Casino Billionaires, NFL Owners Fueled Trump’s Record Inaugural Fundraising

Source: By Bill Allison, Bloomberg • Posted: Thursday, April 20, 2017

Contributions from billionaires and corporations pushed President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee to a new fundraising benchmark of $106.7 million, roughly twice the previous record set by former President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.

Among the biggest donors for the celebration of Trump’s taking office in Washington were casino-owner billionaires Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn, a filing made public Wednesday by the Federal Election Commission shows. Adelson gave $5 million, while Wynn donated $729,217 in entertainment through his Wynn Resorts Ltd.

Companies and individuals in the energy and financial-services industries also kicked in several million dollars’ worth of contributions, according to the 500-plus-page filing. Owners of NFL teams or their companies supplied at least $5 million.

After staying on the sidelines for much of the 2016 Republican primary, Adelson — a top donor known for backing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — has embraced the new president and enjoyed a private White House meal with him in February. Adelson’s contribution is a record amount from a single donor since inaugural committees started disclosing after Richard Nixon’s presidency.

Casino Ties

Wynn, who has a long and complex relationship with Trump, is now the top fundraiser for the Republican National Committee. Phil Ruffin, another casino magnate who is a close friend of Trump, contributed $1 million. Trump himself once ran as many as four casinos, including properties bearing his name in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for two decades.

Since Trump’s election, casino owners have been planning to renew their push to legalize sports betting on their properties beyond the four states where it’s now permitted. The issue is different from online gambling, which is legal in three states. The industry is split on whether consumers should be allowed to bet online, with some casino operators, most notably Adelson, opposed.

Also listed in the filing is $1 million from Robert Mercer, the hedge fund manager who has been one of Trump’s biggest donors.

The fundraising record was generated even though Trump’s celebration was viewed as smaller-scale than previous celebrations. For now, his inaugural committee isn’t required to disclose how it spent the money or what remains in its bank account, although it has pledged to donate the remaining funds to charities.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, told reporters Wednesday that he doesn’t think there are any legitimate conflict-of-interest concerns stemming from inaugural funding from corporations and mega-donors.

“I think this is just like a campaign,” he said. “There’s disclosure on this for a reason, so you know what’s happening.”

Long Tradition

He called the inaugural funding a “nonpartisan activity” and long tradition in which lots of Americans and companies proudly participate.

Some companies have shown a hesitancy to get too involved with politics during the Trump era, but that wasn’t reflected in the inaugural donations.

“I don’t expect a long-term backlash against specific companies since most people understand that these types of donations are typical, regardless of political affiliation,” said Carol Spieckerman, a retail and branding consultant. “Much also depends on whether Mr. Trump decides to call out the fundraising numbers and specific company’s contributions. Doing so could polarize support for the associated company brands.”

Finance Industry

Among financial institutions, Bank of America Corp. gave $1 million, while JP Morgan Chase & Co. gave $500,000. Howard Lutnick, chairman and CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald LLC, gave $1 million. Though Trump tapped the ranks of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.  for five appointees, the bank didn’t make a contribution.

Steven Cohen, a billionaire who runs Point72 Asset Management LP, gave $1 million, and Blackstone Group LP Chairman Stephen Schwarzman donated $250,000. Detroit-based Quicken Loans Inc., whose founder and chairman is Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, gave $750,000. Charles Schwab, the discount-brokerage founder, sent $1 million. And billionaire investor Paul Singer, who didn’t support Trump during the campaign, gave $1 million.

Some companies donated goods and services as well as cash. FedEx Corp. gave $300,000, plus $202,320 of delivery services. AT&T Inc. gave $2 million, plus $82,483 in mobile equipment and software. Microsoft Corp. gave $500,000, with half in the form of equipment. Comcast Corp. and Anheuser-Busch each gave $250,000.

Four NFL team owners gave $1 million each. Woody Johnson of the New York Jets, Daniel Snyder of the Washington Redskins, Robert McNair of the Houston Texans, and the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Shahid Khan all made donations in 2016. In February, Khan, the NFL’s only Muslim owner, publicly opposed Trump’s ban on travel from six predominantly Muslim countries. Kraft Group LLC, a firm associated with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, also gave $1 million.

Autos, Health Care

General Motors Co. provided $298,650 worth of vehicles and a $200,000 donation toward Trump’s inauguration, while Ford Motor Co. contributed $250,000. Henry R. Kravis, husband of former Ford director Marie-Josee Kravis, gave $1 million. GM and Ford were among the carmakers that succeeded in pushing the Trump administration to review fuel economy and emissions standards that call for companies’ vehicle fleets to average more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025.

Donations also came from health-care companies that could be affected by policy decisions, including any changes to Obamacare. Anthem Inc., which remains entangled in legal challenges tied to its merger attempt with Cigna Corp., gave $100,000. Aetna Inc. donated $100,000. Metlife Inc. gave $250,000 and Caremark Rx, a division of CVS Health Corp., donated $25,000.

Pharma, Coal

Pfizer Inc., the largest U.S. drugmaker, gave $1 million, while Amgen Inc. donated $500,000. The pharmaceutical industry is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar campaign to repair its reputation after criticism over high drug prices. Pfizer’s donation on Dec. 22 came before Trump’s threats as president to use the government’s buying power to force prices down and his accusation that the industry is “getting away with murder.”

Trying to restore coal-industry jobs was a frequent campaign theme for Trump, and some of the industry’s top players wrote big checks to celebrate his victory. Joseph W. Craft, chairman of Alliance Holdings GP LP, gave $1 million through his trust. Craft had signed on to back Trump’s campaign financially after he secured the nomination in May.

Christopher Cline, principal owner of Foresight Energy Partners, gave $1 million. J. Clifford Forrest, a Pennsylvania coal executive who owns Rosebud Mining Co., gave $1 million. In March, Trump issued an executive order calling for the Clean Power Plan, an Obama administration initiative that critics charged would bankrupt the coal industry, to be scrapped.

Energy Contributions

Trump’s inaugural committee also received support from other of the largest U.S. energy industry companies, including Chevron Corp., which contributed $525,000, and Exxon Mobil Corp., which gave $500,000. John B. Hess, CEO of Hess Corp., contributed $1 million. Citgo Petroleum Corp., which is owned by Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, contributed $500,000.

Green Plains Renewable Fuels gave $1 million in December. Todd Becker, the firm’s CEO, said Trump would be good for the ethanol industry that month, but was critical of a proposed rule brokered in February by billionaire Carl Icahn, a special adviser to Trump, that would change the way the industry is regulated.

International Bank Shares Corp., whose CEO Dennis Nixon was an early Trump supporter, gave $250,000. Nixon has long been critical of the Dodd-Frank financial industry reform law, one that Trump has already ordered the Treasury Department to review.

For many donors, the inaugural committee represented the last or only chance to get on the Trump bandwagon before he took the oath of office. Corporations, barred by federal law from donating to campaigns, can underwrite the costs of inaugural festivities.

Federal law allows inaugural committees to largely determine their own rules about who can contribute and how much. For his first inauguration, Obama limited donations to $50,000, and didn’t accept them from corporations or lobbyists. For his second, he raised the limit to $1 million and allowed corporate contributions. Trump’s team set no limit on the amounts individuals and corporations could give.

While the committee’s report to the FEC discloses its donors, the first glimpse into its spending doesn’t have to be shared until the spring of 2018, at the earliest, when the committee, a nonprofit, files with the Internal Revenue Service.

Four years ago, Obama raised $43.7 million for his scaled-down second inauguration, which cost $40.3 million. Four years before that, Obama raised more than $53 million, a record at the time.