Fox News talks to Robert Rowling about Gold’s Gym controversy, quotes his neighbor Instant Tea

This is too funny. Highland Park billionaire Robert Rowling, CEO of TRT Holdings, the ownership group for both Gold’s Gym and Omni Hotels, has broken his silence about the controversy over his $2 million in contributions to American Crossroads. And guess who Rowling decided to talk to about it? That’s right, Fox News. But that’s not the funny part. In its story about the Gold’s Gym flap, which is oh-so-cleverly titled “This isn’t working out,” Fox News also quotes this blog, which it says “shares a neighborhood with Rowling.” Really? And which neighborhood would that be? Do they really think Instant Tea can afford to live in Highland Park? Well maybe we could if people like Fox News would link to our freakin’ site when they quote us!!! Bastards. Anyhow, here’s what Bobby-boy had to say for himself and what Fox News had to say about us:

“The facts are so distorted,” Rowling told Fox News, explaining that his donation to American Crossroads had nothing to do with social policies that could spark crossfire. “I’ve never heard one discussion of a social issue. This is all about fiscal sanity.” American Crossroads “supports conservative candidates, and even though those candidates may disagree with them on social issues, the resounding issue is fiscal responsibility.”

Rowling explained that his donation was made knowing that unlike its sister organization, Crossroads GPS, American Crossroads discloses its donors. “I gave to American Crossroads, where I knew my name would be published,” he said.

LGBT online newspaper the Dallas Voice, which shares a neighborhood with Rowling, on Monday likened the criticism from the gay community to similar backlash against Target Corp. over its financial support of an organization that backed Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who has made clear his stance that marriage between a man and a woman is the only form that should be legally recognized.

“…Apparently the only thing we hold more sacred than shopping at Target is working out,” the newspaper deadpanned in a Monday posting.

Target Corp., which is known for its progressive employment policies and sponsorship of Minnesota gay groups, in August faced pressure from its shareholders to retool its donation process to avoid similar problems in the future.

“Gold’s Gym is apolitical. We welcome all members without regard to race, gender, or sexual orientation,” Rowling told Fox News. “We always have, and we always will.”

—  John Wright

Gold’s Gym spokesman: Rowling doesn’t see any profits and San Francisco franchisees are lying

This morning we put a call in to Gold’s Gym’s gayest location in Dallas, at 2425 McKinney Ave. in Uptown, to find out whether management there had any thoughts on the controversy over Robert Rowling’s $2 million in contributions to American Crossroads, the Karl Rove co-founded group that is working to help elect several anti-gay candidates across the country this election cycle.

Rowling, a Highland Park billionaire, is the CEO for TRT Holdings, which is the ownership group for both Gold’s Gym and Omni Hotels. And his contributions have led to a petition calling for Gold’s Gym to stop supporting anti-gay candidates.

We ended up talking with Brad Bean, who happens to be the district manager for Gold’s Gym’s four corporate-owned locations in Dallas. The company’s other six locations in Dallas are franchises, Bean said.

“From a corporate perspective, diversity is a core part of our organization, and we don’t discriminate,” Bean said. “We have zero tolerance. We’re not a political organization, and we don’t use our revenue source to fund political organizations.”

Bean’s statement is essentially a shortened version of the one released by Gold’s Gym International on Monday, which we’ve posted below. A copy of the statement was sent over this morning by Dave Reiseman, vice president of communications for Gold’s Gym International, which happens to be headquartered at 125 E. John Carpenter Freeway in Irving.

We also spoke with Reiseman briefly this morning, and he stressed that Rowling is not the CEO for Gold’s Gym; he is the CEO for TRT Holdings, which is the ownership group.

“Not a nickel of Gold’s Gym’s money, from our members or our franchisees or our employees, went to American Crossroads or any other political organization,” Reiseman told Instant Tea. “Gold’s Gym is an apolitical organization, and we do not donate to political causes or candidates of any kind.”

But doesn’t the company generate a profit for Rowling, who could then have given that money to American Crossroads?

“I think one day if the company is ever sold, he may make a profit there, but right now they just re-invest all the profits back into the business,” Reiseman said. “Needless to say, the LGBT community is hugely important to us. We’re proud to have a strong membership base. A lot of our employees are part of the LGBT community, and so are a lot of our employees here at the corporate office and our franchisees.”

And speaking of franchisees, Reiseman says two of them in San Francisco were flat out lying when they announced Monday that they’re leaving the brand over Rowling’s American Crossroads contributions. Rather, discussions about termination of their franchise agreements for unrelated reasons began months ago, Reiseman said. This statement is below as well.

—  John Wright

Is Gold’s Gym the new Target?

Robert Rowling

A few years back we wrote about how, unlike the vast majority of lodging chains, Omni Hotels doesn’t offer domestic partner benefits to its employees.

Our reporting prompted the Irving-based company to agree to offer DP benefits at the city of Dallas’ new convention center hotel, which is being built by the city and will be operated by Omni. It remains to be seen whether Omni makes good on this promise, which didn’t come directly from the company but was communicated through city officials who were trying to get voters to sign off on a bond issue to finance construction of the hotel.

Anyhow, in our initial story, we told you a little about the owner of Omni parent company TRT Holdings, Highland Park billionaire Robert Rowling. Rowling is a big-time Republican donor who’s contributed funds to some virulently anti-gay politicians over the years, including former Pennsylvania Congressman Rick Santorum.

So it wasn’t overly surprising to learn last week, via Politico, that Rowling is among the leading donors to American Crossroads, the new group co-founded by Karl Rove. As Change.org notes, American Crossroads is working to help elect some of the biggest bigots on the ballot this year, including Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle.

Rowling has kicked in $2 million to American Crossroads, which puts him behind only fellow Texan and Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, who’s contributed about $7 million. Bob Perry, of course, is best known to the LGBT community for helping to bankroll, to the tune of $100,000, the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2005.

In fact, Rove has drawn heavily on his Texas buddies in general to fund American Crossroads, as other major donors include Trevor Rees-Jones, president of Dallas-based Chief Oil and Gas; and Dallas billionaire investor Harold Simmons, of Swift Boat and Bill Ayers fame.

But none of the contributions to American Crossroads has drawn as much attention from the LGBT community as Rowling’s, which appears to be generating a virtual firestorm in the gay blogosphere. That’s because in addition to Omni Hotels, Rowling’s TRT Holdings owns Gold’s Gym, and apparently the only thing we hold more sacred than shopping at Target is working out.

Change.org has launched a petition, which now has more than 1,700 signatures, calling on Gold’s Gym to stop supporting anti-gay politicians, and the story was picked up by Towleroad, Joe.My.God. and The Advocate over the weekend.

In other words, it looks like Gold’s Gym is the new Target, so to speak, and aren’t we lucky to have the owner living right next to our gayborhood in Highland Park? But if Gold’s Gym is really the new Target, shouldn’t Omni Hotels be the new Best Buy?

—  John Wright