Trump picking winners often backed Democrats with cash – until 2012

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There was a moment during Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate when the leading candidate, billionaire developer Donald Trump, waxed poetic about his foray into politics.

“I’ve never done this process before, I’ve never been a politician,” Trump said, just before launching into one of his well-known declarations about how he plans to “do everything” in his power to beat Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. In fact, Trump ran for the Reform Party’s presidential nomination in 2000, and technically won the primary in California, even though he had by then dropped out.

And despite Trump’s babe-in-the-woods routine when it comes to running, he’s no Bambi when it comes to realizing the value of political connections in business, and how to play the game.

His history of donating to federal candidates is well-documented and shows he has no qualms about giving away droplets of his fortune to further political careers regardless of party affiliation. Recipients of his largesse have included Clinton, the late Ted Kennedy, then-Senator John Kerry and Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid, according to an analysis published by the Washington Post in June. Former top Bill Clinton aide Rahm Emanuel got $50,000 for his Chicago mayoral bid, the Post said. Of his more than $1.3 million in lifetime political contributions, 54 percent went to Democrats.

During the first GOP debate this year, rival Rand Paul, the senator from  Kentucky, was quick to rip into Trump for his track record as a donor –  and Trump swiftly fired back with a response that was as depressing for fans of campaign finance reform as it was true:

“You’ve donated to several Democratic candidates. You explained away those donations saying you did that to get business-related affairs,” Paul said to Trump. “And you said recently, quote, when you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.”

“You better believe it,” Trump shot back. “If I ask them, if I need them, you know, most of the people on this stage I’ve given to, just so you understand, a lot of money.”

One recipient, Hillary Clinton, was a front-row wedding guest in 2005. Her Clinton Foundation has received at least $100,000 of his cash, Politico reported in June.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and one of Trump’s favorite whipping boys, may have drawn the ire of the Manhattan mogul not simply because he is running against him for the GOP nod. When he was running for governor his campaign accepted gobs of Trump cash in the 1990s. But Bush later refused to pave the way for changes in Florida law to let Trump open a casino in the state.

Trump held a top-dollar fundraiser for Bush in 1998 and also gave $50,000 to the Florida Republican Party, according to a CNN report. The reported noted that Bush never wavered from his longstanding public opposition to casino gambling.

At the local level in New York City, Trump likewise seemed to use his fortune to back whoever seemed most likely to win.

A search of city Finance Board records shows that Trump donated generously over the years to back mayoral bids but also borough president and city council contestants. According to board data, Trump has made nearly $139,000 in individual campaign donations since 1985.

Between March 1988 and November 1993, Trump donated $7,750 to the mayoral campaign of Democrat David Dinkins, who in 1989 beat Republican Rudolph Giuliani to become the city’s first black mayor. That was small change to the amount of money he donated to one of Dinkins’s challengers for the Democratic ticket, former New York City Comptroller Harrison J. Goldin.

Trump gave Goldin $23,229. He did not donate to the Democratic incumbent, Ed Koch, with whom he engaged in massive feuds over the years

Records show, however, that Trump did not solely back the Democratic candidates in city races. Instead, he wanted to make sure he gave to whoever emerged as a victor, as shown by his April 1989 $3,000 donation to Giuliani. Dinkins wound up losing to Giuliani in 1993.

Trump didn’t give to Giuliani’s 1993 campaign, but was quick to step up in 1994, after the former prosecutor had won, to donate to the mayor’s 1997 reelection bid. The developer chipped in $5,000 for Giuliani in April of that year.

Term limits prevented Giuliani from running again in 2001. Trump promptly spread his money across multiple mayoral campaigns, donating $6,750 to Fernando Ferrer, a Democrat and Bronx borough president; $4,500 to Mark Green, the Public Advocate who ran under the Working Families ticket, and $2,000 to City Council Speaker Peter F. Vallone, a Democrat from Queens.

The winning candidate, Democrat-turned-Republican Michael Bloomberg, did not see a dime of Trump’s money. At the time, Bloomberg was already a multibillionaire and spent $74 million of his wealth to win his first mayoral campaign, according to a New York Times account.

But as Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, or NYPirg, a government watchdog organization, put it, Trump’s donations at the hyperlocal level are “relatively small potatoes,” according to a Bloomberg News report earlier this year.

The Bloomberg News report notes that Leonard Litwin, another Manhattan developer, has donated more than $10 million to city campaigns during approximately the same period.

Trump’s big bucks, according to filing reports, flow more often to candidates at the federal level. And out of those large sums, Trump tipped toward Democrats between 1989 and 2011.

The year 2011 was when everything changed, at least at the federal level. His money has gone exclusively to Republicans and GOP organizations since then, except at the state and local level, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group in Washington.

Between 1989 and 2011, tallied Trump’s donations to federal GOP candidates at $497,690 compared to $582,355 to Democrats.

Since 2012 began, however, $463,450 in Trump money has gone to Republicans running in either federal or state elections compared with just $3,500 to Democratic campaigns. Politifact offered no explanation for the shift. But by then, USA Today reported, The Donald had begun – and ended – a fresh flirtation with a run for the White House, saying in a May 2011 statement that business was his first love.

Contact Evan Lips at [email protected] or on Twitter at @evanmlips.