By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Developer and horse-racing enthusiast Larry Kadish complained a few years ago that welfare was out of control. Judging from his ranking as one of the biggest of the nation's big campaign contributors, there's no doubt that he's right. The shame is that it's not welfare moms, but Republican politicians, who are on the dole.
It doesn't matter that you may not have heard of Kadish, a Long Island developer and real estate investor. (The horses he owns have earned him a Sonny Werblin Award for service to harness racing.) Kadish has donated more money to political campaigns than some multinational corporations have, and Senate candidate Rick Lazio is one of his pet projects. Kadish could be the fattest of the cats who have aligned themselves with the Republican Senate candidate. And the developer has talked the talk about spreading the party "message." But what comes through loudest and clearest is his cash.
Hillary Rodham Clinton has her big-time soft-money donors toosuch as Bernard Schwartz of the aerospace company Loral, and the super-rich Buttenwieser family of Philadelphia. But the cash is flying out of Larry Kadish's wallet at a staggering rate, both to Lazio and to GOP candidates, committees, and soft-money accounts throughout the country. In 1997, he gave $150,000 to the Republican National State Elections Committee, the GOP's premier soft-money fund, which is shielded from limits on campaign contributions. In 1998, he gave $235,000; in 1999, $265,000; in just the first six months of this year, $250,000.
And that's just the soft money Kadish gave to one committee. His biggest single contribution to any candidate in the past two years was a $10,000 check he wrote in March 1999 to Lazio's obscure state fundraising committee. Lazio wasn't even running for reelection, and this was a full year before the Long Island congressman formally entered the Senate race.
It was practically nothing to Kadish. In just the past year, he's given the following amounts to the New York State Republican Committee: $70,000 on September 29, 1999; $25,000 on October 15, 1999; and $50,000 on June 30, 2000. In 1998, Kadish ranked 22nd among the nation's top 400 political donors, having given a total of $211,000, according to an annual survey by Mother Jones. If this were a horse race, Kadish would be moving up strong on the inside. In April 2000, he passed the $250,000 level and reached the top tier of GOP donors, according to USA Today.
Kadish's name pops up like a jack-in-the-box on campaign finance reports $10,000 in 1998 to Florida governor Jeb Bush's secretive Foundation for Florida's Future, $1000 to Lazio in 1998 (accompanied by identical donations to Lazio the same day from Kadish's wife, Susan, and son Bill), and $5000 in 1999 to the Republican Jewish Coalition's PAC.
Others can debate over the propriety of soft-money handouts. But to people like Larry Kadish, it's the name of the game. Back in 1995, in an interview with the Lakeland Ledger in Florida, Kadish described himself as an "ordinary moderate Republican," adding, "I would love to be more supportive to the candidates themselves, but there's legal limits. When I give to the party, it's like giving to them all."
Kadish's prominent role in one of New York State's nastiest political fights of the late 1980s would make one think that he would hate the Republicans, especially then senator Alfonse D'Amato the mentor of both Lazio and George Patakiand the rest of the GOP machine that controlled Long Island politics. Already a wealthy developer, Kadish wanted to use private money to purchase the moribund Roosevelt Raceway and restore it to glory as a racetrack, but D'Amato and the machine cooked up a deal to use public funds to help their pals purchase that valuable piece of property.
Newsdayrailed against the D'Amato deal; columnist Sydney Schanberg dubbed the Nassau GOP bad guys the "Gang of Four." Larry Kadish even took the machine to court. Sounding like a crusader for reform, the normally unavailable-for-comment Kadish penned an op-ed piece in Newsday on September 12, 1990, that called for a sweeping probe. He blasted the gang's "use of public tax-exempt monies to buy the track with an investment of a few hundred dollars" and charged that "the overall conduct of all parties involved, including public officials, are matters which have been inadequately investigated to date and require further, complete, and in-depth disclosure."
The racetrack is now a rotting hulk, but the experience seems to have put Kadish on the fast track. In 1991, he started pouring money into the GOP's coffers. By March 1993, he ranked sixth in the country in soft-money contributions to the GOP, ahead of such lightweights as Merrill Lynch, Paine Webber, Coca-Cola, and U.S. Tobacco.
The days of Larry Kadish feuding with the GOP clearly ended. But why is still a mystery. He wouldn't come to the phone last week to talk with a Voicereporter. It would be nice to know how Kadish makes the money he throws away on politicians and spends to keep up his 62-acre estate in Old Westbury, complete with its own quarter-mile racetrack. He could even afford to hire the British royal family's portrait painter to etch a sketch of his wife for a gala at the Nassau County Museum of Art in 1998. Only hints of his dealings exist, in little items buried in the business press. This past February, for instance, a Miami business newspaper reported that Kmart bought two department store buildings in Florida for a total of $11.15 million. Both buildings were owned by a trust connected to Larry Kadish. The tiny item notes that the buildings sold in 1976, in separate transactions, for a total of about $3 million.
In the meantime, Kadish apparently believes that there are still many things wrong with America besides welfare and crime, and neocon Midge Decter speaks on his behalf. Decter testified before Congress on family issues in January 1995, speaking for the National Jewish Coalition, a GOP group that included Kadish on its executive committee. And Decter blamed the women's movement and the environmental movement for creating a "wind of anti-natalism" that is "blowing through this society" to the detriment of American families.
Not that Larry Kadish rejects all vestiges of the '60seven those wild and zany Beatles. Old Westbury's first annual Strawberry Fields Forever festival was held on the Kadish estate in 1996. As a local official noted at the time: "They have a very large strawberry patch."