Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Leon Kaye headshot

The Surprisingly Large Corporate Investments in Donald Trump's Inauguration Party Fund

By Leon Kaye

According to The Hill, the amount raised for U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration ceremonies in January generated a record $107 million, more than doubling the amount raised for former President Barack Obama’s celebrations when he took the oath of office in 2009.

The data released last week by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) suggests wealthy individuals and companies that refused to donate to the current president during his campaign, or avoided last summer’s Republican convention in Cleveland, were eager to show that they were on board with the new administration – and are now are seeing the benefits of their support.

According to The Center for Public Integrity, Trump’s inauguration committee promised generous perks in exchange for large donations that came in the amount of six- or seven-figures. Donors who shelled out more than $1 million were promised tickets to an exclusive “leadership luncheon” that included presidential cabinet appointees along with leaders from Congress. Those same donors were also offered invitations to a “ladies luncheon” at which Trump family members were scheduled to join, along with a dinner hosted by Vice President Mike Pence and his wife.

The goal was to raise as much as $75 million, a ceiling easily surpassed; and if you do not remember Trump crowing about this number, keep in mind that when Obama was inaugurated eight years ago, individual donations were capped at $50,000 and checks were not accepted from corporations, lobbyists or political action committees.

Now, as the current president approaches his much hyped first 100 days of his administration, evidence suggests that corporate donors are benefiting from a favorable political and regulatory climate.

Take the second largest donor to the inauguration committee, AT&T, which paid just over $2 million to the fund. The company has long opposed net neutrality rules, which were designed to treat internet access akin to a public utility. AT&T long opposed the stance the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) had taken on net neutrality. But in February, AT&T got its wish when the FCC’s new leadership announced that it would stop the agency’s investigation of  “zero-rating” offers, which allow companies to provide certain streaming services to customers without having the data count against any monthly cap.

Energy companies were also amongst the million-dollar donors. Christopher Cline, who sold his holdings in Foresight Energy before the coal industry’s collapse but still owns assets that would benefit from the sector’s resurgence, was one donor who is banking on coal becoming great again. But Green Plains Renewable Energy, a major player in the ethanol industry, was also a large donor; Trump made it clear shortly after his inauguration that he supports federal ethanol production mandates. John Hess, CEO of the oil company Hess Corporation, also was a seven-figure donor.

Then there is the largest overall donor to Trump’s inauguration committee, hotel and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The casino industry has long noted Adelson’s opposition to online gambling, and although Trump has still not taken a firm stance on the issue, the sector has pushed for a national ban on the practice. In addition to Adelson’s $25 million donation to the Trump campaign as the election drew closer, he also donated $5 million to the inauguration fund, and later was on the president’s transition team.

But this donors’ list also shows that such close ties to the Trump Administration can become a slippery slope for companies and those who run them. The blog The Intercept, followed by the newspaper The Oregonian, recently revealed that Portland hotelier Gordon Sondland donated $1 million to the president’s inauguration committee, but did not use his name; instead those funds were paid in the name of four Oregon- and Washington-based companies linked to him. Sondland had planned to host a “yuge” fundraiser for Trump back in September. But he later claimed a change in heart after Trump launched a tirade against Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of a slain Muslim soldier killed during the war in Iraq, and who made international headlines after their appearance on the Democratic National Convention stage. The lack of transparency has earned Sondland plenty of scorn. Others could be in the crosshairs soon, as Huffington Post reporter Christina Wilkie has succeeded with her call for help in deciphering those FEC filings.

As more connections come to light, inauguration donations could be tough for companies to explain to stakeholders. And that long list includes companies as diverse as Allied Wallet, Bank of America, Boeing, Dow and Qualcomm.

Image credit: Michael Vadon/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye