Billionaire Laurene Powell-Jobs, widow of Steve Jobs, has a long history as a Democratic donor including contributions to the party’s likely frontrunner in the 2016 presidential race, Hillary Clinton. However, Powell-Jobs also has close ties to one of the GOP’s top White House hopefuls, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R).
As of now, it’s not clear whether either Clinton or Bush will have Powell-Jobs’ support for their likely campaigns.
Over the years, Powell-Jobs, whose net worth has been estimated at nearly $US20 billion, has donated millions of dollars to political candidates in both federal races and for local California contests. Her contributions have almost exclusively gone to Democrats.
The Silicon Valley heavyweight has already given money to Clinton. According to OpenSecrets, she has contributed over $US40,000 to Clinton since 1999 when the former first lady ran for US Senate in New York. Powell-Jobs has also given $US25,000 to the Ready for Hillary PAC, the group encouraging Clinton to run in 2016.
Along with her donations, Powell-Jobs has more personal ties to Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
With her late husband, the legendary co-founder of Apple Computers, Powell-Jobs befriended the Clinton family during the late nineties when then first daughter Chelsea was a student at Stanford. During this period Powell-Jobs and her husband would host the Clintons at their home in Palo Alto when they travelled to the area to visit their daughter. Powell-Jobs’ longtime political adviser, Stacey Rubin, spent seven years working in President Clinton’s administration. In 2012, Powell-Jobs attended President Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention alongside Chelsea.
Rubin did not respond to an email from Business Insider asking about Powell-Jobs’ plans for 2016 and her relationships with the likely candidates. Other representatives for Powell-Jobs declined to comment. A spokesperson for Clinton also did not respond to an email from Business Insider.
Powell-Jobs’ ties to Bush stem from her recent education reform advocacy. She joined the board of his Foundation for Excellence in Education in early 2013. Powell-Jobs resigned from the foundation in August 2014.
Business Insider obtained Powell-Jobs’ resignation letter from a source. In the letter, which was personally addressed to Bush and began “Dear Jeb,” Powell-Jobs attributed her decision to leave the foundation’s board of directors to time commitments.
“I have a great deal of respect for all that you and the organisation have accomplished and for your clear and consistent focus on what is best for students and our country’s future,” Powell-Jobs wrote to Bush. “However, my person and professional obligations have prevented me from the deep engagement in the work of the Foundation that I believe is required of a Board Member.”
Powell-Jobs went on to predict she and Bush will find further ways to work together on education reform.
“I will continue to champion your goals and am confident we will continue to find ways to collaborate to promote education reform priorities,” Powell-Jobs wrote. “I wish you and the Board all success and I thank you for the opportunity to serve the Foundation.”
Bush also stepped down from the board of his foundation last year ahead of his likely presidential campaign. Kristy Campbell, a spokeswoman for Bush, told Business Insider he was “grateful” for Powell-Jobs’ work on the foundation.
“Gov. Bush had asked Laurene Powell-Jobs to serve on the board of his education foundation,” Campbell said. “They both have a passion for education reform and Gov. Bush is greatful for her service on the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s board.”
Since the 2011 death of her husband, Powell-Jobs has increasingly focused on political causes, namely education and immigration reform. Long known to be notoriously private, Powell-Jobs only agreed to step into the spotlight in order to support her lobbying efforts to bring about reform. The 51-year-old also runs the Emerson Collective, an LLC that distributes grants and for-profit investments into entrepreneurial business ideas. The Wall Street Journal called Emerson a “stealth investment arm” of Powell Jobs”overall philanthropic effort but since the collective is not a tax-exempt non profit foundation, it is not required to disclose donations.
Powell-Jobs became vocal as an advocate for immigration reform in 2013. She has said the issue became a personal cause for her after she worked with undocumented teens through her nonprofit, College Track. She started that organisation in 1998 to help low income students prepare for higher education, but has said she became frustrated when undocumented minors participating in the program placed college dreams on hold given the uncertainty of their legal status.
Her advocacy has turned Powell-Jobs from a seemingly staunch Democrat into a much more bipartisan figure. Powell-Jobs, who sat with First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2012 State of the Union address, didn’t limit her outreach to liberals when she lobbied for her various causes. She surprised some when she met with Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill in 2013 in support of the Senate’s immigration reform bill. That legislation passed but ultimately failed to move forward in the House.
“If it means that we have strange bedfellows so be it,” she told NBC News at the time about reaching out to conservatives and liberals alike to push for change.
A California political operative explained to Business Insider that Powell-Jobs’ advocacy for education and immigration reform “grew out of her personal tutoring.”
“She tutors kids in a really tough neighbourhood,” the operative said. “She spends a couple hours on a very regular basis tutoring kids.”
According to the operative, Powell-Jobs began “intersecting” with GOP politicians because she realised “Democrats weren’t the challenge to pass immigration reform” and it was “Republicans who opposed immigration reform.”
The operative also said Powell-Jobs is quite influential in wealthy Silicon Valley circles. They attributed this to her hands-on approach to philanthropy, “likable” personality, and her immense fortune.
“Laurene is one of the more respected and really well-liked players because, I think, people really recognise her as someone who really has a seriousness of purpose. She’s someone who has taken the time to roll up her sleeves and get involved on these issues and worked tirelessly on them,” the operative said. “So, there’s a real level of respect. In addition, she’s one of the largest shareholders in one of the largest and most successful companies on the only planet we know that houses humans.”
The operative said they could not predict who Powell-Jobs would support in 2016.
With her vast wealth and wide influence Powell-Jobs would clearly be a coveted asset for any campaign she chooses to back. The bipartisan nature of her approach to advocacy and her prior links to Bush and Clinton may make it harder to tell how she’ll choose to get involved in the presidential race, but it seems like they could make her an even more valuable supporter.
Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster she employed during her lobbying efforts for immigration change, described Powell-Jobs as “instantly credible because she brings unusual intelligence and commitment to everything she does” in an email to Business Insider. Luntz also said Powell-Jobs’ ties to both parties enhance her standing among other wealthy donors.
“She’s not partisan, so everyone listens to her,” he wrote.
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