New York’s Hardiest Species: Mark Green’s Political Donors

Bruce Wasserstein, David Boies, and Lawrence Buttenweiser are three specimens of a special breed of New Yorker: serial donors to Mark Green.

They’re the ones who have always come back for more, keeping Mr. Green in the business of running for office over the past 26 years, during which time he has sought election seven times—and succeeded, so far, twice.

Now, fueled with contributions from this very same band of enablers Mr. Green is at it again, attempting to overtake Andrew Cuomo to win his party’s nomination for State Attorney General.

So just who are these people who keep Mark Green going, and why—in the fashion of a pack of really, really rich lemmings—do they continue to do it?

Sometimes even they don’t know.

“We’re recidivists,” joked 74-year-old Lawrence Buttenweiser, a trusts and estates lawyer who has donated over $15,000 to Mr. Green’s campaign for attorney general, and thousands toward his six previous runs for office.

Other than being repeat offenders, Mr. Green’s share a number of other traits—wealth and a liberal political outlook chief among them. They are accomplished media, real-estate and legal professionals. If they work in the public sector, they have family money.

But in other ways, they don’t fit the typical Manhattan donor profile. For example, they tend not to live on Park Avenue, and with the exception of Mr. Wasserstein, they aren’t captains of industry. Like Mr. Green, they are wonky and earnest.

Mr. Green’s most significant non-familial contributors—his brother Stephen is also a major donor—are the same people who have been appearing on his campaign disclosures for more than a dozen years.

Of that core of supporters, four have been giving since Mr. Green’s first race in 1980. In addition to Mr. Green’s brother, there is Mr. Wasserstein, the Lazard Frères chairman and Mr. Green’s classmate at Harvard Law School, who has given $40,000 to the attorney-general campaign. Mr. Boies, a regular four-figure contributor and friend of Mr. Green’s since the 1970’s, has so far donated $15,000 to the campaign. And then there is Mr. Buttenweiser, a member of an old New York banking and real-estate family.

(Mr. Wasserstein and Mr. Boies didn’t respond to calls for comment.)

The recidivist in chief, of course, is Mr. Green himself.

“If rivals tease my candidacies,” he said in an interview, “these friends admire that I never quit because I love public service.”

After beginning his career as a protégé of Ralph Nader in Washington, Mr. Green ran unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives in 1980 and for the U.S. Senate in 1986.

Mr. Green’s 1986 Senate run, in which he was defeated in the general election by incumbent Al D’Amato, attracted a roll call of boldface-name donors, including Woody Allen, John F. Kennedy Jr., Ralph Lauren, Diane von Furstenberg, Barbra Streisand and Roy Lichtenstein, whose widow has continued to contribute.

That race also marked the beginning of a long involvement for many of Mr. Green’s biggest financial contributors. Philanthropist Anne Hess started contributing to Mr. Green that year. She and her husband, Craig Kaplan, are giving $25,000 for this race.

Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation; Ken Lerer, a former Time Warner executive who co-founded the Huffington Post; William Samuels, a Democratic fund-raiser and businessman; and Danny Goldberg, a music industry executive who discovered Nirvana, also began donating that year.

“It’s a different kind of passion—it’s a respect,” said Mr. Samuels. “Mark’s supporters tend to be committed Democrats who are not looking to have a seat at the table but just respect the day-to-day work.

“He tends to get the people who are more what I call thoughtful, and not the contractors, the lobbyists,” he added.

In 1993, Mr. Green finally was elected to something, winning the first of two terms as the city’s Public Advocate.

But those victories for Mr. Green were followed by disasters. In 1998, he ran again for the U.S. Senate, losing badly in an acrimonious primary to Chuck Schumer. And then he ran for Mayor in 2001, winning a racially charged primary contest before losing to Michael Bloomberg in a general election in which he was opposed by much of his own party.

No matter. For Mr. Green’s persistent donors, supporting him has become an ideology unto itself. And like the people who profess loyalty to Mr. Green’s onetime boss, Ralph Nader, his supporters tend to believe in him in a way that obviates the necessity of him actually winning.

“The kinds of people that were attracted to the Nader movement were also attracted to Mark,” noted political consultant Norman Adler.

Even though much of the political world has written him off after each successive loss, his hardy group of supporters has sustained and even multiplied their support. In fund-raising circles, this phenomenon is not uncommon—once donors give, they tend to be more willing to give again, in order to see their initial investment realized.

In this, his seventh bid, Mr. Green’s friends have once again seen that he is provided for. As of his January filing, Mr. Green had $1.7 million in his war chest, after raising $800,000 in the last cycle of 2005—essentially putting him in a tie with Charlie King behind front-runner Andrew Cuomo, who reported a balance of $4.7 million.

Mr. Goldberg spoke admiringly of Mr. Green’s persistence. “He’s not scared of long odds,” he said. “This is another underdog situation he’s involved in.”

Judith Hope, the former state Democratic Party chairwoman, recognized a special dynamic when she recently co-hosted a women’s breakfast for Mr. Green with Democratic Party fund-raiser Sally Minard.

“I’ve noticed that people tend to stay with him,” she said. “You see them showing up on invitations and in the news media and in consecutive races.”

Other significant contributors include Henry Jarecki, a metals magnate; theater scion James Nederlander; and peace activist Cora Weiss, the daughter of Fabergé perfume founder Samuel Rubin—each of whom started giving in 1993, when Mr. Green ran for Public Advocate.

There are certainly risks involved with relying on the same people for money year after year. For one thing, it becomes self-limiting after a time, allowing the candidate to rely on regulars without ever seeking to expand the base of financial support. For another, even the most loyal donors have their limits.

“Every donor in New York has a limited number of candidates that they support or are loyal to,” said one fund-raising consultant. “Mark has exhausted those folks because he’s come to them so many times and not produced.”

Mr. Green conceded the danger of attrition.

“Not everybody stays on board,” he said. “People can get financially tired, psychologically tired, so some people stop helping and other people start.”

But some of his supporters will never quit, it seems.

Mr. Green’s most loyal supporter, not surprisingly, is one he’s known from the beginning: his older brother Stephen, one of the city’s most successful real-estate moguls, who has given generously to his brother in nearly every race. And he has served an even more valuable role as an intermediary between his younger brother and the real-estate community, helping to bundle several times the total of his own contributions. (He didn’t return a call for comment.)

Stephen Green’s influence is manifest, for example, in the $20,000 contribution by developer Douglas Durst, and by the years of contributions by Newmark executive Jeffrey Gural. Some observers argue that his reach extends to the recent endorsement of Mark Green by the 32BJ building workers’ union, a group whose members benefit from continuing good relations with Mr. Green’s brother.

In addition to Stephen, Mr. Green’s sister-in-law, Nancy, and his six nieces and nephews have given him the maximum allowed for the race. Nancy has given the maximum in every race since 1993, as has his nephew Daniel. His wife, Deni Frand, has given twice: $1,127 in 1993 and $1,000 in 1997.

Mr. Green and Ms. Frand earned a combined income last year of $386,580. The bulk of his share came from his salary as president of a liberal think tank, as well as money from television appearances and books he’s written.

As of the January filing, the only contributors who had given Mr. Green the maximum allowed under law, $50,000, were those who shared his last name.

“I wish I had a bigger family,” Mr. Green remarked.

As for the others, the question must be asked: When will donor fatigue finally set in?

Never, say Mr. Green’s loyalists—at least when it comes to their candidate.

“I’m fatigued with the fact that conservatives have done so well over the past 25 years all over the country,” said Mr. Goldberg. “He’s one of the good guys.”