Documents released this week by President Donald Trump’s inaugural organizers provide a glimpse of the big-dollar frenzy of influence-seeking and peacemaking surrounding Trump’s swearing-in, which raised $107 million, twice as much money as any other inauguration.
The casino magnate and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson wants some big things from the Trump administration: banning the online poker sites that compete with his luxury casinos, for example, and moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
And while President Donald Trump was not Adelson’s first choice during the Republican primary season last year, he has been generous since: The billionaire donated $5 million to the committee organizing Trump’s inauguration festivities — the largest single contribution given to any president’s inaugural committee.
Some of the country’s wealthiest Republicans and its largest corporations had similar impulses. Documents released this week by Trump’s inaugural organizers provide a glimpse of the big-dollar frenzy of influence-seeking and peacemaking surrounding Trump’s swearing-in, which raised $107 million, twice as much money as any other inauguration.
The stream of money is a striking contrast to the way Trump funded his campaign, chiefly with small donations and his own fortune. While some big checks for the inauguration came from longtime Trump friends and associates, much of the money came from the industries that have traditionally excelled at wielding Washington influence: telecommunications, tobacco and pharmaceutical giants, which have bankrolled presidential inaugurations for Republicans and Democrats alike. And a generous amount came from people who had been hostile to his candidacy.
Most Read Stories
- Seattle’s income tax on the wealthy is illegal, judge rules
- Analysis: Five reasons the Seahawks waived Dwight Freeney WATCH
- Retired Alabama cop on Roy Moore: ‘We were also told to ... make sure that he didn’t hang around the cheerleaders’
- Jobs that pay without a B.A.: the most lucrative fields in Washington state
- A Washington syrah was named second best wine in the world
If the crowds at Trump’s swearing-in celebrations were relatively small, the checks paying for all the nonofficial festivities were not: Freed of many of the voluntary restrictions adopted by Trump’s predecessors, 48 people or corporations gave $1 million or more, according to the disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission. Besides Adelson, they included a trust controlled by the coal industry billionaire Joseph Craft III; the parent company of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco; and Robert Mercer, the billionaire investor and close ally of Stephen Bannon, a White House adviser.
The donor rolls also included a host of blue-chip American companies, like Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Intel, Google and Bank of America, which contribute significant sums regardless of the incoming president’s political party.
Many of the companies and donors have major interests at stake in Washington in the coming months. At least $10 million — about one out of every $10 raised — came from coal, oil, and gas companies or their executives. They are the chief beneficiaries of Trump’s aggressive efforts to weaken federal rules aimed at limiting pollution in streams and wetlands, cutting back on greenhouse gases and closing coal-burning power plants.
Boeing, the country’s biggest exporter, made a $1 million contribution in January. This month, Boeing won a major victory when Trump abandoned his campaign pledge to eliminate the Export-Import Bank, which has provided billions in loan guarantees to help Boeing’s overseas customers finance plane purchases.
Verizon, Comcast and AT&T donated more than $2 million combined. In the weeks since, Trump’s Federal Communications Commission appointee has moved to nullify or curtail consumer-protection measures, such as “net neutrality” rules.
Central to the money-raising effort was Thomas Barrack Jr., a private equity investor who is one of Trump’s closest and oldest friends. As inaugural chairman, Barrack was one of Trump’s chief liaisons to those business executives who had kept him at arm’s length.
Contributions to the festivities were not intended to accrue favor with the new president, Barrack said in a text message, but were made “in support of the coming together of our country and its people to commemorate the cornerstone of our American democratic process.”
But the democratic process moves along more quickly for some than for others. While Trump promised during the campaign to give Medicare and Medicaid the power to negotiate prices they pay for prescription drugs, two of the biggest drugmakers, Pfizer and Amgen, gave a combined $1.5 million in December.
Amgen’s chief executive was among the industry executives who attended a February meeting with Trump. After entering the meeting promising to do something “to get prices down,” Trump exited with a more industry-friendly line, saying he would oppose “price-fixing by the biggest dog in the market, Medicare.” (A White House spokesman later said Trump remained in favor of negotiating prices.)
Few industries have stood to gain as much under Trump as private prison operators, and they gave generously to his inauguration. Two of the largest such companies, Corrections Corp. of America, now known as CoreCivic, and GEO Group, each contributed $250,000.
Since then, the outlook for both companies has greatly improved. In February, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era order that would have phased out the use of such prisons by the Justice Department. And Trump directed his administration to prioritize the detention and deportation of unauthorized immigrants, proposing hundreds of millions of dollars for a vast new network of detention facilities like the ones the companies already operate for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Neither company responded to requests for comment Wednesday.
For many Washington interests and for large donors — particularly those who had not anticipated a Trump victory or had opposed him — Trump’s inaugural was an easy way to make inroads with the president-elect.
The Ansary family, prominent Iranian-Americans in Dallas who are longtime allies of the Bushes, gave $2 million to Trump’s inauguration. Paul Singer, a billionaire Republican investor who once predicted that Trump’s policies were “close to a guarantee of a global depression,” donated $1 million on Dec. 6.
The two have mended fences recently. In February, Singer visited Trump in the Oval Office, and Trump declared afterward that “now he’s a very strong ally and I appreciate that.”
A $900,000 donation came in December from Avenue Ventures, a California-based boutique money-management firm founded by the entrepreneur Imaad Zuberi. Zuberi was a top fundraiser for President Barack Obama and for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Zuberi was also paid millions of dollars to work in Washington on behalf of the scandal-plagued government of Sri Lanka and its central bank, work he did not initially disclose to the Justice Department as required by federal law, according to a report in Foreign Policy magazine.
Zuberi is now making inroads in Trump’s circle. After making the donation, he earned a coveted spot at the Chairman’s Global Dinner, a pre-inauguration, black-tie gathering intended to introduce the incoming president to the foreign diplomatic corps. Zuberi did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Because inaugural committees face few of the regulations that limit campaign fundraising, each administration sets its own restrictions.
George W. Bush, for example, capped gifts at $100,000 for his first inaugural and at $250,000 for his second. Obama accepted gifts up to only $50,000 in 2009, while banning all gifts from lobbyists and corporations altogether. He loosened those restrictions in 2013, accepting corporate gifts up to $1 million and individual gifts up to $250,000.
Trump set comparatively loose restrictions. He did not limit how much individuals could give, and his team said it would not solicit corporate donations over $1 million.
Perhaps no donors were granted greater access than the Adelson family. Trump singled out Adelson and his wife to thank them for their support during a luncheon honoring congressional Republicans on inauguration eve. The next morning, the pair sat along the aisle just a few rows back from Trump on the inaugural platform as he took the oath of office. (Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah, sat some rows farther back.) A representative of Adelson had no comment.
Just what other perks and souvenirs their donations helped pay for will probably remain a mystery. While donations must be reported, the Federal Election Commission does not require inaugural committees to account for what they spend or how much is left in their coffers when the revelers head home.
Trump’s committee said it was still identifying charities toward which it would direct leftover money.