Local Democrats are probably licking their chops: Texas software millionaire John Moores wants to buy the Padres and become a full-time San Diego resident.
Moores, who two weeks ago resigned from the University of Houston Board of Regents to pursue his purchase of the Padres from his homes in California, including one in Rancho Santa Fe, is trustee of the Democratic National Committee and one of the party’s major money men. To become a trustee, party members must raise or give at least $100,000 to the national party. By his own estimate, Moores has given as much as $500,000 in the last five years. Moores has also given $100,000 or more to prominent Democrats such as Texas governor Ann Richards. And last year, Moores handed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Brown a check for $105,000.
Moores and his wife, Rebecca, were introduced to Brown by Houston trial lawyer Michael Caddell, a fellow Democratic National Committee trustee and self-anointed political power broker. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Caddell concluded that Brown has ‘the potential to have national stature.’ He wrote her a check for $5000 and promptly introduced her to the Mooreses.”
The article noted that in 1993, the Mooreses gave Brown a ride to one of her appointments in their private plane, and at the end of the flight, pulled out a checkbook and wrote a check for $105,000.
Moores confirms this account. “For once the media had it right,” he says. “Mike said, ‘You need to go out and talk to this gal,’ and it wasn’t like we were looking for any causes. But we spent quite a bit of time talking about politics and policy.” Since that first check, Moores says, he and his wife have given Brown several more cash gifts. “From the time we first met her, I want to say a total of maybe $140,000,” he says. “It’s the most money I’ve ever given any politician, and I just hope, frankly, that it’s enough. It’s clear she has an uphill battle.”
Moores says Brown’s opposition to Proposition 187, the controversial ballot measure that would strip illegal immigrants of most social services, “is one of the main reasons I decided to give her money. Proposition 187 is among the worst things I’ve seen in my lifetime. I’m from the South, and when I was a kid, I used to see segregated bathrooms and water facilities. This is starting to feel like this. It’s terribly, terribly ugly, it’s obviously unconstitutional, and anyone who thinks the Supreme Court isn’t going to overturn it is either ignorant or stupid.” Moores says he has also contributed some $100,000 to the No on Proposition 187 camp.
Moores doesn’t just give money, however. In 1992, he hosted a lavish late-night party for some 200 of his Democratic Party cronies on the roof of the St. Regis Hotel in New York City during the Democratic convention. According to a story in the Houston Chronicle, the guest list included Democratic National Committee labor trustees, labor management trustees, and management trustees, “which translates in layman’s language to big donors.” The paper noted that John and Rebecca Mooreses’ “energy level was wearing down with all the morning-noon-and-night fundraisers and social events surrounding the convention. Already on Wednesday they had attended a fundraiser for New York Senate candidate Geraldine Ferraro at The 21 Club and a reception for trustees at the Dakota, the city’s most exclusive private resident building.”
One of the guests at the party was Houston attorney Collyn Peddie, cofounder of the Democratic fundraising organization, One Hundred Women. According to the Chronicle, “the organization’s goal is to raise the profile and increase the influence of women in politics by providing its members with the financial clout necessary to give them a voice and a presence at the highest levels in the Democratic Party.” Another guest, Houston attorney Steve Susman, made the front page of the New York Post that day, jogging in Central Park with then-candidate Bill Clinton.
Back in Houston, Moores was known for his close alliance with a cadre of wealthy and powerful attorneys who helped launch the presidential candidacy of Clinton. Richards, who is running for re-election, received $100,000 from Moores earlier this year, according to the Dallas Morning News. Bill Cryer, the governor’s press secretary, says Moores and Richards go way back. “They have been close friends for a number of years, political and otherwise.” In 1991, Cryer says, Richards appointed Moores to the University of Houston Board of Regents. Moores, an alumnus of the school, has given it $70.2 million since 1988, including a 1991 donation of $51 million that at the time was the biggest gift ever made to a public university.
Those who know Moores maintain his gifts come with no strings. “He is very interested in good government, and government in which people are going to bring new energies and ideas into play,” says longtime friend Nancy Atlas, a Houston attorney who is active in Democratic politics and currently chairs the Texas state Higher Education Coordinating Board. “And he is never showy about giving the money — what he gives, how much he gives, to whom he gives. He doesn’t expect a lot of recognition.” Adds Atlas’s husband, Scott: “What’s so amazing and refreshing is that after he gives money, he doesn’t ask for a thing. He doesn’t look for an audience; no return favor is expected or requested. He just wants the best people to be elected.”
Moores himself says, “I don’t want anything. I ask for nothing, and interestingly enough, that’s what I’ve gotten back. I think we’re all dead soon, unless someone figures out a way to stop that, and there are just some events and some people that require support. I think Kathleen [Brown] is one of them, and Proposition 187 is a huge moral issue, but we just have to see if that shakes down.”
Moores became involved in politics through Houston attorney Bill White, currently deputy secretary of energy with the Clinton Administration. “My law firm had done some legal work for him and we had talked a couple of times and just hit it off,” White says. “We seemed to have some of the same values. Public education was extremely important, he thought, and he was very mad about the way the federal government had gone so far into debt during the Reagan years. Those were two things we shared in common politically. John also has a very strong idealistic streak, and he believes in being active in the community. I think that was the big impetus.”
White introduced Moores to others in Houston Democratic circles and before long, the money began to flow. Nancy Atlas says Moores “quietly gave money” to Michael Dukakis’s 1988 presidential campaign and also contributed an unspecified amount of money to Ann Richards’s first run for the Texas state house.
In the fall of 1991, White recalls, he began drumming up support among his peers for candidate Bill Clinton. Moores was among those he hit up. “I became convinced that if we were to reduce the deficit, we would need a Democratic president,” White says. “And I thought Clinton would be the strongest person in the field. At that time, he only had 6 percent in the polls, but John was a supporter throughout. He first contributed very shortly after Clinton announced.”
White personally introduced the money man to the future president, but he maintains that had no bearing on Moores’s decision to help finance Clinton’s campaign. “We had a couple of dinners and functions for Clinton in Houston, but John is not the kind of person for whom it is all that important to hang around with a particular candidate,” White says. “He reads his newspapers and sort of makes up his own mind.”
In 1992, the Houston Chronicle put Moores at the top of its “Top 10 Texas Democratic Givers” list, noting that he had personally given the party and various Democratic candidates $229,000.
Most of the money Moores gave to the Clinton camp came through the Democratic National Committee. “You have to understand the difference between hard money and soft money,” he says. “Federal law limits individual gifts [to presidential candidates] to $1000 per election, and we have to stick by those guidelines. But I’ve given a lot more to the Democratic National Committee, to its ‘Get Out the Vote’ campaigns, that sort of thing. In total, I think we’ve given the Democratic party $400,000 or $500,000 in the last four or five years.”
Politicians aren’t the only ones to benefit from Moores’s generosity. University of Houston media director Jeri Konigsberg says, “Mr. Moores and his wife have been very supportive of the university. A number of the Moores family attended the University of Houston and received degrees here, including both he and his wife. And I think that’s why he has expressed his appreciation through supporting a number of programs, academic and athletic.” Moores and his wife also regularly attend various school functions, she adds, including graduation and “events and programs in the schools of music, optometry, natural sciences, and math.”
Konigsberg says she doesn’t “feel comfortable discussing him personally,” but one source close to the university says Moores’s tenure on the board of regents was marked by a certain amount of friction because of his tendency to be something of a “control freak.” “He gave a huge gift to the university and then became a regent,” the source says. “And while the [initial] reaction was one of utter thankfulness at a tough time, financially, I did hear some squawking among some people at the university who found him much more involved in the day-to-day workings of the school than previous board members. Before, they had these corporate leaders who just went out and raised money and let them run the university and take care of affairs. But in the last couple of years, Moores was part of a new group that took over on the board that was much more hands-on about controlling and having influence. He was known as a hands-on, gunslinger type who paid close attention to everything that’s going on. Some people won’t miss him leaving the board for that reason, as long as he keeps giving the university money.”
Moores has also given more than. $10 million in the fight against a rare disease known as river blindness, which is prevalent in Third World countries. The disease involves a parasite that invades the system and travels through the bloodstream to the eyes, causing blindness. Moores, who has traveled extensively to Ecuador and Africa to study the disease, has established a foundation to get medication to the victims.
Moores’s philanthropy has taken a toll on his personal finances; in 1991, Forbes Magazine, estimated his net worth at $440 million, but this year, he failed to make the $310 million cutoff. “After capital gains taxes, philanthropies, falls below our minimum,” the magazine noted.
The 50-year-old Moores is said to be so publicity shy that he missed the ceremony announcing his 1991 gift to the University of Houston. He stays away from the press, refusing to grant interviews except on rare occasions. Should he succeed in buying the Padres for upwards of $80 million, he could be in for a rude awakening, says Marc Berman, a television sports reporter with the Houston-Fox affiliate. “He treasures his private life, but when you buy a ball club, you lose a lot of that,” Berman says. “He may not like that.” Of his purchase offer on the Padres, Moores will only say, “Baseball’s cranking away on it, and I can’t comment while they deliberate.”
Moores made his fortune designing software that makes IBM mainframe computers more powerful. According to press reports, his first job was delivering newspapers at the age of eight. He mowed lawns as a teenager and, in high school, found time to be on the track and field team. He studied law at the University of Houston and later worked as a senior systems analyst at the Shell Oil Company. He started his own company, BMC Software, in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land in 1980, with a $1000 investment. He had to cover some company costs with his personal credit card. By 1991, the company was earning annual revenue of $139 million and employed 965 people. Moores stepped down as BMC chairman in 1992, but he remains a major shareholder. He also owns a software company in Carlsbad, Peregrine Systems, which he bought in 1990.
Associates and press reports describe Moores as a laidback family man who prefers jeans to suits, and who allows his employees to come to work in Hawaiian shirts and shorts. The Houston Chronicle reports Moores collects Corvettes, Mercedes, and Ferraris. “Nevertheless, family members are not known as big spenders or extravagant dressers,” the paper noted. “They are not heavily involved in Houston society events. John Moores is as comfortable eating at a fast-food restaurant as at a four-star restaurant.”
Moores was recently photographed for a feature in Texas Monthly magazine. He chose to have his picture taken seated atop a sculpture rather than behind a desk, with rolled-up sleeves, cowboy boots, and no jacket.
“He is very affable and very interesting,” Nancy Atlas says. “He is interested in public affairs and community issues, but he has a good sense of humor and is very interested in sports. He is the most unpretentious person you’ll meet.”