An Orange County, California native born in about 1964, Rob McKay Jr. is the son of Robert McKay Sr., a Sherman Oaks architect who, in the early 1960s, was hired by Glenn Bell to serve as president of the thriving Taco Bell food franchise. The elder McKay helped the company grow into a national chain and eventually (in 1978) sold his 10% share to PepsiCo, Inc. for an estimated $13 million.
Robert McKay Sr. was politically conservative, but his son—who holds a BA in political science and sociology from Occidental College and an MA in social and public policy from UC Berkeley—has used the inheritance from his father’s Taco Bell fortune to finance an array of leftist causes. Most notably, he established the McKay Family Foundation in January 1992 and became its president, a position he maintains to this day. Scarcely three months after the creation of this Foundation, the infamous Rodney King court verdict triggered the Los Angeles riots which killed more than 50 people, destroyed over 1,000 buildings, and caused at least $1 billion in property damage. The nascent McKay Foundation at that point devoted its philanthropy to helping rebuild the devastated city. Characterizing the riots as “a slap in the face by some serious reality,” McKay recalls: “My rude awakening to philanthropy was walking the streets around Florence and Normandie [L.A. neighborhoods] with National Guard escorts. But there’s a limit to what charities can do. You also have to think about political strategy.”
One of McKay’s early political efforts was his involvement in creating, through his foundation, the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition, an alliance of labor unions and community organizations that pressured the city’s Board of Supervisors to set a minimum wage of $10-per-hour for more than 20,000 local public-sector workers. In 2000, McKay’s foundation donated $100,000 to this Coalition and was honored by Local 790 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for the contribution.
By 2002, McKay had become a leading advocate of Proposition 52 in California, which called for permitting voters to register at their polling place even on election day. Although McKay spent at least $1.5 million on the measure, Prop 52 ultimately failed.
Soon thereafter, McKay turned his attention to national politics. He was a self-described “founding board member” of America Coming Together (ACT), a George Soros-backed organization established in 2003 for the purpose of trying to thwart President George W. Bush’s bid for re-election. It was reported by The Washington Post that in July 2003 McKay attended a secret meeting at Soros’s Long Island home, where he, Soros, and other top Democratic operatives strategized on ways they could achieve their shared political objectives. That year, the McKay Family Foundation donated $1 million to ACT.
In 2006 McKay was elected chairman of the Democracy Alliance (DA), a political funding outfit created by Rob Stein and backed by George Soros and Peter Lewis. The SEIU’s Anna Burger, the Open Society Institute’s Gara LaMarche, and the Tides Foundation’s Drummond Pike also joined DA in 2006. McKay went on to serve as DA’s chairman until June 2014.
In 2006 as well, DA established its Secretary of State Project (SoSP), an initiative aimed at installing Democrat-friendly secretaries of state in key battleground states. McKay became an important figure in this ongoing effort. In 2008 he donated $25,000 to SoSP, and in 2010 the McKay Foundation contributed $10,000.
With the financial support of George Soros, the SEIU, and others, McKay later established and became director of the Fund For America (FFA), a 2008 reincarnation of the defunct ACT. He was joined in FFA’s creation by Anna Burger of the SEIU and John Podesta of the Center for American Progress. During the 2008 presidential election season, FFA donated $4.6 million to America Votes and $4 million to the Campaign to Defend America (later renamed as Progressive Media USA, a spin-off of Americans Against Escalation in Iraq).
In 2008 McKay was a strong supporter of Barack Obama‘s presidential campaign. After Obama’s election, McKay visited the White House eight times between January 2009 and September 2012. And when Obama ran for re-election in 2012, McKay again backed him enthusiastically. As a board member of the Priorities USA Action super PAC, McKay helped organize a $35,800-per-head, January 2012 fundraiser for Obama.
McKay’s ties to leftist organizations extend well beyond those discussed above. For example, he has been: (a) a board-of-directors member of Mother Jones magazine and the Salon Media Group (which has been supported by the McKay Investment Group, where McKay is a managing partner); (b) an advisory board member of Emerge America, which encourages and trains women to run for public office; (c) director of the Vanguard Public Foundation; (d) chairman of the California HAVA [Help America Vote Act] Advisory Committee (in 2004); (e) a board member of Progress Now; (f) an advisory board member of the Liberty Hill Foundation; and (g) a financial backer of American Bridge 21st Century.
In addition, McKay has written a number of pieces for the Huffington Post.
Over the years, McKay has given campaign contributions to numerous political figures including: Barbara Boxer, Sherrod Brown, Howard Dean, Donna Edwards, Martin Heinrich, Barack Obama, Jared Polis, Mark Udall, Elizabeth Warren, and Paul Wellstone. He has also given money to the aforementioned America Coming Together as well as the Democratic Congressional Committee, the Democratic National Committee Service Corporation, Progressive Majority, and Team Majority. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, McKay and his wife Anna personally donated more than $305,500 to Democratic candidates and organizations between 1990 and 2012.
Further Reading: “The McKay Foundation” (Capital Research Center, 6-15-2015); “Obama’s Trust Fund Baby” (Washington Free Beacon, 3-29-2012); “Political Philanthropist Rob McKay” (SFGate.com, 7-14-2002); “Rob McKay: Yo Quiero Taco Dinero” (Washington Free Beacon, 9-27-2012).