Corporate campaign donations
There is some background that it is important to mention when discussing US political donations.
In the US, it is illegal for corporations to donate directly to political parties or candidates. Companies can donate as much as they like to independent political groups, including to things called ‘SuperPACs’ which campaign – theoretically independently – on behalf of specific candidates. But donations to the official campaigns have to come from individuals within the company rather than the company itself.
These legal restrictions are supposed to compensate for the fact that in the US, unlike in the UK, there are no restrictions on what political parties can spend. Restricting spending is held to violate the first amendment right to free speech.
Ethical Consumer’s source of information on US political donations is the Centre for Responsive Politics (CRP). The CRP categorises individual donors according to the company that employs them. It argues that it makes sense to associate the donation with the company because major donors tend to be high ranking executives, not lower level personnel.
Therefore, in the material below, where it is just stated that “X company donated to X campaign” this includes both donations to SuperPACs allied to the campaign, and also donations from employees of the company.
Top Republican donors
These companies and people have, or are related to, consumer brands in the UK, and were top donors to Republicans in the 2016 election cycle and their allied SuperPACs:
Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman and CEO of Blackstone, gave nearly $5 million. Blackstone is a private equity firm, which buys other companies and then sells them again. It currently owns Crocs, Eastman Kodak and Jack Wolfskin, as well as the US SeaWorld centres that make whales and other sea creatures perform tricks for entertainment. Schwarzman is a long-time right-wing donor, and a personal friend, of Donald Trump, and is also well known for his decadence. In 2007 he threw himself a $3 million birthday party.
Les Wexner, chairman and CEO of Limited Brands, which owns Victoria’s Secret, a lingerie brand that sells in the UK, gave $4 million. He also gave a small amount (nearly $200,000) to Democrats.
Peter Thiel donated $4 million. Thiel was the co-founder of PayPal, although he has now sold all his shares. Nowadays he runs an investment firm called the Founders Fund, whose investments list reads like an A to Z of tech platform companies including AirBnB, Facebook, Spotify and Lyft(an Uber competitor). He also sits on the Facebook board. Thiel is known to be close to Trump and is now a member of his transition team.
Employees of Microsoft gave over $3 million, although they also gave a similar amount to Democrats. It is not so clear in this case who the donors were.
Top Republican donors that aren’t consumer-facing in the UK included Las Vegas Sands, a casino and resort company, Adelson Drug Clinic, which runs private drug addiction treatment, and Elliot Fund, a hedge fund.
Top donors to Trump’s personal campaign
By far the biggest corporate donor to Trump’s personal campaign was Renaissance Technologies ($15,511,600), which uses mathematical algorithms to trade stocks. Its CEO, Robert Mercer, is known as a fanatical right-winger who also bankrolled the pro-Brexit campaign, and is the main money behind Breitbart News. However, Renaissance Technologies also donated heavily to the Clinton campaign ($14,040,200).
Peter Thiel’s $4 million donation to Republican candidates, described above, included a donation to Trump’s personal campaign of more than $1 million.
As well as other financial companies, other major donors were construction and real estate companies, although none of them are consumer-facing in the UK.
However, the story of Trump and corporate donations isn’t over. Corporations tend to suck up to whoever is in power, and much of the ‘self-funding’ that Trump did was in the form of loans that he intends to pay back. This is quite common in the US: you loan yourself the money to get elected, then once you’re in power, you get donations and you can pay it back. We’ll therefore be keeping an eye on future donations.
After Trump’s election, there were immediate signs that corporations were eager to make friends. They lavished huge sums on his inauguration celebrations, with Trump’s inaugural committee raising a record $90 million, far surpassing the $44 million President Barack Obama’s committee raised in 2013 or the $53 million it raised in 2009. President Trump floated in on a huge sea of celebratory corporate money. The biggest donors, and their UK brands, can be seen in the table below:
The biggest donors and their UK brands
|Pfizer ($1 million)
||Microsoft, Skype, XBox, Lumia
|Exxon Mobil ($500,000)
||Marlboro, SAB Miller
|General Motors ($200,000)
||Vauxhall, Cadillac, Buick
The Cabinet and other people close to Trump
As has been widely publicised, all of Trump’s cabinet are either ex-corporate executives or have received large sums of money from corporations. Of the companies they are known to be connected to, the major ones which are consumer-facing in the UK are Pfizer and ExxonMobil.
Trump also has a ‘Strategic and Policy Forum’ made up of the CEOs of major corporations. This is not a new thing; Obama created one in 2011, which was led by the CEO of General Electric. The members of Trump’s team, and their UK consumer-facing brands, are shown in the table below:
Members of Trump's team and their UK brands
|Members of Trump's Business Advisory Council
||Crocs, Eastman Kodak, Jack Wolfskin, SeaWorld
Private equity firm. Owns small portions of lots of companies including BP, Deckers, Next, Whitbread (Costa)
||Vauxhall, Cadillac, Buick
||Pepsi, Walkers, Quakers, Tropicana, Copela, Dorito's, Naked Juice
|SpaceX, Tesla & Solar City
The Boston Consulting Group
The Cleveland Clinic
Patomak Global Partners
Global Infrastructure Partners
EY (formally Ernst & Young)
|No major consumer-facing UK brands
Elon Musk of Tesla has said: 
advisory councils simply provide advice and attending does not mean that I agree with actions by the Administration.
But others are less convinced. Uber certainly thought that being part of the forum looked bad. It quit when the #DeleteUber boycott went viral after it broke the taxi driver strike protesting Trump’s travel ban.
Anti-Trump corporate lobbying
On the other side, quite a lot of corporations have been part of the resistance to Trump’s policies. More than 120 companies filed a legal brief against the first travel ban, including such companies as Google, Tesla, Microsoft, Apple, AirBnB and Uber. Others spoke out against it, including even the Kochs, the famous bankroller of climate deniers and free-market think tanks. And a legal challenge to Trump’s second attempt that was filed on the 15th March listed support from 58 companies.