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The Facts —
- Multiple billionaires have donated to the legal defense fund of the Republican National Committee (RNC) in recent months, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
- Payments from the RNC’s legal defense fund have been made to President Donald Trump’s personal attorneys, Jay Sekulow and John Dowd, by way of their law firms:
- Sekulow and Dowd have been defending Trump throughout the FBI’s ongoing investigation into whether there was Russian meddling in the 2016 election, according to Newsweek.
- Dowd received $100,00 from the RNC on 25 August;
- Sekulow received $131,250 from the RNC, also on 25 August, through his Washington, DC corporation, the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, which is a for-profit legal firm in which Sekulow has a one-half ownership stake, according to tax filings, as reported by the Washington Post.
- Payments were also made from the fund to the Williams & Jensen law firm and attorney Alan Futerfas, who helped Trump’s oldest son Donald Trump, Jr, prepare for his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to Newsweek, which will be reported on the RNC’s FEC filings that cover the month of September.
- Trump, Jr became a person of interest in the FBI investigation after The New York Times reported in July that he met with a Russian lawyer connected to the Kremlin after being promised information about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton;
- Futerfas received $166,527.50 from the RNC in September;
- Williams & Jensen received $30,102.90 from the RNC in September.
FEC Regulations —
- The FEC limits individual contributions to national party committees to $101,700 per person, per account, for each election cycle.
- The billionaires named in this article each donated the maximum amount allowed to the RNC legal defense fund, and several donated the maximum amount to other RNC accounts, as well.
- Judith Ingram, a spokesperson for the FEC, told Newsweek that donations earmarked for the legal defense fund would have been specified by those making the contributions.
- “Donors can choose which account their contribution should go to,” said Ingram, pointing out that the Mercers would have specifically asked for the donations to be given to the legal defense fund.
- Edward Foley, Director of Election Law at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, told The Whim that there doesn’t seem to be “anything distinctively problematic with the raising and use of private funds to pay legal expenses associated with this investigation [of] whether there was any illegality with respect to potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.” Foley added:
“It would be improper to give money to the RNC for the specific purpose of passing it through to the Trump campaign if those funds exceeded the amount an individual is entitled to give to the campaign itself rather than to the party. But it is not clear that the ‘earmarking’ in question [of contributions made to the RNC’s legal defense fund] was for the Trump campaign specifically, rather than for one of several different party accounts, which the party was free to use—at least in principle—across multiple candidate campaigns.”
- Ingram told Newsweek that the FEC has no written regulations pertaining to legal defense fund accounts and did not provide “any constraints on their use.”
The Billionaires Funding the Trump Family’s Legal Assistance —
- Robert and Diana Mercer
- Billionaire Robert Mercer and his wife Diana donated a combined $193,400 to the RNC’s legal proceedings account on 9 May, which is the same day that Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey.
- The Mercers own a portion of Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis firm that helped Trump target advertisements on Facebook during his 2016 presidential campaign.
- Their stake in Cambridge Analytics is valued at $10 million, according to Newsweek.
- Robert Mercer is also one the main stakeholders of Breitbart, according to The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer.
- The Mercers also donated a combined $203,400 to the RNC’s headquarters account and the same amount to its convention account, also on 9 May, bringing their total RNC contributions on 9 May to $600,200.
- Bernard and Wilma Marcus
“I now stand in support of Donald J. Trump because the fate of this nation depends upon sending him, and not Hillary Clinton, to the White House.”
- The Marcuses also donated a combined $203,400 to the RNC’s headquarters account and the same amount to its convention account, also on 5 July, bringing their total RNC contributions on 5 July to $600,200.
- Charles Schwab
- Charles Schwab donated $101,700 to the RNC’s legal proceedings account on 5 July.
- Schwab, who is the founder of the bank and brokerage firm, the Charles Schwab Corporation, also donated $1 million of the nearly $107 million total raised by Trump’s 58th Presidential Inauguration Committee, according to an FEC filing.
- Richard and Suzanne Kayne
- Richard Kayne and his wife Suzanne donated a combined $203,400 to the RNC’s legal proceedings account on 25 July.
- Richard Kayne, a large investor in energy pipelines, is co-founder and Chairman of Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors, LP, a $10 billion alternative asset manager, according to a profile by his alma mater, UCLA.
- The Kaynes also donated a combined $203,400 to the RNC’s headquarters account and the same amount to its convention account, also on 25 July, bringing their total RNC contributions on 25 July to $600,200.
- Joseph Hardy, III
- Joseph Hardy, III and The Hardy Family Trust donated a combined $203,400 on 31 July.
- Hardy is the founder and CEO of 84 Lumber Company, based out of Pennsylvania.
- The company placed a commercial in February’s Super Bowl LI that would have shown a door in a border wall if it hadn’t been banned from broadcast.
- Hardy’s daughter and current company owner, Maggie Hardy Hagerko, explained to AdWeek that the spot was pro-legal immigration and cited Trump’s statement that his border wall would have a “big beautiful door” in it for individuals to enter the country legally.
- Hardy and his family trust also donated a combined $203,400 to the RNC’s headquarters account and the same amount to its convention account, also on 31 July, bringing their total RNC contributions on 31 July to $600,200.
The Trump Foundation —
- In the case of Trump’s charity, The Trump Foundation, The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning David Fahrenthold reported:
“[I]t has been funded largely by other people. Tax records show the Trump Foundation has received $5.5 million from Trump over its life, and nothing since 2008. It received $9.3 million from other people.”
- The Trump Organization’s business endeavors, and possibly Trump personally, were beneficiaries of donations made to The Trump Foundation, as reported by The Washington Post.
“[T]he Trump Foundation’s largest-ever gift — $264,631 — was used to renovate a fountain outside the windows of Trump’s Plaza Hotel…
Its smallest-ever gift, for $7, was paid to the Boy Scouts in 1989, at a time when it cost $7 to register a new Scout. Trump’s oldest son was 11 at the time. Trump did not respond to a question about whether the money was paid to register him.”
Contributions to the RNC “Legal Proceedings Account” Since May —
- May 2017 Contributions
- Steven Witkoff contributed $12,700 on 1 May
- Geoff Palmer contributed $14,400 on 1 May
- Robert and Diana Mercer contributed a combined $193,400 on 9 May
- Diane Hendricks contributed $101,700 on 15 May
- Charles Joyce contributed $12,700 on 15 May
- June 2017 Contributions
- Walter Buckley, Jr contributed $12,700 on 1 June
- Ambassador Boyden Gray, Esquire contributed $101,700 on 1 June
- Howard Lutnick contributed $12,700 on 1 June
- Michael Gaughan contributed $12,700 on 5 June
- Comcast Corporation PAC contributed $42,500 on 5 June
- Phillip Ruffin contributed $12,700 on 9 June
- Nancy Hiles contributed $12,700 on 14 June
- Lianbo Wang contributed on $86,800 on 27 June
- Al Gonsoulin contributed on $7,300 on 27 June
- July 2017 Contributions
- Bernard and Wilma Marcus contributed a combined $203,400 on 5 July
- Charles Schwab contributed $101,700 on 5 July
- Richard and Suzanna Kayne contributed a combined $203,400 on 25 July
- Joseph Hardy, III and The Hardy Family Trust contributed a combined $203,400 on 31 July
- August 2017 Contributions
- Elizabeth Uihlein contributed $101,700 on 1 August
- Richard Uihlein contributed $101,700 on 21 August
- Trump Victory contributed $79,329.04 on 31 August
Expenditures for the RNC “Legal and Compliance Services” Since May —
- May 2017 Expenditures
- $2,641.97 paid to Davis Wright Tremaine LLP on 10 May
- $4,059 paid to Bell McAndrews & Hiltachk LLP on 24 May
- $612.50 paid to Jones Day on 24 May
- $1,181.25 paid to Ashby Law PLLC on 24 May
- $459 paid to Bowles Rice LLP on 24 May
- $6,000 paid to Holtzman Vogel PLLC on 24 May
- $6001.19 paid to Wiley Rein LLP on 24 May
- June 2017 Expenditures
- $1,040 paid to Isler Dare Ray & Radcliffe on 7 June
- $65,917.68 paid to King & Spalding LLP on 7 June
- $10,097.16 paid to Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP on 14 June
- $4,181.25 paid to Ashby Law PLLC on 21 June
- $16,960.60 paid to Bell McAndrews & Hiltachk LLP on 21 June
- $22,247 paid to Geographic Strategies LLP on 21 June
- $6,000 paid to Holtzman Vogel PLLC on 28 June
- $1,400 paid to Isler Dare Ray & Radcliffe on 28 June
- $12,012 paid to Wiley Rein LLP on 28 June
- July 2017 Expenditures
- August 2017 Expenditures
- $800 paid to Isler Dare Ray & Radcliffe on 2 August
- $1534.94 paid to Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP on 2 August
- $270,030.03 paid to King & Spalding LLP on 9 August
- $6,000 paid to Wiley Rein LLP on 9 August
- $10,000 paid to Wiley Rein LLP on 10 August
- $100,000 paid to John M Dowd, PLLC on 25 August
- $131,250 paid to Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group on 25 August
Stephanie Haney contributed to this report.