What does it take to stage a welcome-to-the-neighborhood blowout? President Trump raised $107 million for his inaugural festivities, shattering previous records. The former titleholder, Barack Obama, raised half that, $53.2 million, in 2009 — though Obama imposed far stricter limits on amounts and sources of donations.
So who anted up for the schmoozefest with the new gang at the top? Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson was most generous, giving $5 million to the inaugural committee – perhaps to atone for the paltry $5,400 he gave Trump’s effort during the campaign. Other familiar megadonors included hedge fund managers Steven Cohen, Paul Singer and Robert Mercer. Cohen and Singer gave not a cent to the Trump campaign or his supporting super PACs. Mercer was another story: He invested more than $15.5 million in super PACs backing Trump. He and his daughter, Rebekah, had major influence behind the scenes during the campaign and continued to be big players in the early days of his administration.
Five of the million-dollar donors are NFL owners: Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots (through Kraft Group LLC), Bob McNair of the Houston Texans, Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins, Stan Kroenke of the Los Angeles Rams (and also of Arsenal, the Premier League soccer team) and Shahid Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Of those, Kraft, Kroenke and Khan hadn’t previously sent any money Trump’s way, while Snyder gave a mere $534. McNair, however, was all in, giving more than $2 million to the campaign and super PACs.
Former Iranian ambassador to the U.S. Hushang Ansary (now a U.S. citizen) gave $1 million, and his wife, Shahla, did the same, doubling the family contribution. They, too, had neglected Trump before their inaugural donations.
Corporate donors who gave $1 million included AT&T, Bank of America, Boeing, Dow Jones and Qualcomm. American Action Network, a dark money political nonprofit that’s linked to the main super PAC supporting House Republicans, also shelled out $1 million.
Other highlights: Republican megadonors Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein gave a combined $500,000 (Uihlein earlier gave $108,000 to Trump’s campaign and super PACs).
Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren forked over $250,000, having given just $3,000 to the campaign effort; but Warren received a major gift shortly after Trump took office, when the president reversed Obama and gave the go-ahead for the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project of Warren’s company.
Billionaire investor Peter Thiel, a climate change skeptic, and Carla Sands, a chiropractor who now heads her late husband’s investment firm, each gave $100,000. Sands’ earlier giving was limited to just $5,400, while Thiel gave more than $1 million to pro-Trump efforts pre-election. Still, both made their way into Trump’s administration: Sands as a controversial economic advisor and Thiel as a controversial advisor whose portfolio is indeterminate.
The identities of some donors are a little less clear, shrouded behind innocuous-sounding LLC names (the letters stand for “limited liability corporation”). Often, though, the people behind them are familiar, if sometimes unexpected: HFNWA LLC ($1 million) is linked to Democratic megadonor and real estate mogul Franklin Haney. Haney’s family donated $109,000 in 2016, all to Democrats. He and his wife each gave $33,400 to the DNC, while his family gave $12,800 to Hillary Clinton and $32 to Bernie Sanders.
Papa Doug Trust ($1 million) is tied to Doug Manchester, chairman of Manchester Financial Group. “Papa Doug” didn’t back Trump in 2016, though he spent more than $16,000 supporting Trump’s GOP rivals Carly Fiorina and Scott Walker.
Gordon Sondland, the chairman of Provenance Hotels and a big supporter of the extended Bush family (including former President George W.), gave $1 million to the inaugural committee through four LLCs: BV-2 LLC, Dunson Cornerstone LLC, Buena Vista Investments LLC and Dunson Investments LLC. Sondland gave $2,700 to the early favorite to capture the GOP nomination, Jeb Bush, and $22,000 to Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise, last cycle, but none to Trump.
Reasons for donating through an LLC vary, but in some cases individuals are attempting to keep a low profile. That may have been the case with Palmer Luckey, the designer of virtual reality device Oculus Rift. He owns Fiendlord’s Keep LLC, which in turn owns Wings of Time LLC, which gave $100,000 to the inaugural committee. While he didn’t give to the usual pro-Trump efforts pre-election, news outlets have reported he donated $10,000 to Nimble America, a pro-Trump nonprofit that posted memes blasting other candidates. In response, virtual reality developers pulled support for Oculus, with some issuing statements condemning Luckey’s actions.
Louisiana brothers Shane and Chad Guidry are behind HGIM LLC Corporate and HGF DB Fund LLC, which each provided $250,000 to the committee. Shane is the head of Harvey Gulf International Marine, which serves offshore oil and gas companies — and, in an unusual arrangement, is also special assistant to state Attorney General Jeff Landry, making $12,000 a year for efforts that include overseeing the criminal investigations unit’s operations. Meanwhile, last year, federal agents were reported to be investigating whether kickbacks were paid by Guidry’s company in an offshore catering deal, according to local press reports; Guidry has not been accused of wrongdoing in the matter.
(Guidry’s father, Robert, however, was convicted of paying bribes to former Gov. Edwin Edwards and his family for a riverboat casino license; Robert later testified against Edwards and avoided prison time. Robert, Shane and Chad were all charged with battery in a 2001 brawl involving a rival for the casino license; Shane is now estranged from his father.)In 2016, Chad gave $1,000 and Shane $3,000 to Trump’s campaign. Jeb Bush was their favored candidate, though, receiving $5,400 directly from the Guidrys and another $22,000 in help through Right to Rise.
Other entities in this category are less mysterious: The Witkoff Group, LLC, which gave $300,000, is owned by Steven Witkoff, a New York City real estate investor and old friend of Trump’s, though he gave only $5,400 to Trump’s electoral effort.
Skybridge Capital, LLC was founded by Anthony Scaramucci; it donated $100,000 the day after he stepped down as partner. A week earlier, Trump announced he would appoint Scaramucci to the director of the White House Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs, though he eventually appointed George Sifakis instead: Scaramucci had recently sold SkyBridge Capital to HNA Group, a Chinese conglomerate that reportedly has strong ties to China’s ruling Communist Party, and clearing him of potential ethics conflicts would have taken months. Scaramucci and his wife, Deidre, gave Trump’s campaign $5,400, while pro-Trump super PAC Rebuilding America Now received $100,000 from them. They also gave $5,400 each to Bush and Walker.
Pilot Travel Centers LLC’s gift of $300,000 to the committee brings the Haslam family total to at least $500,000; besides the LLC donation, James and Susan Haslam each gave $100,000. James doled out $620,000 to various candidates, party committees and outside spending groups in 2016, without a penny going to help Trump. His father, also James, donated $888,000 in the cycle, but just $5,400 made it to Trump. The couples gave almost $100,000 to boost Bush, though, and $14,000 to help another Republican presidential candidate, Marco Rubio.
For context on Trump’s big donor appeal, the current president’s report is only 500 pages, compared to Obama’s in 2009 that came to more than 7,000 pages for donations totaling half Trump’s haul. That year, Obama set limits on who could donate, capping contributions from individuals at $50,000 (still ten times the limit they could give during the election) and banning donations from corporations, PACs, unions and lobbyists. Four years later, the president allowed corporate contributions and took away the limit for individuals, though he raised only about $43.8 million. For more on Obama’s donors, see here for 2009 and here for 2013.
Researchers Alex Baumgart, Robert Maguire and Ben Berliner, along with reporting intern Niv Sultan, contributed to this post.