have insulated thousands of low-income homes. The matter was only put to rest a decade later, after Seigel won a $8.8 million damage awards judgment in a beach-of-contract lawsuit against HUD.

(Eventually, HUD admitted liability but it contended that there was no way to assess damages since no loans had been consummated yet. In addition, there was very little precedent to award damages for any reason on a breach of a federal contract. But the court--after an elaborate analysis of how much damages should be awarded, concluded, "Tree, lost profits are rarely awarded against the United States. 'Rarely,' however, is not the same as 'Never.'")

Seigel won't comment on the matter any more, but although he has "throttled back" on political giving since then, "I still support people who I like," he said.

While his largest contribution ($25,000) went to the Democratic Party, his next went to Dodd's failed presidential bid ($11,500). Seigel used to work at Latona Associates which also gave money to Dodd.

Siegel didn't contribute to the Obama campaign, but he still has a friend in the White House. He gave $2,300 to the campaign of U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who the president-elect recently named his White House chief of staff.

Bob Sanders can be reached at bsanders@nhbr.com.
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Title Annotation:New Hampshire
Author:Sanders, Bob
Publication:New Hampshire Business Review
Geographic Code:1U1NH
Date:Dec 5, 2008
Words:1945
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