Donors who are anti-NAFTA in the running for Commerce

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Investor Wilbur Ross is one of President-elect Donald Trump’s top picks for Secretary of Commerce. (Rex Features via AP Images)

The competition for slots in Donald Trump’s future Cabinet has the feel of a reality show: Lots of media attention, “contestants” presenting their case to a panel of bigwigs, the anticipation and buildup waiting for Trump to choose. With the top position at Commerce still up for grabs, some of the wannabes strutted their stuff this weekend at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.

The replacement for Penny Pritzker (who was a bundler and inaugural donor for President Obama) will handle a wide-ranging portfolio that includes, among other things, exports and foreign investments, the Census Bureau, the Patent and Trademark Office and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And the new secretary will play a key role in helping Trump fulfill his promise to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Wilbur Ross: Trump’s top choice is rumored to be this billionaire investor who makes his money by taking over failing steal, coal or textile companies, cutting costs and then selling them for a profit. Ross is also the founder of the private equity firm WL Ross & Co., whose employees donated $336,635 to the RNC this cycle, but also gave about $600 more to Democrat Hillary Clinton compared to Trump ($6,000 versus $5,400.) When reporters asked Ross, who’s currently Trump’s economic policy advisor, if he wanted to be secretary of commerce, he answered, “Time will tell.” He has been a harsh critic of U.S. trade deals, including NAFTA, a stance that aligns with Trump’s plan to alter or withdraw from the agreement.

Ross isn’t a newbie to politics: He served on the U.S.-Russia Investment Fund Board that promoted private businesses in Russia while Bill Clinton was president and was New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s privatization advisor. The billionaire maxed out his donations to Trump’s campaign, giving $5,400 in mid-July, and also gave $139,145 to the Republican National Committee. It appears Trump wasn’t his first pick, though: In March, Ross gave $5,000 to a Marco Rubio-aligned super PAC, Reclaim America PAC. Altogether, he and his wife, Hillary Ross, who works for New York Social Diary, a news site for socialites, doled out more than $382,000 to Republicans this cycle.

Todd Ricketts: While the Chicago Cubs’ co-owner and his family stood behind Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker‘s presidential run (Todd was actually his co-finance chair), the Ricketts’ changed course and funneled at least $1 million into a pro-Trump super PAC, Future45, late in the game. Todd, the son of Joe Ricketts, founder of online broker TD Ameritrade, served as an Illinois Trump delegate at the Republican National Convention, though he did not contribute to Trump’s campaign. He did, however, donate $58,000 to down-ballot Republicans such as Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.)

Ricketts is CEO of the conservative super PAC Ending Spending, which spent $15.3 million in independent expenditures this cycle. The most, or $2.9 million, went to backing Ayotte in her failed bid to keep her Senate seat against Democratic challenger and Gov. Maggie Hassan. It planted money in the Indiana, Louisiana and Nevada Senate races, too, as well as House races in six states. Ricketts gave $200,000 of his money to Ending Spending this year.

Aside from leading his family’s political donor strategy, Ricketts has a variety of other professional credits: He worked at a Nasdaq start-up called Knight Securities, consults for companies such as disaster recovery firm Off-Site LLC, and owns the Higher Gear bicycle shops on the North Shore in Illinois.

Dan DiMicco: DiMicco is the former CEO of steel production company Nucor Corp., whose employees overwhelmingly donate to Republicans (with $20,000 going to Trump.) Currently Trump’s senior trade advisor, DiMicco believes that free trade agreements cost millions of American manufacturing jobs; his advice for Trump on his trade platform is to “continue with what he is saying.” 

This wouldn’t be DiMicco’s first time serving at Commerce: In 2008, then-Secretary Carlos Gutierrez appointed him to the board of the U.S. Manufacturing Council, a private sector advisory committee for the Secretary of Commerce. He served until 2011.

Like Ricketts, DiMicco turned to Trump after maxing out to defeated candidate Walker; he then gave $2,700 to Trump’s campaign in August. Of the $203,000 he dropped this cycle, DiMicco gave $90,000 to the RNC, $50,000 to Karl Rove’s anti-Clinton super PAC American Crossroads and smaller donations to candidates like Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.)

Lewis M. Eisenberg: Despite bashing Clinton for her support from Wall Street, Trump is considering one of its own for Commerce. Eisenberg cofounded and headed the private equity firm Granite Capital International Group, began his career at Goldman Sachs (where he worked for more than 30 years) and currently is senior advisor for buyout firm KKR. (Interestingly, while KKR employees’ favorite outside group was Jeb Bush’s super PAC Right to Rise USA, to which they gave $663,000, the candidate who harvested the most cash from them was Hilary Clinton, with $49,000.)

Eisenberg is on the board of directors of the conservative Republican Jewish Coalition, a 501(c)(4) political nonprofit. He was also appointed finance chair of the RNC last year for the second time; he previously filled the post in 2002. He led the fundraising effort between Trump and the RNC. This cycle alone he donated $67,000 to the committee, almost half of the $137,000 he doled out.

After first maxing out to presidential candidate Marco Rubio, he gave Trump $5,400 in June. Trump didn’t hold a grudge: He is now one of Trump’s Inaugural Committee picks. Eisenberg also gave to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) and New York Republican Andrew Heaney, among others, and threw $10,000 to a pro-John McCain super PAC, Arizona Grassroots Action. Eisenberg was a bundler for the Republican senator from Arizona in 2008, raising at least $500,000 for McCain’s presidential run.

Researcher Alex Baumgart contributed to this post.

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