Companies That Funded Trump’s Inauguration Came Up Big in 2017
• Jan 19, 2018
Alex Baumgart, OpenSecrets
President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee raised a record $107 million with the help of wealthy benefactors but also through donations from more than 200 corporations and anonymous LLCs, some of which held government contracts.
On the one-year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration, OpenSecrets took a look at the 63 federal contractors that collectively contributed $16.3 million to finance the festivities to see how they’ve fared in the first year of his presidency.
Some have received lucrative contracts; others have shed executives who now sit among Trump’s political appointees; and still others have earned an unprecedented level of access to the new administration.
Contracts and the pay-to-play loophole
Of the 63 federal contractors that donated to the inauguration, more than half won multimillion-dollar bids in 2017, federal records show. Six companies earned contracts last year after not receiving any awards in 2016.
Federal law forbids government contractors from making contributions to candidates and political action committees. However, there is no such rule against contributions to post-election activities like the presidential inauguration, a loophole that allows contractors to dole out unlimited donations in hopes of bolstering their chances of landing contracts with the new administration.
“Pay-to-play politics – in which government contractors make campaign contributions to those responsible for awarding government contracts – is one of the most pernicious forms of undue influence peddling at the local, state and federal levels,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen.
And government contractors are taking advantage of this unregulated loophole provided by lavish inaugurations, Holman said.
“[I]naugural committees are not covered by pay-to-play laws … as a result, the single largest bloc of money given to presidential inaugural committees typically comes from corporations who are seeking government contracts,” he said.
For his 2009 inauguration, Obama refused contributions from federal contractors. He reversed course in 2013 but ultimately raised a comparatively paltry $1.6 million from 23 contractors; 13 also funded Trump’s 2017 inauguration.
CoreCivic, which owns and operates private prisons, has seen a 935 percent increase in federal contract awards from 2016 to 2017 thanks to a change of heart at the Department of Justice.
Fifteen days after being confirmed U.S. attorney general, Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era order designed to phase out for-profit prisons for federal inmates. The phase-out followed a DOJ report that found poor management practices at a CoreCivic facility contributed to an inmate riot that killed a prison guard in 2012.
Since Sessions’ announcement, the DOJ has awarded $388 million in federal contracts to CoreCivic. The company contributed $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration through a subsidiary.
The largest for-profit prison provider, Geo Group, also contributed $250,000 to the inauguration along with $225,000 to Rebuilding America Now, a super PAC that backed Trump during his 2016 presidential bid.
The contractor, which received half a billion dollars in federal payments has come under scrutiny for violating the pay-to-play rules but claims that it is exempt as the contributions were made by a non contracting subsidiary of the organization.
Another inauguration company linked to the prison industry, Union Supply Group, has seen an 18 percent increase in contract awards since 2016. The organization provides commissary services for federal prisons and received $138,000 from the DOJ in 2017 contracts.
The two companies that received the most in federal contracts also contributed to the inauguration efforts last year and have seen benefits in the first year of the Trump presidency.
Lockheed Martin, the top recipient of federal money, received $46 billion in contract awards, a 14 percent increase from 2016.
Boeing, the second-largest government contractor, ran into early opposition from Trump in December 2016 when Trump tweeted the following about Boeing’s Air Force One contract, which he claimed was over budget.
In September 2017 Boeing ultimately won the bidding process for the $600 million contract to build the Air Force One replacements.
Contributions to the inaugural fund didn’t necessarily guarantee lucrative government awards, however. For instance, BP America, saw a 58 percent reduction in government contracts in Trump’s first year despite contributing a sizable $500,000 to his inauguration.
In total, just over half of the companies that gave to the inauguration saw an increase in contract money from 2016 to 2017.
Some companies that donated to Trump’s inauguration didn’t secure government contracts last year but benefited in other ways.
In 2016, Dow Chemical was awarded both a $1.9 million federal grant for bioenergy research and $1 million as part of an ongoing agreement with the Energy Department. The company gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration but didn’t receive federal contracts or grants last year.
However, Dow benefited tremendously last year in two major ways: First, the DOJ approved their $130 billion merger with DuPont in spite of a number of antitrust concerns that had previously delayed the merger.
The new entity, DowDuPont, has prospered in the last year as the result of an amenable EPA, which includes business friendly leadership in Scott Pruitt and Nancy Beck, the top deputy of the toxic chemicals division. Beck is a former executive at the American Chemistry Council, the trade association that represents companies in the chemical industry like DowDuPont.
The EPA recently rejected a recommended ban on chlorpyrifos, a Dow pesticide that studies suggest has adverse effects on humans. The agency also appears to be streamlining the chemical approval process, which will allow companies such as DowDuPont to get its products to market faster.
Other inaugural contributors that won big in the first year of Trump’s presidency include six telecommunication and electronics companies – AT&T, Verizon, Charter Communications, Comcast, Intel and Qualcomm – which contributed a combined $4.1 million to the inauguration.
The companies opposed the net neutrality rules promulgated by the Obama administration that were ultimately repealed by the FCC in December.
Perhaps the most glaring instance of an inaugural donor receiving special treatment last year was Robert Murray, the executive of Murray Energy, which contributed $300,000 to the inauguration from its corporate coffers.
Last week, The New York Times reported Murray sent a memo in March to Vice President Mike Pence entitled “Action Plan for the Administration of President Donald J. Trump,” which outlined 16 policy requests the Trump administration has either completed or is working to fulfill.
Inaugural underwriters were also treated with direct access to members of the Trump administration, such as candlelight dinners with Pence and his wife or lunch with Cabinet appointees.
Researcher Josh Finkelstein contributed to this report.
You can find the full article by Alex Baumgart here.