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CNBC's Brian Schwartz: Wall Street donors keep their distance from cash-strapped Trump in campaign’s final days

Wall Street donors keep their distance from cash-strapped Trump in campaign’s final days

Brian Schwartz

  • President Donald Trump is apparently no longer considered a worthy investment for several prominent Republicans and conservatives in the finance community.
  • People in the industry gave $20 million to back Trump in 2016. This time, they’ve given a little more than $13 million. Strategists say they aren’t likely to make up the difference.
  • Entering October, the Trump campaign had just over $60 million in cash on hand, compared to Joe Biden’s nearly $180 million.

Conservatives on Wall Street and in the broader finance community apparently no longer consider President Donald Trump a worthy investment.

People in the securities and investment industry pumped $20 million into his 2016 run for president, with most going toward super PACs backing his candidacy, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. That total doesn’t also include the millions of Wall Street contributions that went toward the president’s inauguration after he defeated Hillary Clinton.

This time, though, donors in the same industry have given just over $13 million to back Trump. It doesn’t look like he’ll make up the difference in the campaign’s final stretch, either, according to GOP strategists. Meanwhile, many of the people who donated to his inaugural committee have disappeared from the fundraising scene.

In some cases, records show that these GOP megadonors have put their money toward efforts to help Republican Senate or House candidates.

Wall Street support for Trump backed off mainly due to his response to the coronavirus outbreak, despite the tax and regulation cuts during the president’s tenure, according to Republican strategists who work with financial leaders. These strategists spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely.

“Wall Street craves policy, predictability and strong government institutions. Trump has delivered the opposite. The Covid crisis gave Wall Streeters the excuse they needed to move,” said a GOP advisor who works for a former Trump donor in the finance world.

This person pointed to Biden as the alternative many in the finance world were looking for. Biden and his joint fundraising committees raised over $4 million from finance leaders in the third quarter. Biden has seen over $50 million from Wall Street leaders go toward his bid for the White House, including millions being donated to outside PACs. Financial firms have started telling clients there’s a strong chance of a Democratic sweep next month.

Another Republican strategist who actively works with people in finance said that the few donors who donated to back Trump early in the campaign don’t plan to give again with just under two weeks left in the campaign. The strategist said his clients weren’t happy with how the campaign spent its previously massive war chest.

Former Trump campaign chief Brad Parscale once boasted that the organization was a financial “Death Star.” Entering October, it had just over $60 million in cash on hand, compared to Biden’s nearly $180 million.

These same financial leaders also believe that Trump is going to lose, making support for his campaign an unwise investment from their standpoint, according to this strategist.

“Wall Street is watching the same polls as everyone else. They can see the direction the campaign is going and they are starting to alter their strategy,” Trump donor Dan Ebarhart told CNBC. “It’s about risk management. If they can’t beat Biden, they know they are going to have to join him.”

As of Wednesday there were no plans by the campaign to have financial leaders in New York host a fundraising event for Trump, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Representatives from the Trump campaign and RNC did not return a request for comment.

A few finance industry leaders have indeed given to Trump over the past three months, including Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade; Marc Rowan, the co-founder of Apollo Global Management; and former hedge fund manager John Paulson. Each gave between $250,000 and $315,000 to the Trump Victory committee, a joint fundraising effort between Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee.

Rowan, according to NBC News, reached out to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor, in an attempt to relax rules on coronavirus relief money in a way that would benefit Apollo. Paulson hosted a fundraising event for Trump in the Hamptons in August.

Other prominent Trump donors have scaled back their giving or, in some cases, gone completely quiet.

Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman gave $3 million to the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action in January, but nothing toward efforts supporting the president since then.

Robert Mercer, the former co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, gave $15 million to the anti-Clinton super PAC Make America Number 1 in 2016. He gave $1 million to the president’s inaugural committee and invested $15 million in controversial data outfit Cambridge Analytica, which worked with Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Mercer cut a $350,000 check in February to the Trump Victory committee. He started cutting back his support two years ago after he and his daughter Rebekah came under public scrutiny for backing Trump the first time.

Stephen Feinberg, the co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, gave over $1.4 million in 2016 to a pro-Trump super PAC titled Rebuilding America Now. This cycle he has given nothing to any pro-Trump related entity, records show.

Steve Cohen, the CEO of asset management firm Point72, contributed $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee after spending millions on a super PAC backing former presidential candidate and eventual Trump ally Chris Christie. Cohen has invested nothing in the presidential election this time.

Henry Kravis, the co-CEO of investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, gave over $300,000 to the Republican National Committee during the 2016 cycle. He gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural. He has given nothing to Trump or the RNC this cycle.

Scott Bessent, the founder of investment firm Key Square Group, gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural. He hasn’t given anything to Trump groups in 2020.

Veteran investor Paul Singer, who was initially against Trump in the early stages of the 2016 election, gave $1 million to his inaugural fund and another $1 million to pro-Trump super PAC Future 45. This time, he hasn’t given anything to back Trump or the RNC.

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For more information contact:

Jennifer Dauble
CNBC
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m: 201.615.2787
e: jennifer.dauble@nbcuni.com

Erin Kitzie
CNBC
t: 201.735.4739
m: 201.753.8107
e: erin.kitzie@nbcuni.com