Stanley S. Hubbard, one of Minnesota's richest men and most prolific political donors, was walking along 8th Street in downtown Minneapolis recently with the influential business lobbyist Charlie Weaver when the billionaire broadcasting mogul spotted a cigarette butt on the sidewalk.
"He stooped down and picked it up off the ground and threw it in the garbage," Weaver recalled. "He says, 'I hate it when people do that.' I'm like, 'Stanley! What are you doing?' Nobody manages Stanley Hubbard — this I know."
At 82, the chairman and CEO of Hubbard Broadcasting brims with more energy, fiery opinions and offbeat quirks than many people half his age. A longtime, conservative-leaning contributor to political candidates and causes both in Minnesota and nationwide, Hubbard in the current presidential cycle has emerged as something of a regular spokesman for the wealthy donor class.
Many campaign megadonors, particularly the conservative ones, shy from press coverage. Not Hubbard. He has urged fellow billionaire businessmen like his friends Charles and David Koch to be more public about their campaign giving. He provided a running commentary in the national press last summer about the rise and fall of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's presidential campaign, both praising Walker but also candidly critiquing his faults.
Hubbard is also brutally frank in his assessment of the remaining Republican candidates. Donald Trump is "a jerk." Jeb Bush is a nice man, but "disappointing." Marco Rubio "seems like he has a good personality." Ted Cruz is "a right-wing religious guy, I don't like that."
After first betting on Walker, Hubbard and his wife, Karen, this year have donated relatively small sums of between $2,500 and $5,400 to Bush, Rubio, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie. But, after earlier in 2015 donating $50,000 to a political action committee supporting the Wisconsin governor, and $200,000 last year and this year to the Koch brothers' Freedom Partners Action Fund, Hubbard said he would refrain from dropping any more big sums on the presidential race until after the GOP field sorts itself out.
"We'll see who rises to the top," Hubbard said in an interview with the Star Tribune.
Hubbard's office is on the second floor of the University Avenue building that houses Hubbard Broadcasting and its flagship station, KSTP. His father, Stanley E. Hubbard, opened it for business in 1948, sitting along the Minneapolis-St. Paul border.
"I was very lucky. I had a head start," Hubbard says of taking over, and vastly expanding, the broadcasting behemoth that his father founded.
Under his leadership, the company was a trailblazer in the adoption of satellite technology, spawning the company that eventually spun off into DirecTV. Today four of Stanley S. Hubbard's five adult children all run subsidiaries of the family business, holdings that include dozens of local TV and radio stations, the Reelz cable channel, broadcast technology ventures and a philanthropic foundation.
Forbes magazine estimated Hubbard's 2015 net worth at $2 billion, putting him at number 949 on its list of the world's wealthiest people. His wood-paneled office is small and relatively modest: Hubbard sits at a table rather than a desk, the better to accommodate meetings and a constant stream of visitors.
Bald and wiry, Hubbard talks fast, and a lot, and he has an unusual sense of humor. Showing off an antiquated flip-phone he says he prefers to his gleaming new smartphone, Hubbard suddenly hurls the older device to the floor to prove its durability.
"You can drop it from 6 feet onto concrete," he says.
The nexus between Hubbard's leadership of a far-reaching media company and his political donations, which heavily tilt toward Republicans, has been a point of concern for some critics. Last year, Minnesota's Society of Professional Journalists chapter issued a statement calling on KSTP-TV to disavow what it called a "fundamentally flawed" story alleging that Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges had been photographed flashing a gang sign.
"My politics never get into our news. Never," Hubbard said. "You won't find a person that's ever worked for me who will say I told them what to do with the news, where politics is concerned."
Hubbard responded to the journalist group's one-page statement with a five-page letter rebutting its criticisms in detail.
Spreading it around
Since 1990, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, Stanley and Karen Hubbard donated nearly $4 million to state and federal candidates, political groups and causes. A small portion of that was ultimately returned — Hubbard gives recipients of his contributions a letter asking for his money back if they're unsuccessful.
Hundreds of thousands more went to state and local candidates, largely in Minnesota but also scattered around the country — nearly $400,000 in all between 1994 and 2016, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Several of Hubbard's children have also been active donors.
Hubbard's decades of donations place him in a rarefied strata of political donors, though hardly at the top. In 2014 alone, 10 individuals donated more in that one year than Hubbard has in more than 20 years.
Though far down the national list of the nation's biggest-spending donors, Hubbard is one of the major players in the funding of Minnesota's political campaigns. For several electoral cycles now he has been the single largest donor to Minnesota House Republicans: $190,000 in the past three years to the group's campaign committee, plus a good deal more to individual candidates.
"He understands that you can't have an economy where employees do really well by punishing employers," said House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. "He and I have connected a little on that."
Political candidates, even those down the ballot in state legislative races, increasingly rely on wealthy donors like Hubbard. Two other wealthy Minnesotans, Alida Messinger and Vance Opperman, have supported state House Democrats at levels that rival or exceed Hubbard.
"These are people who can donate more than what an average Minnesota family takes in a year, or double or triple that," said Jeremy Schroeder, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, a nonpartisan political watchdog group. "It's one thing to say they have the right — they do. But it's a system that's leaving most voices unheard."
Asked how many times a day a politician asks him for money, Hubbard shouted the question to his secretary in the next room. "I'd say probably five, six times a day," she answered.
"I'm on the sucker list," Hubbard said. He said he never ties specific requests to his contributions. Does he expect politicians he donates to will take his phone calls?
"I don't expect anything," Hubbard said. "But they usually will."
'Stand up and be counted'
Hubbard's favorite Democrat of all time is former President Harry Truman, who in 1948 intervened with the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of Stanley E. Hubbard at a time when he was struggling to get a license to broadcast in the new medium of television.
"Harry Truman saved our business," Hubbard said. While he gives quite a bit more to Republicans, plenty of Democrats have benefited from Hubbard's largesse.
During her two successful statewide campaigns, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar racked up more than $25,000 in donations from Stanley and Karen Hubbard.
"She and I disagree about a lot of things but when the business community has wanted help on sensible things, she's been there," Hubbard said. Klobuchar returned the praise in a statement provided to the Star Tribune, noting that "we go way back" to when her journalist father had a radio show on a Hubbard station.
"I thoroughly enjoy that he is always ready and willing to challenge the conventional views in business as well as those in politics," Klobuchar said.
Hubbard's political views are broadly pro-business, distrustful of government agencies and pragmatic about social issues. In the interview, he called climate change "a scam" and unions "not necessary." At the same time, he said he doesn't like religion in politics, and he criticized Tea Party Republicans for what he called an unwillingness to compromise.
"I'm not afraid to stand up and be counted for what I believe in," Hubbard said. "I wish more people would stand up. They're afraid."
The interview in his office done, Hubbard walks his visitors to the front of the building. The receptionist is away from her desk, and a lone man is sitting in the lobby.
"Have you been helped?" Hubbard asks him.