Bloomberg Politics is reporting that financier Lewis M. Eisenberg, a dominant figure for years in New Jersey and national Republican circles, has been appointed finance chair of the Republican National Committee. PolitickerNJ’s sister site, the New York Observer, broke the story that Texan Ray Washburne is stepping down as finance chair of the RNC to perform the same duty for Chris Christie’s all-but-announced presidential run. That left a hole at the RNC at the top of the finance chain, and longtime Monmouth County resident Eisenberg has now been chosen to fill it.
Reached on Sunday afternoon, Eisenberg told PolitickerNJ, “I hope to help Chairman Priebus build a team and the financial resources to win the Presidency and further our advances in the House and Senate. It is all about 2016. A stronger,safer,and more prosperous America for generations to come. There will be a Republican President in the White House.”
The highly regarded investment banker will be making his second tour of duty as top fundraiser for the GOP, having previously served in the post in 2002. He has a long history of separating New Jersey and national Republicans from their money, having been a key fundraiser for New Jersey governor Christie Whitman and national finance chairman for the McCain-Palin victory committee.
For many years in NJ GOP circles, Eisenberg’s endorsement was considered critical to a successful statewide run. Those who were blessed by “Uncle Lew” were made men, able to secure the financing and county lines they needed for a shot at victory.
One NJ pol who has been the beneficiary of Eisenberg’s mentorship is State Senator Joe Kyrillos, who gave the selection his highest endorsement in an email to PolitickerNJ.
“Lew will be outstanding. He did it once before and was terrific then and will be even stronger this time around. He knows every major player and donor in America. Moreover, he has very close personal relationships with all the major potential presidential candidates. A finance chairman out of central casting.”
That thought was echoed by Jose Arango, the Hudson County GOP chair, who told PolitickerNJ, “It is a great appointment for the state of NJ. He knows the Governor, has tremendous experience, is a fair person who is respected nationwide.”
That “fairness” will surely be tested in a primary that will pit Eisenberg’s homestate favorite Chris Christie against adopted homestate favorite Jeb Bush (and maybe even Marco Rubio). An irony of Eisenberg’s long tenure in New Jersey, where he was frequently courted to run for office himself, is that like a lot of wealthy individuals, he headed for a friendlier climate–weather wise and tax wise. (Florida has no state income tax, compared to New Jersey’s top rate of 9%.)
One Democrat who asked to remain anonymous so as not to rain on the good news of a Republican with whom he has worked productively, used the appointment to take a shot at the Governor, telling PolitickerNJ, “It’s a sign that New Jersey’s tax situation and economy are failing when Lew himself moved to Florida a few years ago to escape Governor Christie’s failing economy.”
Indeed, Eisenberg’s history with the Bush Family dates back at least as long as his connection to Chris Christie. Some NJ GOP insiders have suggested to PolitickerNJ that Eisenberg is not particularly close to Gov. Christie, despite the New Jersey connection. Eisenberg is a devoted Christie Whitman loyalist—she appointed him chairman of the Port Authority, a post he handled to universal acclaim during the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept 11, which claimed the lives of 37 Port Authority Police officers. The chill Whitman has received from Gov. Christie’s camp is well-documented. And Eisenberg is said to have privately criticized Gov. Christie’s appointment of David Samson to his former position, as Samson’s forced resignation as PA Chairman amid the Bridgegate controversy tainted the legacy of the agency Eisenberg served. Eisenberg dismissed the idea of any distance between himself and New Jersey’s governor as chattering class nonsense. “I have a longstanding and firm friendship with Chris. We have been in touch on a regular basis and he has been aware for a long time I was considering this post.”
Meanwhile, there’s the Bush connection. While his position at KKR has prevented him from donating to Christie because of the state’s pay-for-play laws (KKR bids for New Jersey bonding business), Eisenberg has been a reliable donor to the Bush family. Not only was he RNC finance chair during W’s first term, he was also co-chairman of Bush/Cheney 2004 in New Jersey and served as co-chairman of the NYC 2004 Host Committee for the Republican Convention. Eisenberg also hosted a fundraiser for Vice President Cheney at his Rumson home.
Meanwhile, Eisenberg is also close to the Romney team, having co-chaired the 2012 nominee’s Florida effort and forking over $25,000 to the pro-Romney PAC Restore Our Future (not to mention $30,400, to the Republican National Committee). If Mitt enters the race, all eyes will be on Eisenberg to see if the RNC is playing favorites. With a campaign against likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton expected to break all previous spending records, the GOP will need all hands on deck to compete financially. The party has already moved its convention up a month to give itself time to coalesce around the nominee. In Eisenberg, they’ve selected someone with deep ties to several candidates who is well-regarded by all.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of Port Authority Police Officers killed in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.