Hillary’s Mega-Donors Also Funding Jeb
Racetrack owners, bankers and chicken kings: Meet the ultra-rich bankrolling the Bush and Clinton dynasties. A special report by Vocativ and The Daily Beast
For some wealthy donors, it doesn’t matter who takes the White House in 2016—as long as the president’s name is Clinton or Bush.
More than 60 ultra-rich Americans have contributed to both Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton’s federal campaigns, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission data by Vocativ and The Daily Beast. Seventeen of those contributors have gone one step further and opened their wallets to fund both Bush and Clinton’s 2016 ambitions.
After all, why support just Hillary Clinton or just Jeb Bush when you can hedge your bets and donate to both? This seems to be the thinking of a group of powerful men and women—racetrack owners, bankers, media barons, chicken magnates, hedge funders (and their spouses). Some of them have net worths that can eclipse the GDPs of small countries.
Larry Noble, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, said it’s a common practice among a small number of people.
“Some of them will say they believe in the process, but the truth is you usually see them giving to people who will be most helpful to them if [the politician] gets into office,” he said. “They are not necessarily Republicans or Democrats, they are business people first.”
Some of them said personal connections are driving the double donations. Many work in industries that depend on the federal government for their continued operation. A few have had brushes with the law. One donor said he’s soured on Hillary, and is now on Team Jeb. Another claimed that he gave to Clinton by mistake.
John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods, is a long-time—and promiscuous—political player. This year alone, his company spent half a million dollars lobbying Congress on everything from immigration reform and fuel taxes to food safety regulations. He himself has given $25,000 each to the political action committees supporting Clinton and Bush’s 2016 candidacies, according to the data parsed by Vocativ.
In the late 1990s Tyson was embroiled in political scandal when then-Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy was accused of illegally accepting gifts from major food corporations—several of which were given by Tyson, then a senior employee. Espy was acquitted, and John Tyson was granted immunity in exchange for his cooperation.
The company eventually paid a $6 million settlement to the government, and two Tyson Foods employees were sentenced to prison. (Both were later pardoned by President Clinton.)
Until not too long ago, David Stevens, the CEO of the real estate lobbying group the Mortgage Bankers Association, was in the government himself. Stevens served in the Obama administration as the assistant secretary for housing and as Federal Housing Administration (FHA) commissioner at the Department of Housing and Urban Development from July 2009 to April 2011.
But that doesn’t mean he’s completely onboard with his fellow administration alum.
“I want to focus on candidates who best represent issues of housing and issues important to me and are not extreme, especially on the social issues that are important to me,” he said.
Stevens has given $2,700 to Hillary For America and $1,000 to Jeb 2016. He said he has watched with great concern about the increased polarization of both parties.
But at the end of the day, Stevens conceded it’s also about access.
“While [Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush] don’t make commitments, obviously, I want to make sure my views are presented to them, because they are considered more center-left or center-right,” he said.
Richard Parsons, the former head of Time Warner and now a senior adviser at Providence Equity Partners Inc., has donated the maximum $2,700 to both the Clinton and Bush presidential campaigns.
His résumé reflects dual political loyalties.
He’s served every Republican president since Richard Nixon and in 1997 was appointed to a task force by President George W. Bush to help study the best way to overhaul social security.
However, he also advised then-President-Elect Obama as part of the Economic Transition Team in 2008. Parsons did not return attempts for comment.
James R. Borynack, the owner of Wally Findlay Galleries—noted for its long history and expertise in European art—was shy about saying why he wasn’t choosing sides.
“[Borynack] has no detailed comments at this time, other than to support both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush equally as presidential candidates,” a spokeswoman said.
Two Barclays employees have each donated $2,700—the legal maximum—to both the Clinton and Bush campaigns. One is Brett Tejpaul, a managing director at Barclays Capital who has also given $25,000 to the Jeb-affiliated super-PAC Right to Rise. The other is Robert Foresman, head of Barclays’s business in Russia.
Foresman’s Russia ties include the state-owned energy company that is one of Putin’s biggest levers against the West. Russia’s state-owned Gazprom provides critical gas to nearly two dozen European countries—and has shut off energy to countries in dispute with Russia. In the early 2000s, Foresman was nominated as a candidate to the board of directors of Gazprom, but was never actually appointed to the board, according to the company’s website.
Double donors Shawn Seipler, CEO of the nonprofit Clean the World Global, and textile magnate James Richman both make issues of economic justice central to their public presence. Richman is part of the Patriotic Millionaires, a left-leaning group of more than 200—you guessed it—millionaires who vow to support legislation to reduce income inequality.
Michael Granoff, a principal at Maniv Energy Capital, was once a strong supporter of both Bill and Hillary Clinton. Granoff worked on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in the early ’90s and donated to Hillary Clinton’s Senate and 2008 presidential campaign.
But Granoff but has since soured on the Democratic Party’s foreign policy decisions—particularly on Iran. And that’s led to a change of heart about supporting the former Secretary of State.
“I have nothing but continuing admiration for Hillary Clinton and her lifetime commitment to serving the public,” he wrote in a February The Times of Israel blog post. “But she deeply disappointed me recently when she aligned herself with the Administration’s threat to veto a Congressional bill to strengthen Iranian sanctions.”
Granoff said his post only rings more true now. He’s made his devotion to Jeb clear by donating $2,700 to his campaign and $25,000 to Right to Rise, according to Vocativ’s analysis of donors’ data.
The mix of donations also exposed a seemingly common practice of wealthy individuals donating at the request of clients and friends.
One Wall Street donor, who asked to remain anonymous because he considered the donation to Hillary “embarrassing,” said he gave money to her Senate race after a bundler friend asked him for a contribution. He noted he asked the bundler friend to donate to a Republican in return.
Robert Burlington, a prominent Florida attorney whose firm counts Exxon Mobil, Union Labor Life Insurance Company, and Merck as clients, told The Daily Beast that his donations to the candidates also had more to do with personal relationships than politics.
“My donations arose from a request from client (Clinton) and from a friend (Bush), rather than my affiliation with either party. But for the relationships with my client and my friend, respectively, I would not have donated to any candidate,” he said, adding that he and his wife prefer to donate to children’s charities.
Burlington said that while he doesn’t plan to give any more money to any candidate, he will quietly root for Bush.
“He was a strong leader of Florida while he was our state’s governor, and he has integrity,” he said. “I will not be too disappointed, however, if Hillary Clinton is elected because she has relevant experience and we will benefit from having a woman as president.”
At least one donor initially claimed to not remember the Clinton donation.
“I never donated to Hillary,” said Bradford Freeman, a major fundraiser for both George W. Bush presidential campaigns.
Reminded of his $2,300 donation in 2007, he said, “Well, that would have been Hillary against Obama [in the primary]…I don’t recall, but I may have.”
In fairness, his one time donation to Hillary might be forgettable after the $1 million he gave Right to Rise.
Freeman, whose investment firm Freeman Spogli won a $50 million commitment from the Florida pension system during Bush’s tenure (and paid the former governor $45,000 for a speech after he left office, according to The New York Times), told The Daily Beast he was all in for the former Florida governor.
“I’ve known Jeb for a long time. He’s seen two successful terms as governor of Florida. I believe in him and I support him. I think he’d make a great president,” he said.
Randall Dee “R.D.” Hubbard, a business executive in the horse racing business, credited—or blamed—his 2008 donation to Hillary Clinton on former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson.
“I would say I did not agree with her policies, and Gov. Richardson was a friend, and he requested a donation, which I gave,” Hubbard said. “As far as 2016, I am one hundred percent behind Jeb Bush.”
But Bush might not find Hubbard’s support as straightforward. The former governor of Florida is praised for his work clamping down on Florida’s illegal drug trade. Hubbard, meanwhile, saw his New Mexico racetrack tied to a money-laundering scheme by one of Mexico’s most violent drug cartels. In 2012, federal authorities raided Hubbard’s Ruidoso Downs racetrack and seized dozens of horses, whose financial backers allegedly had ties to the bloody Los Zetas cartel. Several cartel members were ultimately sentenced to prison in connection with the scheme.
— with additional reporting by Alexa Corse, Tim Mak, and Tal Reznik