What have the top Trump donors been up to since 2016?

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President Donald Trump awards megadonor Miriam Adelson the Medal of Freedom Award in November 2018. Adelson and her husband gave over $20 million to the president’s campaign (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

With the 2020 election revving up, contributions have already begun pouring in for President Donald Trump’s reelection bid, including coveted cash from a loyal network of Trump megadonors. During the first quarter this year, Trump reported raising $30.3 million with a mix of large and small dollar contributions.

Trump secured a record $107 million for his inauguration after bringing in $333 million to his campaign and receiving $102 million in outside spending support in 2016. His megadonors received special treatment in turn — swanky “leadership luncheons” topped off with appearances from the top echelons of the GOP and Trump campaign for the price of $1 million, not to mention a seat at his $8,000-a-plate inaugural dinner.

That preferential treatment has extended into Trump’s tenure in office as an entangled web of policy proposals, cabinet appointments and budget priorities have often aligned with the interests of Trump’s most coveted donors.

ROBERT MERCER

Former CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technology, Robert Mercer shoveled over $15.5 million into outside groups, including Make America Number 1, and a combined $10,800 to Trump’s campaign, in 2016.

But Mercer’s influence in the 2016 presidential campaign went beyond just disclosed contributions.

The Center for Responsive Politics obtained IRS documents last year revealing that Mercer pumped money into a “dark money” 501(c)(4) nonprofit to send anti-Muslim propaganda ads into swing voters’ social media accounts. Mercer was one of the top three donors to the “social welfare” organization.

He also came into notoriety for funding Cambridge Analytica, a data-firm that garnered swift public rebuke after it was discovered that the company mined private information from social media pages to influence campaign advertisements.

But since catapulting to fast-fame within conservative donor circles in 2016, Mercer appears to have taken a step back from his public profile. In November 2017, Mercer resigned as co-CEO of Renaissance Technology, although he has stayed involved in other capacities.

While in the 2014 midterms he was fourth on CRP’s list of top individual federal contributors, in the 2018 midterms, he sunk to number 24.  But he did continue donating to the Congressional Leadership Fund, National Republican Senatorial Committee and John Bolton Super PAC, among others. Mercer gave $4.2 million to outside spending groups to prop up Republican campaigns during the 2018 midterms, including groups bolstering Republicans Chris McDaniel in Mississippi and Kelli Ward in Arizona. Both candidates lost their respective primaries.

Adding to the list of setbacks, Breitbart, the conservative news platform which Mercer made significant investments in, experienced an unexpected decline after Mercer backed out. His daughter Rebekah owns a share of the company.

ROBERT MURRAY

Robert Murray, CEO of the coal company Murray Energy Corporation, continues to flex his political muscles. He was quick to back Trump in the 2016 election given the then-candidate’s promise to deregulate and reinvigorate the fossil fuel industry.

On June 28, 2016, Murray’s company contributed to Trump’s campaign just as waves of layoffs hit the company and it wrestled to avoid bankruptcy.

Affiliates of Murray Energy donated a total of about $84,000 to Trump’s campaign and Murray devoted $1 million to outside groups backing Trump in 2016. Murray Energy kept donations steady in 2018, giving $1.7 million to Republican-leaning outside groups.

Murray’s contributions and outspoken lobbying for the resurrection of coal may have paid off.

The Trump administration has called for widespread environmental rollbacks such as lifting efficiency requirements for new power plants to slashing mandatory reporting of methane leaks or stopping federal oversight of coal ash waste management. On top of that, Trump walked away from the Paris Climate Agreement. In a letter addressed to Vice President Mike Pence, Murray recommend a series of environmental rollbacks for Trump to implement.  

As recently as February, Trump attempted to halt the closure of a federally owned power plant, which receives coal from Murray’s company, according to POLITICO.

But even the unprecedented curtailment of environmental regulations under the Trump administration may not have been enough to keep Murray around through 2020. Murray wanted Trump to implement a plan to bail out the faltering coal industry — a plan that has yet to come to fruition.

Even with the Trump EPA’s fossil fuel-friendly rollbacks, coal companies have not made a full come back.

ANDREW BEAL

Andrew Beal, Texas billionaire and fossil fuel enthusiast, has given over $2.1 million to outside groups to back Trump’s campaign efforts, including $1.2 million to the joint fundraising committee Trump Victory between the 2016 and 2018 election cycles.

Beal and Trump’s friendship goes back over a decade, when Beal’s bank helped out Trump’s ailing hotels and casinos in the early 2000s, according to a investigation by The New York Times. Beal later became an economic advisor for Trump’s campaign.

Beal launched Save America From Its Government, a super PAC that spent $3.4 million backing Trump’s campaign. What’s more, RallyPAC, an outside group funded overwhelmingly by Beal, spent $352,000 on Facebook ads during Trump’s campaign intended to fuel right-wing conspiracy theories against Hillary Clinton, according to an investigation by CNBC.

Now ensnared in a legal battle over environmental regulations, Beal could be betting on Trump’s oil-friendly policy promises coming through. Beal, who owns a natural gas power plant, filed a complaint with federal regulators over carbon limitations that will be imposed by California as the state accelerates its efforts to make its electricity 100 percent carbon-free. In his complaint, Beal argued that the regulations discriminated against fossil-fuel companies.

SHELDON ADELSON

The Republican party has benefited from the sustained largesse of billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, a physician. The couple donated over $123 million to Republican campaigns and conservative causes over the course of 2018 and $237,300 in the first quarter of this year. In 2016, they gave $20 million to a super PAC backing Trump’s campaign and $5 million toward his inaugural festivities.

As CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corps, the most profitable casino in the country, it is unlikely Sheldon Adelson’s support will waver. Sheldon launched a lobbying campaign to block the legalization of online gambling that could cut into profits at his brick-and-mortar casinos, a cause taken up by the Department of Justice when it boosted restrictions on online gambling. On May 7, the state of New Jersey sued the Department of Justice for withholding documents that could reveal the DOJ’s connections to Adelson.

The Adelsons have also lobbied to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, championing the sovereignty of Israel over Palestinian calls for independence. During his campaign, Trump promised he would relocate the U.S. embassy — a commitment he followed through on.

Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017 and relocated the embassy in May 2018. The embassy’s move catalyzed widespread protest in the West Bank and condemnation from Palestinian residents and international leaders. The Adelsons attended the opening ceremony of the embassy. Trump also withdrew $200 million in aid to Palestinian refugees since coming to office.

The Adelsons have foreign policy influence beyond Israel too. John Bolton, a close friend of Aldeson, holds the highly influential position of National Security Advisor in Trump’s administration.

Trump’s successful passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in November 2017 also came as a boost to the Adelsons’ financial portfolio, with savings estimated at $1.2 billion, according to the Las Vegas Sands Corporation predictions obtained by ProPublica.

ContributorTrump Campaign (2016)Pro-Trump Outside Group Contributions (2016)Trump Inaugural Fund ContributionsContributions to Republican Candidates/Conservative Groups (2018 cycle and Q1 2019)
Sheldon & Miriam Adelson$5,400$20,000,000$5,000,000$123,466,700
Andrew & Simona Beal $5,400$2,100,000$1,000,000$6,266,747
Walter & Marjorie Buckley 0$1,000,0000$1,398,028
Ronald & Nina Cameron $13,500$2,000,0000$7,070,724
Stephen & Gisella Feinberg $10,800$1,475,00000
Linda & Vincent McMahon $2,700$7,200,0000$8,100
Robert & Janice McNair $10,800$2,000,000$1,000,000$3,425,500
Robert & Diana Mercer $10,800$15,500,000$1,000,000$6,365,024
Irving & Cherna Moskowitz 0$1,000,0000$2,511,780
Geoff & Anne Palmer $5,400$5,000,0000$4,572,500
Isaac & Laura Perlmutter $5,400$5,000,0000$105,400
Peter Thiel$2,700$1,000,000$100,000$1,552,400
Zieve, Peter & Maria $3,027$1,000,0000$177,560

BERNIE MARCUS

Adelson is not alone when it comes to having an interest Trump’s policies toward Israel.

Bernard Marcus is the co-founder of Home Depot and also the Israel Democracy Institute, a research center focused on” strengthening the foundations of Israeli democracy.” Alongside his wife Billi Wilma, the loyal GOP donor doled out $7 million to pro-Trump groups in 2016 and has stayed on the political radar ever since.

The Marcus’ didn’t taper off their contributions for the midterms in 2018. They gave a whopping $7.9 million to Republican candidates and outside groups.

Most recently in March, the Bernard Marcus Family Foundation donated $1.5 million to the GOP-backed PAC Take Back the House. The Bernard Marcus Family Foundation gave $228,664 to Republican candidates during the first quarter of 2019.

Trump’s fresh tariffs on China imports will likely increase prices for companies such as Home Depot. But Marcus, a long-time promoter of the country’s “free market,” has rallied in support of Trump’s tax cuts and tariffs on goods such as aluminum and steel in the past. He has also praised the creation of millions of new jobs under the president. Last month, Marcus published a video criticizing Democrats for supporting “socialism” at the expense of the free market economy.

LINDA MCMAHON

Meanwhile, Linda McMahon, who gave $7.2 to two Trump Super PACs in 2016, has refocused her efforts back to the fundraising field as Trump’s reelection campaign heats up.

On April 12, McMahon stepped down from her appointed position as head of the Small Business Administration to lead the formidable pro-Trump super PAC America First Action, which received $10 million from the Adelsons in 2018.  

On May 7, Trump said America First Action was one of his campaign’s “official fundraising organizations.” His comment received swift backlash from groups who accused the president of explicitly soliciting funds for a super PAC while campaigning. End Citizens United and Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission in response.

KELLY CRAFT

Trump’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is none other than Kelly Craft, current ambassador to Canada with close ties to Republicans in the White House stretching back decades. The position has not been filled since Nikki Haley vacated the position at the end of 2018.

Craft is the wife of Joseph Craft III, billionaire and owner of the coal company Alliance Resource Partners, with a history of opposing environmental regulations, such as the Clean Power Plan, that pose threats to his coal business. The couple gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, $8,100 to his campaign and $750,000 to outside groups.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has the power to vote on the nomination for U.N. ambassador. Notably, Sens. Todd Young, Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson, Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney, who sit on the committee, received campaign donations from Craft or employees from Joseph Craft’s coal company.

Trump supporters and top donors Douglas Manchester and Robert Wood Johnson also received appointments as U.S. ambassadors under Trump.

PETER THIEL

As early as last November at a conference hosted by the New York Times, Peter Thiel, the ultra-wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur and co-founder of PayPal, vocalized his continued support for the president in 2020. He gave $1 million to the super PAC, Make America Number 1, which backs Trump, in 2016.

Just before the 2018 midterms, Thiel gave another $1 million to the conservative advocacy organization Club for Growth.

Thiel also started a data company, called Palantir, that has a $38 million contract with the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations. According to an investigation by Mijente, an immigrant rights organization, the company’s “Investigative Case Management” software was used by HSI to help orchestrate the arrests of unaccompanied immigrant families in 2017, as part of the Trump administration’s agenda to detain and deport undocumented immigrants.

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