Much has been made by Republican party insiders about Linda McMahon’s contributions in past year’s to the Democratic party and President Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
McMahon, the now former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, is one of the five candidates vying for the Republican nomination in the 2010 U.S. Senate race, against incumbent U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd.
The tens of thousands of dollars given to the Democratic party and Emanuel is simply the cost of doing business, McMahon said Thursday night following a meeting of the candidates at a Windsor restaurant.
“I’ve been the CEO of a publicly traded company, which has given money to both Democrats and Republicans,” McMahon said.
McMahon said it had nothing to do with politics or personal beliefs. She said she has known Rahm Emanuel’s brother, Ari Emanuel, for years.
Ari Emanuel runs a talent agency in Hollywood, California, which does business with WWE, she said. She said he called up and let her know his brother would be in Stamford and “may do a little arm twisting.” She said when she gave money to Emanuel, he was still a Congressman from Illinois, not the current president’s chief of staff.
Some of her opponents for the Republican nomination struggled with the explanation Thursday night.
“For me it’s not just business,” former U.S. Congressman Rob Simmons said.
McMahon gave $15,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee between the years of 2006 and 2007. Emanuel was head of the committee during the 2006 midterm election cycle.
In a hard fought campaign, Simmons was defeated in 2006 by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney by 83 votes.
“I’m disappointed somebody would be working against those efforts,” Simmons said.
State Sen. Sam Caligiuri, another candidate for the Republican nomination, who was standing next to Simmons at the time took the opportunity to add his opinion to McMahon’s campaign donation history.
“We don’t need another person who puts expediency over principle,” Caligiuri said.
Simmons said McMahon’s donations undermined his efforts in 2006 and allowed his opponents, who are now expanding government to win elected office.
But McMahon and her husband Vince didn’t only give to Democratic candidates.
In 2006 and 2008 the McMahon’s gave about $8,000 to former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, a Republican from the Fourth Congressional District, who lost his seat to U.S. Rep. Jim Himes during the 2008 election cycle.
McMahon painted herself Thursday night as a different kind of candidate. One who is not indebted to the special interests or Washington elite.
She opened up her remarks by asking the crowd of Hartford, Bloomfield, and Windsor Republicans if they were going to elect and Republican and Dump Dodd in 2010. The room responded by saying “Yes.”
She said she cannot sit on the sidelines anymore. And her main focus, she said, is the economy and growing jobs.
“I think Connecticut needs a different kind of senator,” she said.
She said she knows Dodd will be a formidable opponent and will probably raise about $25 million. She said she’s funding her own campaign and will not be taking PAC or special interest money. She will however accept contributions of $100 or less from individuals.
“I will be in this campaign matching, dollar-for-dollar what it takes to retire Dodd,” she said.
Tom Foley, the Greenwich businessman also vying for the Republican nomination, said he also isn’t going to be taking any PAC money. He said he knows Dodd will be “very well-funded,” but doesn’t believe he will raise $25 million.
Foley, who has already raised about $1.7 million, most of which is his own money, said he hopes to raise $10 to $15 million to mount his campaign against Dodd. He said he expects to raise a majority of the money from supporters.
Caligiuri says he is running a truly grassroots campaign and will also not accept special interest of PAC money, even though he knows he has a significant fundraising disadvantage. Caligiuri believes his message will carry his candidacy.
Peter Schiff, the financial investor from Weston, was unable to attend Thursday’s forum.