Super rich, corporate interests finance Republican presidential hopefuls
Harlan Crow, the multi billionaire yacht owner and "sugar daddy" for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is pumping money now into the campaign of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Like Trump, Christie, will be beholden to big billionaires if is he ever gets the GOP nomination, like all the Republican presidential hopefuls. | AP

WASHINGTON—This shouldn’t come as any great surprise, and the records are incomplete, but the superrich and corporate interests corruptly bankroll the latest crop of Republican presidential hopefuls.

If “money is the mother’s milk of politics,” as the late fabled California House Speaker Jesse Unruh once said, there are a lot of Republican cows around.

What’s to be determined: What the “cows” will get in federal favors and/or individual or corporate tax breaks should their favored candidates win the White House next year.

After all, that’s the pattern in politics that makes voters cynical, and leads progressives like Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., to declare the system is rigged.

A review of campaign finance records, by The New York Times, CNN,, and now by People’s World, shows many of those cows are individual big givers who financed prominent right-wingers and extreme conservative campaigns.

One is Harlan Crow, the “sugar daddy” for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Two others are Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, who financed the recent Ohio Republican effort to convince voters to give up their constitutional rights to initiative, referendum, and a woman’s right to choose. Crow’s in former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s camp. The Uihleins back Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla.

The recipient list for the corporate and capitalist contributions also includes former Oval Office occupant Trump, the current leader in Republican opinion polls. There are three differences between him and the others though, the records show.

One is that his finances are uniquely opaque, with millions of dollars being shuffled back and forth to hide its true origins.

A second is that one big honcho, Charles Koch, has contributed $50 million of his $59 billion fortune this year into an anybody-but-Trump drive by the Americans for Prosperity Action PAC (campaign finance committee). Koch and his late brother David established that PAC several years ago as a companion to their lobby, Americans for Prosperity, to champion their right-wing and anti-labor agenda.

That New York Times report adds the same anti-Trump campaign got another $25 million from a “non-profit” Charles Koch established this year. Non-profits don’t have to disclose donors’ names or their business affiliations, either.

The third difference is that Trump’s campaign finance committee has had to funnel so much money to his lawyers that its cash reserves are lower than those of some of his foes.  Trump’s been indicted once each by the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and by Fulton County, Ga., DA Fani Willis, and twice by Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith.

Trump’s campaign spent at least $40 million in legal fees in the April-June 2023 campaign finance reporting period alone, on top of $16.9 million for “accountants, compliance and legal services” in 2022. It’s spent so much on lawyers that its reserves shrank in those three months.

And of the $40 million it spent on lawyers in 2022, $1.2 million went to the Baltimore firm whose partners include Trump attorney Evan J. “Jack” Corcoran, campaign finance records show.

Corcoran testified and turned his notes over to the federal grand jury in D.C. which handled the Washington end of the indictment against Trump for purloining top-secret government documents—including a Pentagon plan to make war on Iran—and taking them to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

So where does all this money come from?

The rich, their companies, and their campaign finance committees, or PACs.

Open a big tracker

PAC donor numbers for that April-June quarter aren’t available yet, but, the prime tracker of money in politics, reported Trump’s main fundraising committee, the Save America PAC, raised $108.72 million last year, with almost 50,000 individual donors contributing at least $200 each, for a total of $73 million.

Who are those donors? That’s a tougher call. The former construction magnate’s campaigners and allies have become experts in shuffling money around, from joint PAC to his main PAC to his campaign committee and back again, all to hide the identity of his donors.

Just in the second three months of this year, his finance operatives shuffled $60 million of it to his main campaign committee, Make America Great Again. Where’d they get it, from the joint PAC and that shuffle lets them keep donors secret.

Shades of Watergate, when Nixon campaign finance chair Maurice Stans, the former Commerce Secretary, hit major corporate contributors for piles of cash and checks before a new federal disclosure law took effect, forcing donors to identify themselves.

Stans funneled the money to phony committees with “patriotic” names, which in turn wrote checks to Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President, aka CREEP. The quid pro quo then was federal favors. One big donor, shipbuilder and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, got caught. Stans, somehow, escaped conviction by a Big Apple jury.

Some Trump big givers, however, are listed in federal records, obtained by, which tracks campaign and lobbyist spending. For example, the first and largest individual donation early this year, directly to Trump’s own campaign committee, without a pass-through, was $10,000 from “investor” Timothy Mellon of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., a ritzy playground of New York’s rich.

Mellon, of course, is heir to the family banking fortune, amassed by his ancestor, Andrew Mellon, Treasury Secretary for Republican Presidents Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover.

The money from Mellon, a staunch backer of conservative causes, to Trump pales next to his $5 million to renegade Democratic ex-Rep. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Riding his family name, Kennedy is challenging Democratic incumbent President Joe Biden in the party’s primaries. Mellon’s money is more than half of what Kennedy’s American Values PAC has raised overall.

This makes Kennedy, who’s touring the country spouting crazy theories, a tool of the interests, too.

The other Republican contenders are also recipients of corporate and capitalist cash, according to OpenSecrets, the Times, and CNN. Details include:

Right-wing Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., running on a social issues platform that’s red meat for Republican crowds—anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-Black, anti-immigrant, anti-“woke” and so on—depends on big donors for his super PAC, Never Back Down Inc. It’s now taken over the faltering campaign of the so-far-second-place governor, including hiring some of the staffers DeSantis had to can when direct contributions dropped.

And DeSantis appears as “an honored guest” at Never Back Down fundraisers, though he openly can’t make a pitch there to give to the PAC, because that would violate one of the few remaining strictures of federal campaign finance law: No “coordination” between super PACs and the candidates they back.

Running DeSantis schedule too

Since Never Back Down is not only raising money but even running DeSantis’s schedule, eyebrows are being raised over potential campaign law-breaking. But the toothless, and deadlocked, Federal Election Commission can’t enforce that weak anti-coordination law.

Never Back Down garnered $130 million in the first six months of this year, CNN reports. But in another case of shuffling money to hide donor names, DeSantis’s former state PAC—which amassed more than $200 million for his gubernatorial landslide win last year—threw in 63% ($82.5 million) of Never Back Down’s total.

Another $20 million came from a rich hotel magnate, Robert Bigelow, after Bigelow gave $10 million to the governor’s state PAC, Empower Parents, in 2022. A third PAC chipped in $5.5 million, while billionaire Venture Capitalist Douglas Leone added $2 million.

Another $2 million went to DeSantis’s Super PAC from Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein. He’s the right-wing owner of the Uline office products company—and the biggest giver, through $5.1 million via two PACs, of the Republicans’ recent failed campaign to convince Ohio voters to amend their constitution to make initiatives and referendums harder.

Former Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., a right-winger who distinguishes himself on the campaign trail by denouncing Trump’s crimes—after Trump unceremoniously kicked then-boot-licking Christie out of a key transition post in late 2016—still has a Trump connection in his campaign finance records.

It’s Anthony Scaramucci, who served 11 days as Trump’s communications director before being kicked out for, in so many words, upstaging the boss. Scaramucci gave Christie’s PAC $100,000, CNN reported.

So did another notorious Republican big giver: Harlan Crow, the magnate who’s lavished globe-girdling vacations, luxury yacht rides, private plane trips, and more on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the ideological leader of the Supreme Court’s right-wing Republican-named majority. For Crow, net worth of $3.1 billion, a hundred grand is pocket change.

And in another example of how to hide money, billionaire TikTok investor Jeff Yass gave Christie’s PAC $250,000, CNN reported. That was peanuts compared to the $10 million Wall Streeter Yass gave to the PAC of the anti-worker Club for Growth, a notoriously anti-corporate tax and anti-spending right-wing outfit which has been lambasting Trump in TV ads for spending money to fight the coronavirus.

And if you use WhatsApp as an app, you may be indirectly giving money to former Gov. Nikki Haley, R-S.C., who was Trump’s UN ambassador but got out before the roof fell in via the coronavirus.

Haley’s PAC raised $18.7 million from when she declared her candidacy, early this year, through the end of June. Almost one-third of that came from Jan Koum, co-founder of WhatsApp, who gave $5 million.

This whole tsunami of big giver and corporate cash, let loose by two Supreme Court rulings a decade and more ago by the Republican right-wing majority on the nation’s highest tribunal, proves one more point, made, ironically, by Trump, in 2015:

“When you give,” he said of politicians, “they do whatever the hell you want them to do.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.