Thom Weisel and Nick Forstmann receiving award for distinguished services to Empower America from former president Gerald Ford. With Jack Kemp (left), Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Bill Bennett (right) in 1998.
In 1993, Thomas Weisel was introduced by Ted Forstmann of Forstmann Little & Company, to Jack Kemp of Empower America, an organization Ted founded with his brother Nick Forstmann, and Julian Robertson.
Empower America was a pro-growth political think tank that advocated through its founders: Jack Kemp, Bill Bennett, Jeane Kirkpatrick and Lamar Alexander. The group was very close to Dick Armey and Newt Gringrich and would support legislation that would encourage entrepreneurial activity in the U.S. Young upcoming politicians would serve internships at Empower America, like Paul Ryan, congressman from Wisconsin.
In Capital Instincts, by Richard Brandt, the author relays: Weisel and Kemp hit it off immediately, of course. Says the former quarterback and 1965 American Football League MVP, “He’s much more of an all-around athlete than I am. He would have been a great pro football quarterback, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay to anyone.” As for politics, “He’s a bleeding heart capitalist,” adds Kemp. “He’s a populist free enterpriser. He wants capitalism to work for everyone.”
Weisel joined the board of Empower America in 1993, and when Steve Forbes resigned as chairman of the organization in 1996 in order to make his own bid for the presidency, Kemp asked Weisel to take over. He did so for three years, beginning in 1996.
One of Weisel’s most significant contributions to the organization may have been to build up its finances. Empower America was launched with about $5 million in financing, mostly personal contributions by the founders. “They went off into the sunset thinking they would never have to raise more money,” says Weisel.
They were wrong, and the organization was in financial straits by the time Weisel took over. Weisel began lobbying friends and business associates for donations, and raised many millions for the organization. He has always been pretty good at fund raising.
But money was certainly not the only support he gave to the organization. “His financial contribution was significant, but a big part of his contribution was leadership,” says Kemp. “He tightened our belt, brought in a lot of his friends, and focused our energy on major areas of public policy where we could make a difference-such as capital gain taxes, free trade, the regulatory burden in telecom. He loved the issues of educational choice, welfare reform, and maintaining a strong national defense.”
Empower America merged with Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) to create a new group called FreedomWorks in 2004.
Committee on Jobs
The Committee on Jobs was formed in 1992 by Warren Hellman (co-founder of private equity firm Hellman & Friedman) and Don Fisher (founder of The Gap) as an association of San Francisco’s top business leaders who are concerned about the long‐term economic vitality of the city. Two years after its formation, Mr. Weisel was asked to join the alliance, a position in which he served for over two decades. Jobs’ primary focus has been to promote a business climate that allows the city to remain a desirable place to live, work, and operate a business, protecting the workforce and the city’s tax base.