US Elections 2016

Big donors still baulking at backing Trump

Donald Trump, presumptive Republican presidential nominee, speaks during the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Kentucky, US, on May 20.
Donald Trump, presumptive Republican presidential nominee, speaks during the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Kentucky, US, on May 20.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Their opposition could make it hard for him to raise desired $1.4b

WASHINGTON • A powerful array of the United States Republican Party's largest financial backers remains deeply resistant to Mr Donald Trump's presidential candidacy, forming a wall of opposition that could make it exceedingly difficult for him to meet his goal of raising US$1 billion (S$1.38 billion) before the November election.

Interviews and e-mails with over 50 of the party's largest donors or their representatives revealed a measure of contempt and distrust towards the candidate unheard of in modern presidential politics.

Over a dozen of the party's most reliable individual contributors and wealthy families indicated they would not give to or raise money for Mr Trump.

This group has contributed a combined US$90 million to conservative candidates and causes in the last three federal elections, mainly to fund-raising groups dedicated to electing Republican candidates.

Up to this point, Mr Trump has embraced the hostility of the Republican establishment, goading the party's angry base with diatribes against wealthy donors who, he claimed, controlled politicians.

And he has succeeded while defying the conventions of presidential campaigning, relying on media attention and large rallies to fire up supporters and funding his operation with a mix of his own money and small-dollar contributions.

But that formula will be tested as he presents himself to a larger audience of voters. He has turned to the task of winning over elites he once attacked, with some initial success.

He has said he hopes to raise US$1 billion, an enormous task given that he named a finance chairman and started scheduling fund-raisers only this month.

Among the party's biggest financiers disavowing Mr Trump are Mr Paul Singer, a New York investor who has spent at least US$28 million for national Republicans since the 2012 election; TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, who with his wife has spent nearly US$30 million over the same period; and hedge fund managers William Oberndorf and Seth Klarman.

"If it is Trump versus Clinton, I will be voting for Hillary," said Mr Oberndorf, referring to the Democratic Party candidate.

Potential donors cited his fickleness on matters of policy and what they saw as an ad hoc populist platform focused on trade protectionism and immigration.

Several mentioned his fortune, suggesting that if he was as wealthy as he claimed, then he should not need their assistance.

Among the more than 50 donors contacted, only nine said they will contribute to him.

Some major donors have not explicitly closed the door on helping him, but have set a high bar for him to earn their support, demanding an almost complete makeover of his candidacy and a repudiation of his own inflammatory statements.

Unless Mr Trump can win over more benefactors, he is likely to become the first Republican presidential nominee in decades to be heavily outspent by his Democratic opponent.

President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney each raised over US$1 billion in 2012, and Mrs Clinton is expected to exceed that figure easily.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2016, with the headline 'Big donors still baulking at backing Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe