With little fanfare, Rufer, a wealthy 64-year-old agribusinessman, has contributed more than
Rufer, founder and owner of a successful
"I'm against subsidy, period," said Rufer. "It's simply a moral argument. ... If it was a subsidy for a fish pond, I'd be against it."
His contributions make him one of the largest donors to a Sacramento political campaign in recent memory, but the arena fight is merely the latest political cause to grab his attention. Over the past two decades, he and his wife, Melodie, have contributed more than
Rufer's donations highlight the strange-bedfellows quality of the arena subsidy issue, which has united conservatives and liberals in a fight against the city's proposed contribution. The main anti-subsidy group, Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, was co-founded by two Democrats,
Camacho, a former labor organizer who ran for
"The commonality is fairness," Camacho said. "In today's world, the way things are moving, it's hard to tell the left from the right."
After Rufer made his initial donations, he and Camacho met last summer for lunch at
"I don't know much about his politics," Camacho said, though he added that he's aware of his ally's libertarianism. "He's a very good man."
The head of the political action committee launched by Mayor
"Rufer's funding of STOP is supporting STOP's effort to steal 4,000 jobs, steal a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform downtown and makes him an accomplice in
Rufer's contribution to the anti-arena campaign is by no means his largest political expenditure.
In 2012, he gave
"He doesn't just give money, he looks into issues and gives his perspective as well," said Gray, who stayed at Rufer's home during a recent trip to
For all that, Rufer has kept a low profile around Sacramento, and the arena issue represents a significant coming-out party for him in regional politics. While he said he spoke up against the city's decision to loan the Kings more than
The difference this time, he said, is the enormousness of the arena deal.
"The size of the subsidy ... gives me an opportunity to market my ideas," Rufer said.
'A little tomato business'
Rufer gave a total of
After Rufer, the largest donors have been several nonunion electrical contractors angry with the Kings' decision to build the arena with union labor. They donated
Rufer called the city arena subsidy a form of "crony capitalism" and said it should draw the scorn of everyone, regardless of political affiliation. The Kings' owners "are getting financial gain, sucking money out of the people of
Rufer can well afford his political contributions. His business empire includes processing and trucking companies, and he maintains offices in
Despite his success, Rufer, raised in a blue-collar family in
"We run a little tomato business," he said. "Compared to major companies, we're nothing."
Rufer said he doesn't know what his net worth is, but he talked about being part of the "1 percent" that has been vilified by some liberal activists. He railed against government policies that he said confiscate money from the well-to-do.
"We produce food for people," he said. "Taxes punish me for doing that."
Rufer spoke with
The office suite also houses a nonprofit he launched to espouse libertarian ideas, the
Rufer is tall and lean, with an almost perpetual smile and a silver hank of hair partially obscuring his forehead. He was dressed in a blue button-down shirt and a beige V-neck sweater with elbow patches. He maintained steady eye contact and at times resembled a preacher trying to win over a skeptical audience.
Rufer said he is generally shy. But he was clearly in his element talking at length about the fall of the Roman Empire, the presence of slavery in ancient
His ideas revolve around a limited role for government -- defense and a justice system, mainly -- along with low taxes. He said his companies have never taken a government subsidy and he doesn't plan to collect
'It takes millennia'
Rufer said his companies pay plant employees around
Deep down, he said, "99.99 percent of Americans are Libertarians." They just don't realize it yet, and that's why Libertarians rarely win elections.
"It takes millennia and centuries for people to change their mind-set," he said.
Rufer has been going against the grain for a long time. Armed with a master's degree in business from
At the time, he said, tomato processors mostly made finished products like spaghetti sauce. Rufer decided instead to produce intermediate products: tomato paste and diced tomatoes. It was cheaper and more efficient, and it eliminated a huge headache: Morning Star wouldn't have to predict which finished product would be in greatest demand. That was for his customers, companies like Kraft, to figure out.
Rufer revolutionized the industry, but at first he struggled to get financing for his plants. "I was laughed out of rooms constantly," he said.
Morning Star had the last laugh. By the mid-2000s, it controlled 40 percent of the market for those intermediate products. Rufer also gained notice as a pioneer in a flat-hierarchy managerial style in which employees set goals for themselves and don't answer to bosses. The concept has been written up in the
Rufer's other bit of fame came in a brush with the criminal justice system. A competitor,
It was an ugly case. Court records showed that Salyer once asked an associate if he "knew someone in
Asked about the experience, Rufer said he was impressed with the
As for the arena battle, Rufer said he thinks his side will win. The Kings will get their new playpen, but on his terms.
"If I had to hazard a guess, this stadium is going to be built without a subsidy," he said. "It can be built without a subsidy."
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