Over the years, Fred Eychaner has given millions to the Clintons and their causes. But he shuns the spotlight
In an era of political megadonors, Fred Eychaner is an outlier. He never appears on television. He never hosts weekend summits for fellow donors. And he rarely talks to reporters.
Even so, there was no more natural spot for one of Hillary Clinton's biggest Midwest fundraisers than Eychaner's upscale Chicago home. "I'm not a billionaire and I'm not a mogul. I'm a retired media executive."
"Everybody working together needs to make Hillary the next president," Eychaner, 70, said in a brief interview Wednesday, hours before he was to open his home to her and about 100 donors for a fundraiser expected to raise roughly $250,000.
The reclusive printer, radio station owner, and investor is one of the Clinton family's most loyal donors. His devotion was so strong that he turned his back on his home-state senator, Barack Obama, when Obama competed against Clinton for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
In the 2014 election cycle, Eychaner gave $8.4 million in contributions to outside spending groups such as political action committees. Those disclosures placed him sixth nationally among individual donors to such groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. During the 2012 election cycle, he gave $14 million to Democratic causes.
Eychaner (pronounced Eye-can-er) hasn't become a household name like other megadonors, such as billionaires Charles and David Koch, but he's poised to be one of Clinton's biggest donors as she runs again for the White House.
"I assume so," was his response, when asked whether he would become a major donor to Priorities USA Action, the main super political action committee backing Clinton.
"Nobody has approached me about a super-PAC yet," said Eychaner, who is rarely interviewed or photographed. "Don't open up the floodgates, but nobody has called about the subject."
In 2011 and 2012, Eychaner gave at least $4.5 million to Priorities, which was originally formed by former Obama aides and helped boost the president's re-election campaign.
Eychaner has also contributed at least $25 million to the Clinton Foundation, according to a Politico report Wednesday. The report highlighted possible accounting confusion involving Eychaner's contributions as an individual and those from his Alphawood Foundation to the international charity, which has attracted scrutiny and created political headaches for Clinton as she has launched her presidential campaign.
"If you want to try to go to a sports analogy, that's a career total for support starting in 2001, for the library and for HIV and for everything else along the way, for general operating support sometimes and for their endowment," Eychaner said. "So, it's all reported. None of it is lacking in transparency."
Fundraisers at Eychaner's multimillion-dollar home in the city's Lincoln Park neighborhood typically sell out because donors are curious about him and his residence. The 5,600-square-foot glass and concrete structure, built by prominent Japanese architect Tadao Ando, has also hosted former President Bill Clinton at least three times.
With the exception of his house, the soft-spoken Eychaner lives a mostly frugal life. In the mid-2000s, he was driving a Ford Escort and later upgraded to a Ford Escape.
"I'm not a billionaire and I'm not a mogul," Eychaner said, trying to correct what he says he often sees reported about him. "I'm a retired media executive."
Eychaner's Democratic giving comes with some irony. A sizable proportion of his wealth came from the 2002 sale of a Chicago television station for $425 million in cash to Republican billionaire Rupert Murdoch, who runs News Corp., the media company that includes Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.
In the 1980s, Eychaner made millions through newspaper stock ownership when the Des Moines Register and Detroit News were sold to Gannett Co.
Raised by Republican parents, Eychaner grew up in DeKalb, Ill., 65 miles west of Chicago. As a teenager, he worked for his family's moving company, flattening packing paper for reuse. Although he stuttered as a child, Eychaner went on to win school speech contests and earn his Eagle Scout award.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is among those who have long courted Eychaner. Their donor-fundraiser relationship dates to at least 2005, when Emanuel was working to raise money as the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Emanuel, who studied ballet in college, shares a love for the dance with Eychaner, who was instrumental in bringing the Joffrey Ballet to Chicago.
In 2008, after Clinton was out of the race and Obama had secured the nomination, Eychaner contributed money to the president's campaign and hosted a fundraiser at his home. The event, featuring future first lady Michelle Obama, targeted donors from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [8(a)] community. Eychaner is openly gay and has advocated on civil-rights issues for the community.
In the 2012 campaign, Eychaner raised at least $500,000 for Obama as a bundler, someone who solicits campaign contributions from their personal networks and communities. That placed him in the top tier of fundraisers disclosed by the campaign. He also hosted two separate fundraising events at his home, one featuring the president and the other the first lady.
Clinton's second Chicago fundraising stop Wednesday evening also comes with some Obama-related history. It's being hosted by billionaire J.B. Pritzker, who supported Clinton in 2008, even though his sister, now Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, was leading Obama's national fundraising drive.