As we’ve written, Donald Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” is ringing hollow since he’s started making cabinet appointments. From Beltway insiders like Elaine Chao, former secretary of labor, to Wall Street names like former Goldman Sachs trader Steve Mnuchin, Trump is stocking his cabinet with exactly the sort of elites that many Trump supporters believed would be shut out of his administration. Many of these appointees have never held public office, and for some of them it seems their qualifications for the post are based on their success in business — meaning they also have a huge amount of personal wealth.
And having huge amounts of personal wealth can often mean a history of big political spending too. NBC News assembled a list of Trump’s richest appointees, based on data from the Washington Post, Forbes, The Guardian and OpenSecrets.org. Which candidates and political groups have these billionaires donated to in the past?
Position: Deputy Commerce Secretary
Net worth: $5.3 billion
Todd Ricketts is the co-owner of the Chicago Cubs. One thing to bear in mind with Todd Ricketts, is that his political giving is a family affair: His immediate family has been a conservative money powerhouse for years. Todd’s father, Joe, is the founder of TD Ameritrade; various members of the family, including Joe, his wife, Marlene, and Todd’s brother, Tom, have all given money to conservative causes. Joe Ricketts initially opposed Trump, and Joe and Marlene gave $5.5 million to Our Principles PAC, which ran ads against Trump in the primary; in February, Trump tweeted that the Ricketts family “better be careful, they have a lot to hide!” In fact, several of Trump’s wealthy cabinet appointees are converts who initially publicly opposed Trump.
Ricketts’ single biggest donation was in 2013, when he gave $200,000 to Ending Spending Action Fund. Todd was made CEO of ESAF in 2014. He’s given hundreds of thousands to national and state Republican parties, including the max donations (around $30,000 depending on the cycle) to the Republican National Committee (RNC) in 2014, 2013 and 2012, and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) in 2014.
Ricketts donated $2,500 to Gary Johnson’s 2012 run for president.
Position: Education Secretary
Net worth: $5.1 billion
Like the Ricketts, Betsy DeVos comes from a family of legacy donors. She’s the wife of Dick DeVos, making her part of one of the “founding families of the modern conservative movement.” They’ve given more than $200 million to right-wing causes since the 1970s. DeVos has been a strong proponent of school vouchers: The New York Times reported, “Her donations and advocacy go almost entirely toward groups seeking to move students and money away from what Mr. Trump calls ‘failing government schools.’” DeVos’ family gave $6.1 million
OpenSecrets.org has an excellent round-up of her family’s political giving and their web of nonprofits (which aren’t required to disclose donations — so we’ll never know exactly how much she’s spent). The American Federation for Children, for example, which DeVos chairs, and its affiliates spent $4.5 million on elections in 2014.
DeVos led the group All Children Matter, which owes the state of Ohio $5.3 million in fines for violating state election law after funneling $870,000 in contributions from its nationwide PAC to the Ohio affiliate in 2008.
Position: Commerce Secretary Net worth: $2.9 billion
Ross gave $150,000 to the RNC in 2016 (possibly thanks to the McCutcheon decision), partially through Trump Victory, the president-elect’s joint fundraising committee. He also gave the maximum donation to the Trump campaign, though didn’t donate to any super PACs supporting him. In 2012, Ross gave $100,000 to the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, Restore our Future. He donated $20,000 to the NRCC in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015. He has given almost exclusively to Republicans, though he donated to Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s campaign in 2012.
In 1990, Ross “represented bondholders who were gunning for Trump after he failed to pay back the high-interest loans he had taken out to build his casino empire.” According to the Los Angeles Times, Ross “embarked on a strategy that helped Trump avoid a personal bankruptcy.”
Position: Head of the Small Business Administration Net worth: $1.16 billion (with husband)
Linda McMahon, co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment, is another former critic of Trump who made a dramatic reversal late in the election, donating $6 million to a pro-Trump super PAC called Rebuilding America Now. Earlier in the year, she had described Trump’s attacks on women “deplorable.” She changed her mind by September, when she told the AP that she supported Trump and that he is “an incredibly loyal, loyal friend.” It seems she was correct.
McMahon, who spent a combined $100 million out of her own pocket in two unsuccessful bids for Connecticut’s U.S. Senate seat, also gave $650,000 to the Ricketts’ super PACs, Future45 and Ending Spending Action Fund, in the 2016 cycle.