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Donald Trump: Presidential Politics and Business As Usual

By / 5.19.2011

This week Donald Trump officially announced that he would not run for President in 2012 saying, “business is my greatest passion” and that he was not ready to leave the private sector. A look at Trump’s contributions to political campaigns suggests that he is quite prepared to put his money where his mouth is when it comes to setting priorities: business before politics.

According to The Washington Post, Trump has made a total of $1.3 million of political contributions to date. These donations have been fairly evenly split between the two parties, with 54% going to Democrats. Indeed, Trump’s loudmouthed criticism of Democratic policies in recent days did not stop him from donating to prominent Democrats closely associated with President Obama over several years, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the President’s former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel.

In an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Trump justified donating to Democrats on the grounds that it was good business to do so. Trump was keen to point out that many of his donations have been in Democrat-controlled New York, the place where he does business. “Why should I contribute to a Republican for my whole life when…the most they can get is one percent of the vote?” Trump asked. In New York and other states where Trump has business interests, Democrats are the incumbents and so are the logical beneficiaries of Trump’s largesse. As Trump told Hannity he’s “not stupid”; why would he donate to candidates who can’t win and will not hold power or affect his interests?

While Trump may be an eccentric politician, he is–at least in this respect–a very typical businessman. Corporate political giving is overwhelmingly directed at incumbents and tends to significantly favor the political party in power. In 2008 PACs and individuals in the energy industry gave 82% of their contributions to incumbents, Wall Street gave 74%, and the pharmaceutical industry gave 89% regardless of political party, according to Americans for Campaign Reform.

It is hardly surprising that Trump and others in business should direct campaign contributions towards politicians likely to wield power. But the idea that Trump’s calculating self-interest remains in the headlines is somewhat of a shock, suggesting that much of the small dollar donations given by individuals is still representative of deeply-held personal political convictions.

As Trump leaves the Republican presidential field, perhaps he can bring a bit of straight talking to the debate on campaign finance reform. The issue has many complexities, but one key is quite simple after all: the bulk of big-dollar campaign donations aren’t made in support of deeply held ideological beliefs. They’re made as a business investment to the candidate most likely to win, regardless of the party they’re in.

The Donald doesn’t pretend otherwise and nor should we. You don’t need a gold toupee stand to see this.