One year ago, President Donald Trump’s inauguration broke records — not in turnout, but in inaugural donations.
Trump pulled in $107 million in individual contributions, nearly doubling President Barack Obama’s 2009 record of $53 million. With the donations came a set of perks for top donors — “intimate” dinners with Vice President Mike Pence; exclusive luncheons with Cabinet appointees and congressional leaders; tickets to inaugural balls, dinners and luncheons with appearances by Trump.
The money came flooding in from corporate executives, owners of US sports teams and other wealthy benefactors. And this year, some came calling back.
The Center for Responsive Politics assessed Trump’s relationships with his top donors a year after the January 20, 2017 inauguration. Some now hold ambassador positions while others have developed close relationships with the administration.
Chief among the top donors was Sheldon Adelson, a GOP megadonor and CEO of the largest casino company in the United States, Las Vegas Sands Corp. He doled out $5 million for Trump’s inauguration fund.
The donation was not only Trump’s largest inaugural contribution, but the largest individual donation made to any presidential inaugural committee. He and his wife, Miriam Adelson, also donated nearly $83 million to Republicans in the 2016 election.
In the past year Adelson has pressed Trump to follow through on his campaign pledge to relocate the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a move Trump announced in December.
“The Adelsons reportedly have been disappointed in Trump’s failure to keep a campaign pledge to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem on his first day in office,”wrote the Las Vegas Review-Journal after Adelson’s October meeting with Trump. The paper is owned by the Adelson family.
(Home Depot CEO Bernie Marcus, who donated $7 million to Trump’s campaign effort but was not an inaugural donor, also has a vested interest in the region as founder of the Israel Democracy Institute).
But he is not the only inaugural donor who may have turned his contribution into special access to the administration.
In April, coal baron Robert Murray, who donated $300,000 to the inauguration, gave Trump a detailed to-do list of environmental rollbacks, according to The New York Times. Since then, the administration is on track to check off most of Murray’s wish list.
The son of R.W. Habboush, a Venezuelan lobbyist who donated $666,000 to the inauguration, sat in on meetings about sanctions on Venezuela.
In the past year, a series of Trump donors or their close relatives have also been appointed US ambassadors.
Notable among them is Robert Wood Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets. Johnson donated $1 million to the inauguration. In August, he was sworn in as the US ambassador to the United Kingdom.
Joseph Craft III, president and CEO of Alliance Resource Partners, was another million-dollar donor to the inaugural committee. His wife, Kelly Knight Craft, wassworn in as the US ambassador to Canada in September.
Doug Manchester, owner of Manchester Financial Group and another $1 million inaugural donor, was nominated for a position as the US ambassador to the Bahamas in May. Manchester is now awaiting a re-nomination from Trump because of a Senate rule.
Many of the top inaugural donors also donated millions in support of Trump’s presidential campaign.
Trump’s top campaign donor, Robert Mercer, the billionaire co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, poured more than $15 million into outside groups to get Trump elected. Mercer also donated $1 million to the Trump inaugural committee. PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel donated $1 million to Trump’s campaign efforts and $100,000 to the inauguration.
Each were top campaign donors and each held close relationships to the administration.
Of the more than $400 million raised to elect Trump, about $50 million was raised by Trump’s top 13 contributors — many of whom have found themselves in the Trump administration’s inner circle.
Some like Linda McMahon, owner of McMahon Ventures and co-founder of the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) empire, donated over $6 million to getting Trump elected. Much of that was donated to Trump-aligned super PACs, such as Future45 and Rebuilding America Now.
McMahon was later appointed administrator of the US Small Business Administration.
In 2009, Dallas banker Andrew Beal, who donated $2.1 million toward Trump’s presidential bid and $1 million for the inauguration, worked with Carl Ichan in an attempt to take control of the bankrupt Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. Ichan served as an advisor in the early months of the administration until he resigned ahead of a story detailing potential conflicts of interest.
Others toted close relationships to the administration like Stephen Feinburg, who donated $1.5 million to campaign efforts and had a close military ear in the Trump administration. That was before ex-White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon’s departure from the administration.
Many of Trump’s top donors have stepped into the political spotlight in the wake of Trump and Bannon’s public feud.
Contributors like Feinburg, Thiel and Marcus — Trump’s second largest campaign donor — held close relationships to Bannon.
Some of them, such as GOP megadonors Adelson and the Mercer family, have since distanced themselves from Bannon in support of Trump. Rebekah Mercer, the billionaire daughter of Robert Mercer who runs the family business, severed ties with Bannon in a January statement to The Washington Post.
“I support President Trump and the platform upon which he was elected,” Rebekah Mercer said. “My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements.”
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