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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Pay to play, Trump-style

Trump, Who "Can't Be Bought," Rewards Big Donors with Cabinet Roles

Dozens of President-elect Donald Trump's biggest donors are now being considered for administration positions, and the amount of financial supporters who ended up in his cabinet is "unparalleled in modern presidential history," Politico reported on December 27.

Of the 200 people that Trump has met with since the election, almost a third—73 people—are donors, Politico's Isaac Arnsdorf wrote. 

They contributed a collective $1.7 million to Trump and groups supporting him, and an additional $57.3 million to the rest of the Republican party, according to an analysis of Federal Elections Commission (FEC) records. The average donor gave about $800,000.

Donors made up about 39 percent of the 119 people Trump considered for cabinet appointments so far, and of that number, 38 percent were eventually picked, Arnsdorf writes.

Those include Todd Ricketts, the nominee for deputy secretary of commerce, whose wealthy family gave about $15.7 million to Republicans in the 2016 election.; Amway heiress Betsy DeVos, nominee for education secretary, whose family spent $10.4 million this cycle and has donated to some of the senators who will vote on her confirmation; Linda McMahon, nominee to head the Small Business Administration, who gave $6 million to a pro-Trump super PAC; and Andy Puzder, nominee for labor secretary who gave $160,000 to Trump Victory joint fundraising committee.

In addition to those who were nominated to cabinet positions, many big donors are poised to help shape policy from outside of Capitol Hill, Arnsdorf writes:
Rebekah Mercer—who with her father, the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, spent more than $22 million backing Republicans this cycle—is closely aligned with chief strategist Steve Bannon and special counselor Kellyanne Conway, and she has taken a crucial role picking cabinet jobs. Robert Mercer gave $2 million to a pro-Trump super PAC.
Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist playing an influential role on Trump’s transition team, spent almost $3.3 million this cycle, including $250,000 to Trump Victory and $1 million to a super PAC.

That unprecedented level of access is the latest in a long line of revelations that contradict Trump's promise to staff his cabinet with anti-establishment picks. In addition to nominating donors, Trump is also amassing the wealthiest administration in modern history.

The president-elect also spent much of his time on the campaign trail criticizing his Republican opponents and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for taking contributions from mega-donors, stating in July 2015, "They will be bombarded by their lobbyists that donated a lot of money to them....they'll say: 'You have to do it. They gave you a million dollars to your campaign.'"

In September of that year, he wrote on his Facebook page, "By self-funding my campaign, I am not controlled by my donors, special interests or lobbyists. I am only working for the people of the U.S.!"

Trevor Potter, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, told Politico on Tuesday, "If the people who are counseling the president-elect are the donor class—who, as Trump told us, give because they want something in return, those are his words—you will not get the policies his voters were hoping for."

"The risk here is disillusionment by the voters who voted for change and are going to end up with a plutocracy," Potter said.