Trump's Evolution

From 'Drain the Swamp' to Swamp Dweller

Written by Scott Zimmerman, Common Cause intern, on June 16, 2017

President Trump campaigned on promises to “drain the swamp” in Washington, yet on June 8, arguably the darkest day of his presidency to date, one of Trump’s top assistants hosted some of the most mud-covered swamp residents at the White House.

And oh yes, the president stopped by to say hello.

Politico reports that while the nation was fixated on former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony suggesting Trump obstructed justice, some of the Republican Party’s most generous campaign donors were “summoned” to the Roosevelt Room to discuss the administration's policy agenda. The confab arranged by Marc Short, the administration’s legislative director, included mega-dollar donors Ken Griffin, Doug Devos, Tom Hicks, Rebekah Mercer, Todd Ricketts, Tom Saunders, Paul Singer, and Dick Uihlein. In addition to a meet-and-greet with the president, they got briefings from Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, Vice President Mike Pence, and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

It was the sort of donor maintenance one would have expected in a White House led by traditional Republicans like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush or 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who courted big dollar donors as they tried to head off the Trump insurgency last year. Trump at least initially ran as a different kind of politician, openly hostile to big money interests and insistent that his personal wealth would protect him against their influence.

In the early days of Trump’s campaign, such old line Republicans invested millions of dollars in what proved to be a futile attempt to defeat him. Marlene Ricketts, the mother of Todd and wife of TD Ameritrade founder and Chicago Cubs owner Joe Ricketts, was such a Trump antagonist that the candidate personally attacked her and her family, tweeting that they “better be careful, they have a lot to hide!”

Now, in office, Trump apparently hopes the Ricketts family and other old foes will dig into their deep pockets to fund the campaigns of Republican lawmakers and candidates who support his legislative agenda and help unseat members and candidates in both parties, who resist him. In short, he’s practicing politics as usual.

His guests at the June 8 meeting have long histories of backing GOP candidates. Doug Devos, brother-in-law of Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, donated $1 million to Republican candidates in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The family of Rebekah Mercer, which is at least a part-owner of right-wing media powerhouse Breitbart News, gave $25 million to GOP causes. Rebekah Mercer also is widely credited with introducing Trump to former Breitbart chief Steve Bannon, now the White House’s chief strategist.

Short, who arranged the June 8 meeting, is himself a former Trump foe turned trusted insider. He served as a senior adviser to Rubio during the Florida senator’s presidential campaign and before that president of the network of conservative political donors headed by super-wealthy industrialists Charles and David Koch.

Trump’s outreach to the Ricketts family and Todd Ricketts in particular goes well beyond the June 8 meeting in the Roosevelt Room. Todd Ricketts was the president’s original nominee to serve as deputy secretary of commerce but withdrew his name in April after his wide-ranging business interests ran afoul of government ethics regulations.

“I offer my continued support for President Trump and his administration, and the important work they are doing to promote economic opportunity,” Ricketts said then. “I hope there are other opportunities to contribute to his administration in the future.”

The administration seems to have found another way for Ricketts to be helpful to the president - with his checkbook.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Money in Politics

Tags: Fighting Big Money

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