Study finds wealthy New York developer the main source of eminent domain funds

Howard Rich was the six million dollar man of eminent domain measures last year, according to a new report from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. That’s how much the wealthy New York developer spent to support measures in seven states.

A spokesman for a Rich-affiliated organization countered that these funds were a the lone bulwark against nearly $21 million spent by opponents of these initiatives. Many of these anti-property rights initiative donors are wealthy business interests in their own right, he said.

Denise Roth Barber, an analyst for the Helena, Mont., based Institute published “Eminent Threat? An Analysis of Contributions to Property Rights Ballot Measures, 2006” on June 22. She said that she didn’t set out to do a report about Rich, or even necessarily on eminent domain.

Rather, they began tracking ballot measures in general, but she soon noticed the prevalence of eminent domain measures across the country. Then she traced more than two-thirds of the $8.8 million spent to support them back to Rich.

“This subject was on more ballots in more states than any other measure,” Barber said. When she started tracking those specifically, she said, “I saw how much Howard Rich was giving to these groups.”

Overall, property rights measures appeared on the ballot in 13 states, passing in 10. Via a long list of organizations, Rich contributed to seven of these campaigns. Over half of his spending was in California, where he poured in $3.4 million. He spent nearly $1.3 million in Arizona, $858,500 in Idaho, $360,000 in Washington and $168,778 in Nevada. He gave $10,000 each to efforts in New Hampshire and North Dakota.

The measures failed in three of the four states where he spent the most money: California, Idaho and Washington. But the Arizona money paid off, where almost 65 percent of voters approved Proposition 207.

This money was filtered through 10 organizations, according to the report. The most important of these was Americans for Limited Government; the Illinois group chaired by Rich was the source of nearly $2.7 that went to efforts in five states. The New York-based Fund for Democracy, headed by Rich, spent $1.8 million in three states.

“We took great pains to ensure that whenever we called something a Howard Rich group, it really was a Howard Rich group,” Barber said. “In most cases, it came from their own websites.”

Rich’s critics have long claimed that he uses his multiple organizations to hide his contributions to property rights measures. However, a spokesman for one Rich-affiliated groups said that Rich’s political opponents are in no position to be complaining about big money politics.

Marko Mlikotin, president of the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights, acknowledges that Rich was the source of most of the $3.9 million that went to fund the campaign for California’s Proposition 90 campaign last year.

But opponents spent about four times that amount–$14.3 million, according to Barber’s report–to defeat the measure by a scant 4.8 percentage points, Mlikotin said. Much of this money came from large development and government interests who stood to gain from Prop. 90’s defeat, such as the League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties and the California Association of Realtors.

In other words, Mlikotin said, Rich may be rich, but he’s standing up for the little guy.

“Those who stand to benefit the most from eminent domain reform are those who can least afford to participate in the political process,” said Mlikotin. “It’s not the Beverly Wilshire that’s getting taken by eminent domain.”

The flashpoint for many property rights advocates is the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London. The Court ruled that a city could authorize seize property via eminent domain for private development.

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