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Lenfest second-largest individual donor to Corbett

H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, the philanthropist and cable TV pioneer, has made one of the largest donations thus far in the 2014 governor's race, giving $250,000 to the reelection campaign of Gov. Corbett.

H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, the philanthropist and cable TV pioneer, has made one of the largest donations thus far in the 2014 governor's race, giving $250,000 to the reelection campaign of Gov. Corbett.

The generous gift to the embattled incumbent Republican drew notice because, in the political world, Lenfest is known mostly as a supporter of Democratic politicians. After all, he was the majority bankroller of the mayoral campaign of U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.) in the 2007 cycle.

Lenfest, who is part-owner of the company that publishes The Inquirer, said in an interview Saturday he gave to Corbett because the governor approved a $30 million grant for the proposed Museum of the American Revolution from the state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.

Lenfest has been a major fund-raiser and donor to the $375 million center, and in 2009, he pledged $5 million, in addition to the $5 million he had already given, to see it become a reality.

At the time, the project was drawing criticism over its planned location at Valley Forge National Historical Park, with some saying it would cause traffic as well as confusion over how a museum on private land was connected to the historic site. The museum's location has since been moved to the corner of Third and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia.

The state's $30 million grant to fund the project had been approved by Gov. Ed Rendell. When Corbett took office in 2011, he could have canceled it but instead signed off on the matching grant, Lenfest said.

"I greatly appreciated that support from the commonwealth," Lenfest said. He said he was "even more appreciative of what Gov. Corbett did" because Lenfest had supported Democrat Dan Onorato for governor in 2010.

"He saw the museum as something worthy of support. . . . It wasn't a quid pro quo because he didn't know that I'd give to him when he approved the RCAP grant," Lenfest said.

Asked whether he had donated to Republican candidates before, Lenfest said he had but could not offhand recall any examples. "I generally give to who I believe is the best candidate," he said.

Lenfest said he was a moderate Republican ideologically but was disturbed by the rightward drift of the GOP and changed his registration in 2002 when Rendell was running for governor so he could support the former mayor in the Democratic primary.

"I changed happily, because I'm not a conservative," he said.

Lenfest has donated tens of thousands of dollars to campaigns in recent decades, generally to Democratic candidates, but not exclusively.

In 2009 he gave $2,400 to the reelection campaign of U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, now considered the front-runner among the Democrats vying to unseat Corbett in November. Lenfest has also contributed to Democratic congressional candidates and party funds as far away as North Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Colorado.

Unlike election laws for federal races, Pennsylvania law puts no limit on how much an individual can contribute to a campaign.

Lenfest's donation to Corbett was disclosed in campaign-finance reports released Friday that also showed that the five Democrats vying for the chance to run against Corbett in November raised $27.2 million last year. Among the big donors was Tim Grumbacher, board chairman of Bon-Ton Stores in New York, who gave $1 million to millionaire businessman Tom Wolf.

Corbett started the year with $7.5 million in his campaign coffers after raising $6.8 million in 2013. Though that was less than his campaign had hoped for, Corbett will have the luxury of continuing to fund-raise while his challengers campaign ahead of the May 20 primary.

Corbett accepted the state GOP's official endorsement for reelection at its winter meeting on Saturday and urged the party faithful not to be discouraged by his relatively low approval ratings in the polls.

"We're going to score and score and score in the second half," Corbett said to cheers at a hotel in Hershey, according to the Associated Press.