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Tom Monaghan Finances Republican Catholic Candidates
Seven years ago, Tom Monaghan attended the opening of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., a $65 million think tank and museum dedicated to the Catholic faith. Near Monaghan sat Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., whose family has embodied Catholic politics in the United States for more than 50 years.
After the dedicatory speech in which President George W. Bush praised the Pope’s defense of a “culture of life,” Monaghan confronted Kennedy. How, Monaghan asked, “How can a Kennedy be a Catholic and support abortion rights?”
“We were walking away from the ceremony and he kind of sat beside me, a little bit behind me,” Monaghan said recently. “I turned around and looked at him. He acknowledged me, so I thought I had to say something. So I said what was on my mind.”“How can a Kennedy be a Catholic and support abortion rights?” “Kennedy“, Monaghan said, “didn’t respond.”
Monaghan “really stuck it to him,” said Deal Hudson, a prominent Catholic Republican operative and longtime Monaghan confidante who witnessed the encounter.Such confrontation is rare in Monaghan’s political life.
Instead, the founder of Domino’s Pizza and Ave Maria University and town has chosen to influence American politics indirectly, through the organizations he creates and funds.The combination of Monaghan’s staunch anti-abortion stance and pro-free market capitalism make him a natural fit for the Republican Party. His willingness to spend his fortune promoting these ideas make him a power broker, especially as the bloc of 47 million Catholic voters nationwide continues to fragment.
Hudson praises Monaghan in his book on the political influence of Catholics and Evangelical Christians, “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” Hudson, who ran Bush’s Catholic outreach efforts and is now director of InsideCatholic.Com, calls Monaghan, “something of a Medici figure in the renaissance of Catholic orthodoxy.”
Monaghan, Hudson explained in an interview, anticipated the conservatism of Pope John Paul II. When John Paul was elected pope in 1978, Monaghan was ahead of the curve by already financing right-wing Catholic causes.
“He was positioned either intentionally or not as the leading Catholic philanthropist in the United States,” Hudson said.
Dissatisfied with many existing Catholic organizations and flush with pizza money before and after his $1 billion sale of Domino’s in 1998, Monaghan began founding his own institutions.
By the time of the Kennedy confrontation in 2001, Monaghan had started Legatus, an association for Catholic CEOs, and the Thomas More Law Center, which bills itself as the Christian counterweight to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Michigan-based Ave Maria School of Law was in its infancy.
Since then, Ave Maria University and, most audaciously, Ave Maria town have come online. Taken as a whole, these organizations establish a network of like-minded Catholics and a bulwark of orthodoxy.
“By interlocking all these organizations together, you almost geometrically increase your power,” said Michael Genovese, co-editor of the book “Catholics and Politics” and political science professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.The Ave Maria nexus shows itself in the political candidates Monaghan chooses to support.Monaghan and his wife have given $4,600 to Tom Rooney, a 37-year-old Republican running for Congress in Florida’s 16th District, which dances across the state’s middle from Port Charlotte to Port St. Lucie.Rooney, the grandson of the Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney, is Catholic and anti-abortion. He’s a member of Legatus and Rooney’s brother, Brian, is the national spokesman for the Thomas More Law Center.Monaghan’s contribution to Rooney came last December, as he was starting out a bitter three-way primary he won by 2 percentage points in August.
“That support was very crucial,” said Jeff Ostermayer, Rooney’s campaign spokesman.The type of campaign Rooney is in — long, competitive and expensive — exemplifies where Monaghan is spending his money. His three top donations this election cycle are in races expected to be close calls come November: Rooney’s, the open Senate election in Colorado and an open House seat in Northern Virginia.
Monaghan’s support for these candidates, all Catholic and anti-abortion, began nearly a year ago.This strategy shows that Monaghan is less interested in currying favor with established party leaders than providing political seed money for those who support his views, experts said.
“This guy seems really, predictably, interested in changing the ideology of the Republican Party and ultimately the ideology of Congress,” said Clyde Wilcox, an expert in campaign finance and political science professor at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.
But Monaghan’s efforts are not without their controversy.
Keith Fimian, a Republican running for a House seat in Northern Virginia, has been the target of a lengthy direct mail campaign from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee criticizing his ties to Legatus and Monaghan. Fimian, on Legatus’ national board of directors, has received $9,200 from Monaghan and his wife.
Monaghan’s most high-profile political ventures this election cycle have ended in failure. Two years ago, he became a key fundraising adviser to Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., when Brownback announced his presidential bid. Brownback, a conservative Catholic, never gained traction in the Republican primaries.
When Brownback bowed out, Monaghan threw his weight behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose Bain Capital firm purchased Domino’s.Following Romney’s defeat, Monaghan endorsed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. for president in March.
These results suggest Monaghan should perhaps stick to where he’s been most effective. Hudson said Monaghan’s biggest political impacts have been, “his active resistance to the influence of liberal Catholicism and the creation of institutions to offset the loss of old Catholic institutions to that form of Catholicism.”
According to voter registration data, 77.5 percent of the 240 registered voters in Ave Maria are Republican, including Ave Maria University’s president, chief financial officer, dean of faculty and top priest.
Last week, Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, was interviewed on national public radio. She was promoting her book, “Being Catholic Now,” a series of interviews with prominent Catholics all across the political spectrum, including Monaghan.
Early in the interview, Kennedy referred to Ave Maria as “sort of a Catholic Disney World in Florida.”
A half-hour later, a listener called in to protest that characterization and confront Kennedy on her liberal Catholicism. The caller? “Daniel, from Ave Maria, Fla.”
Here’s a list of the candidates and political action committees Monaghan has supported for
For President Sen. Sam Brownback R-Kan. $4,600
Former Gov. Mitt Romney R-Mass. $4,600
U.S. Senate Bob Schaffer R-Colo. $9,200
U.S. House of Representatives Keith Fimian R-Va. $9,200
Tom Rooney R-Fla. $4,600 Rep. Chris Smith R-N.J. $4,048
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart R-Fla. $500
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart R-Fla. $500
Rep. Connie Mack R-Fla. $500
Political Action Committees
Save New York PAC $5,000
Black Republican PAC $1,000
Republican National Committee $1,000
Sources: Federal Election Commission, Center for Responsive Politics
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