WASHINGTON - March 16 - Peter Lewis is already known as one of the most generous donors to Democratic-leaning 527 groups that aim to defeat President Bush in November. But the famously liberal chairman of auto insurer Progressive Corp. is generously funding at least one other cause: the legalization of marijuana.
Lewis gave $340,000 to a 527 account of the Marijuana Policy Project, according to records filed with the Internal Revenue Service and made available yesterday. According to its Web site, the Washington, D.C.-based MPP "focuses on removing criminal penalties for marijuana use" and emphasizes legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.
Lewis' contribution was the only one recorded last year by MPP's 527 committee, which was formed in September. Lewis also gave to the group's political action committee, the MPP Medical Marijuana PAC, which was created in August. His $5,000 contribution in December was the maximum allowed in 2003.
Lewis has given a total of more than $3.8 million to 527 groups since January of last year, making him one of the biggest individual donors to such committees. 527 groups, named for the section of the tax code that governs them, can raise and spend unlimited soft money contributions from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals. Lewis has given nearly $3 million to America Coming Together, one of the leading 527 groups created to support the Democratic presidential nominee.
Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values, the Democratic-leaning group that aired TV ads that were critical of presidential candidate Howard Dean last year, reported $1 million in receipts for 2003 in its IRS filings.
The ads showed an image of Osama Bin Laden and asserted that Dean lacked military and foreign policy experience. The ads ran in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in December, just weeks before Democratic presidential caucuses or primaries in those states.
The ads grew even more controversial when it was reported that individuals associated with Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values had ties to at least two of Dean's rivals for the Democratic nomination, Dick Gephardt and John Kerry.
The group's top contributors last year were led by S. Daniel Abraham, chairman of Health Foods of America and a big Democratic donor, who gave $200,000. The Yankees Entertainment and Sports (YES) Network, a sports cable channel in New York, contributed $125,000. Its chairman, Leo Hindery, Jr., has contributed nearly $1.3 million to Democratic candidates, party committees and leadership PACs since January 2001. He has not contributed to Republicans over that time period.
Also among the top contributors to Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values last year was the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which contributed $100,000. The campaign account of former New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli (D) contributed $50,000.
The Center's contribution and expenditure figures for 527 groups are being updated weekly as new data is made available by the IRS.