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Billionaires and corporations helped fund Donald Trump's transition

Casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, DeVos family, ExxonMobil and Microsoft among numerous donors

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 Updated:

President Donald Trump during a rally in Florida on Feb. 18, 2017.

Chris O'Meara/AP

The nonprofit formed to handle President Donald Trump’s transition raised about $6.5 million in private contributions, fueled in part by corporate interests, billionaires and lobbyists, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of a new federal filing.

The transition nonprofit had spent roughly $4.7 million of this money as of Feb. 15.

Notable among Trump’s transition supporters are lobbyists and the firms that employ them.

While Trump’s inauguration committee banned contributions from lobbyists — part of Trump’s “drain the swamp” effort — the transition operation did not, and many lobbyists eagerly helped raise money.

Brian Ballard, for example, the longtime lobbyist for the Trump Organization, put together a fundraiser in Orlando and his firm, Ballard Partners, contributed the maximum $5,000. He has since opened a Washington, D.C., office and registered to represent a long list of high-profile corporate clients, including Amazon.com, American Airlines, private prison company the Geo Group (which contributed $5,000 to the transition directly) and U.S. Sugar Corp.

Other lobbyists listed on the transition’s contributor list include David Tamasi, whose clients include the Alliance of Catholic Health Care; David Bockorny, whose clients include the American Beverage Association and 21st Century Fox; former Rep. Susan Molinari, now Google’s lead lobbyist; and her husband, former Rep. Bill Paxon, a lobbyist for law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Lobbyist Richard Hohlt, who represents Altria and Chevron, also contributed.

Lobbying firms, trade associations and law firms with lobbying practices opened their checkbook.

Among them: Baker Donelson, Akin Gump, the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, the Financial Services Roundtable, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, the Independent Community Bankers of America, Holland & Knight and the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

Others included the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the American Medical Association, the Association of American Railroads, the American Bankers Association, Airlines for America, the Entertainment Software Association, the American Petroleum Institute, the Mortgage Bankers Association and the National Association of Manufacturers.

All gave $5,000 each.

Lobbyists were initially included as part of the transition team, but Vice President Mike Pence purged them after the election, in the wake of Trump’s promises to “drain the swamp.”

Trump’s inaugural committee also banned contributions from registered lobbyists, but that prohibition didn’t extend to the transition committee, which took in thousands of dollars from lobbyists, corporations, and political action committees with business before the new administration and stakes in major initiatives such as the proposed health care overhaul.

Big business for Trump

Corporations and their PACs also backed Trump’s transition.

Among them: Arkansas poultry giant Mountainaire, AT&T, General Electric, Microsoft, Aflac, Devon Energy Corp., MetLife, Qualcomm, Exxon Mobil Corp., the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, JPMorgan Chase & Co., PepsiCo, Hilton, Aetna and Anthem. Some of those companies also gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trump’s inaugural committee.

Fwd.us, a lobbying group founded by the tech community and led by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, gave $5,000. The group is outspoken on immigration, and criticized Trump’s executive orders on immigration last month.

The Affleck/Middleton Project, a production company associated with actor Casey Affleck, currently nominated for an Academy Award for best actor in a leading role, gave $5,000. Affleck in October told Variety that he considered Trump a “dangerous fool.”

Terry and Kim Pegula also contributed $5,000 each. In 2014, the Pegulas beat out Trump in a bidding war to purchase the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

Trump Cabinet nominees, including Linda McMahon, nominated to head the Small Business Administration, also contributed. So did Wilbur Ross, nominated for Commerce Department secretary, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, as did their spouses and family members.

Anthony Scaramucci, a financier who is now a senior adviser to Trump, and restauranteur Andrew Puzder, Trump’s failed Labor Department secretary nominee, each donated the legal maximum of $5,000 to the presidential transition. (Puzder withdrew from the confirmation process earlier this month after a number of Republicans expressed concerns about him.)

A host of GOP mega-donors appear on the contributors list.

Among them:

  • Casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, along with his wife Miriam and daughter Shelley
  • Casino tycoon and longtime Trump ally Phillip Ruffin
  • Hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, who helped bankroll one of the most high-profile pro-Trump super PACs during the presidential race, and his wife, Diana
  • Businesswoman Diane Hendricks, the richest woman in Wisconsin
  • Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus
  • Robert McNair, owner of the Houston Texans NFL football team
  • Agribusiness mogul Bruce Rastetter of Iowa
  • Sugar baron Jose Fanjul of Florida
  • Dallas banker Andy Beal
  • Coal magnate Joseph W. Craft III
  • Financier Lewis Eisenberg
  • Hedge fund manager Ken Griffin
  • Hedge fund manager Paul Singer
  • Businessman Warren Stephens of Arkansas
  • Colorado real estate developer Larry Mizel
  • Businessman John Catsimatidis of New York
  • Businessman Foster Friess of Wyoming

Also donating: Conservative activist Shaun McCutcheon, who became a political celebrity after serving as the lead plaintiff in the case that led the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the so-called “aggregate” contribution limits that capped the total amount of money a donor could give collectively to candidates running for office.

Transition effort led by nonprofit group

For the transition, candidates set up separate nonprofit entities under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code.

Those entities are permitted to accept contributions in increments of $5,000 or less, but because they also accept public money for transition expenses, must disclose the names of contributors to the public.

That report, filed with the General Services Administration, was due Feb. 19. The GSA released it today, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed this week by the Center for Public Integrity.

The document includes contributor names, dates and amounts. But — unlike standard campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission — Trump’s transition funder list does not include contributors’ addresses, employers or occupations, making it more difficult to verify the identities of contributors.

The report didn’t include a detailed listing of expenditures, but included a summary table breaking expenses into categories that showed the transition nonprofit spent the bulk of the money on payroll and tax expenses, travel and relocation expenses, and legal and consulting expenses.

Trump and some of his closest advisers personally participated in transition fundraisers.

Trump personally headlined a December gathering in New York City that reportedly drew nearly 1,000 people and raised at least $4 million, and his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, spoke at one in Buffalo, New York.

Pence, who headed the transition effort, has said fundraising was so successful, the transition will return 20 percent of the taxpayer funds allocated to it to the government.

Congress set aside $13.3 million to cover pre-election transition expenses for both major party candidates, as well as roughly $7 million in post-election support, according to the Center for Presidential Transition.

For comparison: President Barack Obama raised about $4 million for his transition after being elected in 2008, according to the nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition, part of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.

That transition cost a total of about $9.3 million, in part funded by public dollars. Obama also rejected donations from federal lobbyists, labor unions, corporations and political committees.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Trump transition report.

This story was co-published with NBC News and Public Radio International.

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