Stewart Mott

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Stewart Mott

Stewart Rawlings Mott (1937-2008) was a major donor to socialist causes.

Mr. Mott’s favored causes included birth control, abortion reform, sex research, arms control, feminism, civil liberties, governmental reform, gay rights and research on extrasensory perception.

His political giving, often directed against incumbent presidents, was most visible. In 1968, he heavily bankrolled Senator Eugene McCarthy’s challenge to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Four years later, he was the biggest contributor to Senator George McGovern, the Democratic presidential nominee.

When Charles W. Colson, the White House chief counsel to President Richard M. Nixon, included Mr. Mott in the famed “enemies list,” Mr. Colson said of him, “nothing but big money for radic-lib candidates[1].”

Family background

Stewart Rawlings Mott was born on Dec. 4, 1937, in Flint, Mich. He was the son of Charles Stewart Mott and the former Ruth Rawlings, Mr. Mott’s fourth wife.

Mr. Mott and his first wife, the former Ethel Culbert Harding, had a son and two daughters. She died in 1924. Mr. Mott’s middle two marriages yielded no children.

Charles Mott took over one of the family’s businesses, manufacturing wheels and axles, and in 1906 moved this company from Utica, N.Y., to Flint, Mich., to take advantage of the auto industry’s rapid growth. By 1913, he had sold the company to General Motors for G.M. stock, becoming G.M.’s largest individual shareholder.

He became a director of the company, serving for 60 years until his death in 1973 at 97. He accumulated interests in many other companies, and in 1926 established the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, a major philanthropy.

Stewart, the second child of the second wave of children, was born when his father was 62. This gap, when combined with the father’s standoffish manner, created an immense chasm. The father signed notes to his son, “Very truly yours, C. S. Mott,” and hired a coach to teach him to ride a bike.

Stewart was overweight as a child and nearly drowned at 9 when he ventured out on thin ice. After running away at 11, he struck a bargain with his father to come home half the summer if he could work the other half at family enterprises. His experiences included a Flint department store, a pecan-and-goose farm in New Mexico and a refrigerator plant near Paris[2].


Mott once lived on a Chinese junk as a self-described beatnik and kept notes to himself on Turkish cigarette boxes, accumulating thousands. He held folk music festivals to promote peace and love. His garden atop his Manhattan penthouse (which he sold some years ago) was famous; at one point Mr. Mott taught a course in city gardening at the New School for Social Research in New York. He once told an interviewer that he lay awake wondering how to grow a better radish.

Mr. Mott seemed to relish poking his finger in the eye of General Motors, a company that his father, Charles Stewart Mott, helped shape as an early high executive. In the ’60s, the younger Mr. Mott drove a battered red Volkswagen with yellow flower decals when he drove at all. He lambasted G.M. at its annual meeting for not speaking out against the Vietnam War. He gave money to a neighborhood group opposing a new G.M. plant because it would involve razing 1,500 homes.

At a 1982 soiree, he brought in an elephant and two donkeys, presumably to demonstrate political balance[3].


Mott attended Michigan public and private schools until he was 13, and then entered Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, from which he graduated. He studied engineering for three years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then hitchhiked around the world for a year, spending just $1,500.

He finished his education at the Columbia University School of General Studies, earning two bachelor’s degrees, one in business administration and one in comparative literature, as well as a Phi Beta Kappa key. After his Chinese junk kept sinking in the Hudson, he abandoned it for "terrestrial accommodations". He wrote a thesis on Sophocles for a never-completed Columbia master’s degree in Greek drama[4].


While pursuing his education, Mr. Mott worked as an apprentice in various family enterprises. In the academic year of 1963-64, he taught English at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Mich. His philanthropy began when he returned to Flint and started the city’s first branch of Planned Parenthood. He then traveled the nation on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Newly enamored by philanthropy, he asked to join his father’s foundation, which mainly served Flint. Father said no, so Stewart used trust funds to start his own charity.. He moved to New York in 1966.

He said in an interview in 1971 with The New Yorker: “Right now, my philanthropy is hearty, robust, full-bodied, but it still needs a few years of aging before it will develop fully its eventual clarity, delicacy, elegancy, fruitiness, and fragrance.”

On its Web site, the Stewart R. Charitable Trust said it looks for projects “seeking tangible change[5].

Political player

Stewart Mott broke into politics in 1968, when he used newspaper advertisements to pledge $50,000 to the as-yet-nonexistent presidential candidacy of Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York if others would contribute double that amount. When Mr. Rockefeller rejected his efforts, Mr. Mott turned to Mr. McCarthy.

In 1972, Mr. Mott ran what some regarded as a scurrilous ad campaign against Senator Edmund S. Muskie, a rival of Mr. McGovern’s in his own Democratic Party. This led to Mr. Mott’s being called before the Senate Watergate Committee, which was investigating political “dirty tricks.” It found no wrongdoing by him.

Mr. Mott devoted himself to military reform by financing the Project on Military Procurement and the Center for Defense Information, among other left-leaning projects. In 1979, a report by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, said these activities added up to an “anti-defense lobby[6].”


In 1974, Mr. Mott started the Fund for Constitutional Government to expose and correct corruption in the federal government. His mansion in Washington has long been used to raise funds for candidates, as well as causes from handgun control to gay rights.

Mr. Mott paid most of the early legal fees for a 1976 suit that ultimately caused former Vice President Spiro T. Agnew to repay kickbacks ($147,599 plus interest) that he had been accused of receiving when he was governor of Maryland. Mr. Agnew, who had resigned the vice presidency after pleading no contest to a tax evasion charge, did not admit guilt[7].

Fundraising expert

After the 1974 campaign finance law outlawed exactly the sort of large political gifts in which Mr. Mott specialized, he joined conservatives to fight it as an abridgement of free expression. They argued that limits on contributions given independently of a candidate’s organization were unconstitutional. In 1976, the Supreme Court agreed, while keeping other parts of the law. Mr. Mott then became expert on devising ways to give to candidates under the new rules. Following conservatives’ precedents, he formed political action committees and became an expert on direct mail, using both as methods of collecting many small donations[8].

Center for International Policy

In 1980, Stewart Mott, Fund for Peace, served on the Advisory Board of the Center for International Policy, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies.[9]

DSA event

In 2006 Neil Abercrombie and Dennis Kucinich spoke at a Democratic Socialists of America Political Action Committee event in Washington DC at the home of Stewart Mott, for Bernie Sanders[10].

The questions and comments actually had to be cut off to let Bernie get to the plane.
He flew to Washington and the next day attended the Washington, D.C., DSA PAC party at the home of Stewart Mott. Not only did Bernie Sanders speak; so did members of Congress Neil Abercrombie (HI) and Dennis Kucinich (OH). Christine Riddiough, former DSA National Director, served as host/ moderator