Longtime Democratic backers hosting event for Sen. Toomey
Alan Kessler has shaken money trees for Bill and Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Ed Rendell, and countless other Democrats.
David L. Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast Corp. and chief of staff when Rendell was mayor, moves in the same circles. He even hosted a 2011 campaign fund-raiser for President Obama at his West Mount Airy home.
Now, the two Democratic powers are cosponsoring a $5,200-a-ticket fund-raiser at Cohen's place for a Republican - U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
"We need more Pat Toomeys," Kessler said in an interview. "Time and time again, he has reached across the aisle to work with Democrats and do what people are looking for: someone who goes to Washington and gets things done."
Former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, the Democrat who lost narrowly to Toomey in 2010 and is considering a 2016 rematch, is already seizing upon the occasion to highlight his own independence - and contrast it with Cohen's employer, Comcast.
"While the telecom special interest is supporting Toomey, we have the chance to make our choice clear," Sestak wrote in a June 24 e-mail asking for donations. Then, supporters Howard Langer and Barbara Jaffe, neighbors of the Cohens, scheduled a Sestak fund-raiser at their home on the same night as the Toomey event.
"Joe Sestak has solicited me for money in past races and asked for my help in fund-raising," Cohen fired back Tuesday night. "He didn't seem concerned then that my desire to help was motivated by Comcast interests."
Kessler praised, as have many Democrats, Toomey's recent sponsorship of legislation expanding background checks for firearms sales online and at gun shows, blocked in the Senate amid intense opposition from the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups.
"He was willing to step out, and he ticked off a lot of his base," Kessler said. "It was almost as if he was treading on hallowed ground."
Kessler said that some Democrats have teased him about moving to the "dark side," but that many are also contributing to the Toomey event. A lawyer, Kessler said he disagrees with Toomey on most issues but believes it is important to have Republicans in Washington who can work with the opposition party to the benefit of Pennsylvania, much as Sen. Arlen Specter did.
Toomey, a former head of the Club for Growth, had a 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union in 2012. Specter, who supported abortion rights, often warred with GOP conservatives before switching parties in 2009.
Cohen, who considers Toomey a friend, also called the senator's stance on background checks a "motivating event" for the fund-raiser. "When he had the courage to stand up, he deserved to get some visible support. . . . Otherwise, why would public officials take the risk?"
Though Cohen and his wife, Rhonda, have crossed party lines before, campaign records show most of their contributions have gone to Democrats or to funds supporting the party's candidates.
Yet they raised eyebrows in the world of Pennsylvania politics for hosting a dinner in January that raised $200,000 for the reelection of Republican Gov. Corbett. According to attendees, Cohen praised the governor as "a man of integrity" and a "good public servant."
This week, Cohen was crediting Corbett again - for his role, along with other officials and Cohen himself, in piecing together a financial rescue plan for Philadelphia schools.
Comcast, the largest cable TV company in the nation, owner of the NBCUniversal network and an Internet provider, routinely faces regulatory issues and has interests in legislation in both Harrisburg and Washington.
"As far as I know, there is nothing going on in Congress involving Comcast, and there rarely is," Cohen said. He said he believes in business-friendly candidates and considers Toomey a "pragmatic" politician who is good for the state.
To be sure, Cohen has broader interests. For instance, he is on the board of the University of Pennsylvania, which often receives state and federal funding.
Sharing top billing with him and Kessler on the invitation to the Toomey event are Carl Buchholz, a lawyer and former official in the administration of President George W. Bush, and Republican businessman Richard Vague. The list of cohosts includes lawyer Sheldon Bonovitz, who has worked on campaign committees in both parties, and developer Carl Dranoff.
It should be a lively night in West Mount Airy.