Greenwich billionaire Thomas Peterffy hates socialism because he grew up behind the Iron Curtain in communist Hungary before coming to America and making his fortune in discount brokerage.
He’s now putting his money behind his beliefs, and he is spending as much as $10 million during the final weeks of the election to rail against socialism. While he is funding national commercials on CNBC and CNN that show him speaking into the camera about his personal story, he is also getting involved in a local state Senate race that covers Manchester, Glastonbury, Bolton and Andover.
Papers released Thursday show that Peterffy is the only funder of a new Super PAC that will be spending nearly $38,000 for commercials on cable television stations against incumbent Democrat Steve Cassano. Cassano and his supporters held a news conference Thursday outside the state Capitol to decry Peterffy’s efforts.
Saying he knew little about the 68-year-old Greenwich billionaire, Cassano criticized Peterffy for getting involved in the race.
“Being sued by one of the richest people in the state of Connecticut is the way I look at it,’’ Cassano said. “I know I’m not being sued, but I’m being attacked by somebody who lives in Greenwich who I never met in my life. What impact he has on Manchester and Glastonbury, I have no idea. But I do know this. It’s a democracy. My grandfather and my father were fishermen. They were so proud of being Americans and being proud of the system. They never lived long enough to see me get elected. … That’s what it’s all about.’’
Cassano, 70, added, “To be able to have extra pennies in your allowance to spend to defeat candidates is outrageous. This is a man who made over $2 billion in the last few years under this Obama administration that they all want to attack, and I guess $38,000 of that is going to be used to attack Steve Cassano. That’s not what government is supposed to be.’’
Cassano’s seat was held by a Republican in the mid-1990s, and he won his last race in November 2010 by only 66 votes against Glastonbury town council member Stewart “Chip’’ Beckett in a battle that led to a recount. He is now facing Manchester Republican board of directors member Cheri Pelletier in a race where Cassano says he feels “very comfortable’’ about the outcome.
Peterffy’s money has been contributed to a previously unknown group called Voters For Good Government, Inc., which is incorporated in Delaware and maintains a post office box in Fairfield. The managing director is Liz Kurantowicz, the former chief of staff and finance director for the Connecticut Republican Party and a former state employee in Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s office.
Kurantowicz declined to reveal any details about the number of commercials that will be broadcast against Cassano, their precise content or how much money will be spent by Election Day. She states at the end of the 30-second commercial that she approved the message.
“We’re going to be highlighting decisions that Senator Cassano made that were not necessarily in the interests of his district,’’ Kurantowicz said in a telephone interview.
She said her organization is still in the process of raising money, and she declined to say how much that Peterffy will spend.
“Mr. Peterffy is the major donor that we have currently,’’ Kurantowicz said. “Senator Cassano will not be the only race that we are interested in. As we make additional expenditures, those will be made public. … There certainly will be additional expenditures made in multiple districts. I can say that with 100 percent certainty.’’
Peterffy is little known to the general public, but he has contributed to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon, Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, and the Republican National Committee. Various published estimates have pegged his net worth at $4 billion to $7.6 billion.
“I grew up in a socialist country, and I have seen what that does to people,’’ Peterffy says in a video that is currently available on the Internet. “There is no hope, no freedom, no pride in achievement. The nation became poorer and poorer. And that’s what I see happening here.”
Although he could not speak English when he arrived in the United States in 1965, Peterffy eventually created Interactive Brokers, a giant discount brokerage firm based in Greenwich that has employees in at least 11 countries.
Kurantowicz declined to comment on the reaction of Cassano, saying she was not at the press conference in Hartford and did not hear remarks by Democrats criticizing the controversial decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 that allowed the creation of Super PACs in political campaigns.
“I don’t think I need to be in a position where I’m defending Citizens United,’’ she said. “We are doing what the law says we’re allowed to do. This is a bipartisan thing. This is not a party-specific system. Both Democrats and Republicans have utilized’’ Super PACs.