Jerry Perenchio's Political Donations Top $50 Million, Says Watchdog Group

The one-time super agent and his wife contributed heavily to Republicans since the late 1990s, according to the Sunlight Foundation. Perenchio also donated generously to AIDS charities, gay service organizations and environmental organizations.

The Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan watchdog group that collects and makes available digital data it believes promote open government, has cast a rare bit of illumination on the activities of one of Hollywood’s biggest and most secretive political donors -- former Univision chairman Jerry Perenchio.

The report by Sunlight analyst Nancy Watzman is part of a series on campaign finance the nonprofit foundation calls “Stealthy Wealthy.” Previous subjects include Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, who has given $14 million to conservative candidates and causes over the past year and DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, the entertainment industry’s biggest Democratic donor in this election cycle.

As Sunlight says Perenchio -- who generally supports Republican candidates and causes -- is “a mega-donor who frequently opens his checkbook, but rarely his mouth to the media.”

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The foundation reports that the one-time super agent and his wife have made $50 million in political contributions since the late 1990s. (That figure actually may be low, since digital records don’t extend further back than then.) His donations in this election cycle include $2 million to GOP strategist Karl Rove’s super PAC, American Crossroads, $500,000 to Restore America, a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney and $100,000 to a super PAC that backed unsuccessful GOP presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman.

More than half the Perenchio’s donations have gone to state and local candidates and issues, including Arnold Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial campaigns and $250 for city council candidates in his hometown of Malibu.

Sunlight reports that, “like the Koch brothers, who in addition to investing heavily in politics, have also given many millions of dollars to charities, Perenchio’s Chartwell Charitable Foundation distributed nearly $144 million between 2001 and 2010, and has been one of the top funders to charities in the Los Angeles area since 1999. . .These contributions include millions for UCLA, generous gifts for AIDS charities and gay service organizations, environmental organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), art museums, symphonies, and hospitals.”

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Watzman also reconstructs Perenchio’s previously reported battle with the California Coastal Commission over property he owns adjoining the Malibu Colony, where he lives. In 1982, Sunlight reports, “Perenchio got permission from the California Coastal Commission to build a jogging track, ponds, and to do some landscaping on 10 acres next to property he owns (in the exclusive colony.) But instead of putting in the jogging course, he created a private golf course for his wife.”

“Some 20-odd years later, in 2003, local environmental activists. . .discovered the illegal golf course when looking at an aerial postcard of Malibu. Concerned about pesticide and fertilizer runoff into the Malibu Lagoon and fabled Surfrider Beach, the site of the films Gidget and Beach Blanket Bingo, they complained to the Coastal Commission.”

Perenchio retained lawyers, who asked the commission to grant him a retroactive permit for the course. The commission’s staff agreed to do that, but the commission deferred the issue when public criticism erupted. According to press reports, Perenchio sent a team of lawyers and lobbyists to the Commission to push for a retroactive permit for the golf course, whose staff recommended that he be granted it, then postponed the issue when the move triggered a wave of public criticism.