Multi-million-dollar donor Robert Wood Johnson gets GOP love

By Carol Eisenberg

September 5, 2008 at 1:52pm

Robert Wood Johnson IV, known as “Woody,” got star treatment at the just-ended Republican convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

There was no mistaking what that was all about.

Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets and heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, has raised millions for John McCain’s presidential campaign.

As Michael Luo of the New York Times described in a story today, Johnson shared a skybox at the Xcel Energy Center with Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager. He was the only fund-raiser with his name emblazoned on his own hospitality suite, the “Woody Johnson Minneapolis-St. Paul 2008 Host Committee Private Lounge.”

And Luo describes how on Tuesday evening, before the convention really got going, Johnson was among a cluster of McCain campaign officials and supporters hovering outside a suite guarded by an aide.

As Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard and senior McCain adviser, chatted in one small circle, Mr. Johnson, 61, was at the center of another next to her, before he disappeared inside the suite with Mr. Davis.

Johnson told Luo that he only takes on candidates and causes he really believes in.

Earlier this year, for instance, he made as many as 50 calls a day, organizing a New York City fund-raiser for McCain that brought in $7 million in a single evening. He did that in part by importuning some of his billionaire buddies, among them real-estate mogul Donald Trump and David Koch, co-owner of Koch Industries.

Like many of McCain’s biggest supporters, Johnson has long been a player in Republican politics. He was a Bush Ranger in 2000 and 2004, raising more than $200,000 in each election, according to the Times.

By all accounts, he has used his influence to advance his philanthropic, as much as business interests, pushing for more federal funding for research, for instance, for juvenile diabetes and lupus, which afflict two of his daughters, for instance. But there’s also little doubt his access has helped him as the owner of the Jets and his search for a new stadium for the team.

Still Johnson played down the significance of his access to McCain.

“You can call the senator too,” he told Luo.

Related story: McCain’s campaign for change is fueled by same old money machine

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