By Alan Zibel
Donald Trump’s allies have put together a sprawling political operation that continually collects money from major donors, many of whom have interests before the Trump administration.
Six groups funded by dozens of ultra-wealthy donors have raised more than $50 million to support President Donald Trump and his agenda since his inauguration, a sharp reversal from his three-year-old pledge to be independent from moneyed interests, a Public Citizen analysis (PDF) has found.
It’s a sharp contrast with Trump’s first run for office, which was famously dysfunctional. Our analysis of Federal Election Commission data found that since the start of 2017, the six pro-Trump groups had raised $54.4 million from 136 megacontributors who donated at least $100,000 each, with an average contribution of nearly $400,000.
The money has been used to promote Trump’s agenda through ads and support Republican candidates.
These six groups, including America First Action and Trump Victory, are fueled with contributions from corporate CEOs, largely from the gambling, finance, real estate and energy sectors, as well as from dark money groups that do not disclose their donors.
We analyzed contributions by the six largest groups used by big-money donors to support Trump and Vice President Mike Pence from January 2017 to mid-October 2018. The analysis excludes Trump’s official campaign committee, which is subject to the federal $2,700 cap on individual donations.
As the 2020 election season gets underway, the report highlights the growing influence of Trump’s fundraising operation and provides further evidence that moneyed interests, rather than the working class, are the true beneficiaries of Trump’s presidency.
With significant contributions from the gambling, finance, real estate and energy sectors, Trump’s bogus claim to be a populist president looking after the common man rings ever hollower.
Here’s a look at where the big Trump money is coming from:
Sheldon & Miriam Adelson: $10 million to America First Action
Sheldon Adelson, CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., and his wife, Miriam, are the largest donors to pro-Trump groups to date. The Adelsons have also been major donors to Republicans and to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Adelson pushed hard to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and also for the U.S. to quit the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The Trump administration granted Adelson’s wishes on both issues. Adelson has also pushed to build a casino in Japan – an issue that Trump himself brought up with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, according to a report by ProPublica. Preposterously, Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Miriam Adelson. The couple’s main achievement: They have given nearly $300 million to Republican causes since 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Cherna Moskowitz: $2 million to America First Action
The president of the Hawaiian Gardens Casino in Long Beach, Calif., Moskowitz was married to Irving Moskowitz, a controversial physician, hospital owner, bingo parlor owner and philanthropist who died in 2016. The couple have been major supporters of the right-wing Israeli settler movement, funding some of the most controversial Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta: $2 million to America First Action
The Fertittas are billionaire Las Vegas brothers, whose father was a casino developer. They profited massivelyfrom the 2016 sale of their stake in Ultimate Fighting Championship, which promotes mixed martial arts fights. They are the top executives at Red Rock Resorts, a publicly traded company and the parent company of Station Casinos LLC, which owners 20 Las Vegas area casinos and manages a tribal casino in Northern California. Along with several casino magnates, the Fertittas, who know Trump from his Atlantic City casino days, when Trump hosted mixed martial arts fights at his casinos. The Fertittas have been enthusiastic supporters of President Trump and other Republicans.
Craig Estey and Patricia Estey: $600,000 to Trump Victory
Craig Estey and his wife Patricia are major conservative donors. Craig Estey is founder of Nevada Restaurant Services, which owns more than 200 tavern-casinos that operate in several Western states. The company’s Dotty’s slot parlors feature delis and salad bars in addition to slot machines.
Steve Wynn: $500,000 to America First Action
Wynn, the casino magnate, is a former Trump business rival who evolved into a Trump friend and donor. Wynn resigned as the Republican National Committee’s finance chair amid sexual assault allegations. Trump, however, did not sever ties with the casino mogul and former CEO of Wynn Resorts. The Trump super PAC America First Action said it would not return a $500,000 donation from Wynn after the sexual abuse scandal broke. Wynn stepped down from his company, but denied the allegations.
Joe Ricketts: $2.1 million, mostly to Future45
Ricketts, founder of investment firm TD Ameritrade, and his wife Marlene, spent millions to oppose Trump in the primary, backing a PAC running ads attacking his candidacy. Two months before the 2016 election, the Ricketts family, which controls the Chicago Cubs, decided to back Trump. Ricketts’ son, Todd Ricketts, was initially nominated to serve as the second-ranking official in the U.S. Commerce Department, but withdrew his name. Todd Ricketts was named finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, replacing Steve Wynn.
Charles Schwab: $2 million to Future45
Schwab, the founder of the stock brokerage firm that bears his name, and his wife Helen have been big supporters of Trump, donating $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and his legal defense fund. Their 21-year-old granddaughter, Samantha, was hired to work in the White House. Meanwhile, lobbyists for the Charles Schwab brokerage firm have been pushing the Securities and Exchange Commission to weaken a proposal for investor-protection standards.
Paul Singer: $1 million to Future45
Singer is the billionaire founder and CEO of hedge fund Elliott Management Group, is a longtime Republican donor who opposed Trump during the primary season. The conservative Washington Free Beacon, a news organization funded by Singer, paid for the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to dig up damaging information on Trump, a project that was taken over by a law firm tied to the Democratic Party and Clinton campaign, leading to the production of a dossier that first outlined allegations of Trump’s connections to Russia. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon vowed to declare war on Singer after news broke that the Free Beacon had paid for anti-Trump research.
Matthew T. Mellon II: $1 million to America First Action
Warren A. Stephens: $500,000 to America First Action
Stephens, president of Little Rock, Ark.-based investment bank Stephens Inc., was an ardent opponent of Trump, spending millions to oppose his nomination. Since Trump’s election, Stephens has been somewhat critical of Trump but has been supportive of cutting taxes on investment gains and dialing back the Affordable Care Act.
John W. Childs: $355,000, primarily to America First Action and Trump Victory
The chairman of Massachusetts-based private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates, has long supportedRepublican candidates and super PACs. Childs is considered one of the pioneers in leveraged buyouts – corporate takeovers fueled by high levels of debt.
Stephen A. Schwarzman: $344,400 to Trump Victory
Schwarzman, the CEO of private equity firm Blackstone Group LP, is a frequent informal adviser to the president who has used his connections to the president to bridge tensions with China that could roil financial markets. In a 2015 interview with CNN, Schwarzman said “I’ve known Donald for 40 years, and he is the P.T. Barnum of America.” Schwarzman’s firm received a $20 billion investment from Saudi Arabia at the time Trump made his first presidential trip abroad, to Saudi Arabia. Schwarzman ran a White House CEO advisory group that was shut down after Trump equated white supremacists in Charlottesville with peaceful protesters. Schwarzman has continued to stand by Trump despite numerous controversies engulfing the administration.
Robert Gillam: $300,000 to Trump Victory
One of the richest men in Alaska, Gillam died of a stroke in September 2018. The founder of McKinley Capital Management, Gillam was a college classmate of Trump. Gillam was a fierce opponent of a copper and gold mine proposed for Alaska’s Bristol Bay, where Gillam owned a fishing lodge. Gilliam, who unsuccessfully tried to become Trump’s Interior Secretary, met with Trump in March 2017. He made a $250,000 contribution to the Trump Victory Fund after Trump’s EPA reversed course and blocked the Pebble mine from moving forward.
Bruce Berkowitz: $100,000 to Trump Victory
A mutual fund manager known for his contrarian stock market bets, Berkowitz has made a huge wager that the Trump administration will release Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-controlled mortgage finance giants, from government control. The two companies, which buy up mortgages and package them as securities, were placed under close government supervision during the financial crisis a decade ago. Berkowitz’s fund has reduced its holdings but still calls them an “excellent investment.”
Geoff Palmer: $4.1 million, primarily to America First Action
A Los Angeles real estate developer, Palmer has been one of Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters. Palmer is known in Los Angeles for building “garish” luxury buildings with skywalks that allow residents to avoid encountering homeless people on the city’s streets. Palmer has fought affordable housing requirements and has been criticized for building a “series of fortress-like faux-Italian apartment blocks.
Sherry Xue Li and Li Lianbo Wang: $600,000 to Trump Victory
Li and Wang are New York developers who proposed in 2013 to build a “China City” in rural New York State, which is now being billed as a Chinese education center. Little is known about the pair, who have become major Republican donors since Trump’s election. They are now working on a new project at the same location in the Catskill mountains. Known as the Thompson Education Center, the project is designed to attract Chinese investors under the controversial federal EB-5 program, through which overseas investors can receive green cards.
Stanley Chera: $439,000 to Trump Victory
Ronald Weiser: $200,000 to America First Action
Weiser is founder of Michigan real estate investment firm McKinley Associates. He was ambassador to Slovakia under President George W. Bush and is currently chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. Weiser was a reluctant Trump supporter
Andrew Beal: Nearly $2.7 million, mostly to America First Action and Trump Victory
A billionaire banker and distressed asset investor, Beal is a longtime Trump friend and business partner who loaned nearly $500 million to Trump’s failed casino business. Beal purchased a failing natural gas power plant out of bankruptcy and sought to alter electricity market rules to keep the plant running profitably. However, federal electricity regulators unanimously rejected this proposal. Beal has also taken control of a major natural gas power plant in Arizona that is subject to federal regulation.
Murray Energy Corp.: $1 million to America First Action
Murray Energy, the largest U.S. private coal company, is run by a close Trump ally, CEO Robert Murray. A climate change denier, Murray developed six deregulatory executive orders and submitted them to the Trump administration offering ways to prop up the coal industry. The company cited its flagging finances in pushing for coal and nuclear subsidies, including the potential impact on union worker retirement plans. Days after Murray made a written request for bailout assistance, the company donated $1 million to America First Action.
Harold Hamm/Continental Resources Inc.: More than $1 million, largely to America First Action
The Oklahoma oil billionaire Harold Hamm, CEO of the shale oil drilling company Continental Resources Inc. is a key Trump ally on energy, who got a top seat at Trump’s inauguration. He was an energy adviser to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and developed a relationship with Trump starting in late 2012. A board member of America First Policies, Hamm has aggressively promoted fossil fuel exploration on federal lands and was a supporter of former Trump EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a fellow Oklahoman.
Karen Buchwald Wright and Thomas Rastin: $865,000, largely to America First Action and Trump Victory
Wright and Rastin, an Ohio couple, are major Republican donors. Wright is CEO of Ariel Corp., which makes natural gas compressors, while Rastin is an executive at the company. The company supports legislationrequiring the government giving natural gas vehicles the same regulatory treatment as electric vehicles.
Hushang Ansary and Shala Ansary: About $700,000, primarily to Trump Victory
A Houston billionaire and former diplomat, Hushang Ansary was formerly Iran’s ambassador to the U.S. A Republican donor and backer of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, Hushang Ansary was formerly chairman of oil and gas equipment firm Stewart & Stevenson LLC, which he sold for $710 million in 2017. He is also chairman of Parman Capital Group LLC.
Global Energy Producers LLC: $325,000 to America First Action
A firm tied to Igor Fruman, Russian-speaking Ukrainian businessman and Lev Parnas, a Russian-born businessman. Subject of a complaint from the Campaign Legal Center alleging that Global Energy Producers may be a shell donor created to funnel undisclosed donations to the super PAC. The firm told the Daily Beast that the donation “was a 100% legal contribution made by American citizens who immigrated to this country to flee Eastern European oppression and chase their American dream.” The company says it is working on a plan to export liquefied natural gas from the U.S.
Ira Greenstein: $100,000 to America First Action
An executive and a lawyer in New Jersey, Greenstein quit his job as chairman of telecommunications company IDT Corp. to work as a White House official from February 2017 to March 2018. Greenstein was described by Politico as a longtime family friend of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. Greenstein formerly was president of Genie Energy, an energy firm with operations in the U.S. and Israel. The firm’s Israeli operation is headed by a far-right Israeli politician who has met with former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Douglas Kimmelman: $100,000 to Trump Victory
Kimmelman, a former Goldman Sachs partner, is founder of Energy Capital Partners, a private equity firm that has become one of the largest owners of fossil fuel power plants and also owns a nuclear waste managementcompany. In 2014, Public Citizen alleged that Energy Capital Partners manipulated electricity prices by purchasing a major coal-fired power plant in Massachusetts and announcing its closure shortly before an electricity market auction, pushing up the market rate charged by its other plants in the region. Kimmelman peronally donated $50,000 to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, after the state made pension investments in Energy Capital Partners, according to a report by Maplight and Capital & Main.
Randal Perkins: $500,000 to America First Action
Perkins is CEO of AshBritt Inc., a Florida debris-hauling company that has often been hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to respond to hurricanes, floods and wildfires. Perkins is a former Democratic candidate for Congress, whose company has faced a long string of price-gouging allegations in Florida and California. Officials in California have been concerned about the high costs of a $1.3 billion fire cleanup involving AshBritt, in which one worker was killed. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Trump ally, in 2017 issued a subpoena to AshBritt over “delays and potential price increases” involving hurricane cleanup. The Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint against Ashbritt, alleging that it violated a ban on active federal contractors making political contributions. The contribution was later updated to list Perkins as the donor. Perkins told Roll Call that the donation was mistakenly reported as a corporate donation rather than a personal one.
Dan Snyder: $100,000 to Trump Victory
Snyder, the controversial owner of the Washington Redskins, is one of several NFL team owners who have donated to Trump. In addition to his donation to Trump Victory, Snyder also donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural festivities. The Redskins, who want to build a new football stadium, recently advocated to extend the District of Columbia’s lease on the federally owned site of the Redskins’ former home, RFK Stadium, opening up land to residential and commercial development, including a new stadium. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has also pitched a land swap with the Interior Department in an effort to keep the team in Maryland.
Michael Lindell: $100,000 to Trump Victory
Lindell, the TV pitchman and inventor famous for selling foam pillows on television, is also a big Trump supporter. Lindell has called Trump the “best president this country has ever had.” He faced a boycott after declining to pull advertising from Fox News’ Laura Ingraham’s show when she mocked a survivor of the Parkland High school shooting.