Trump's missing donors: the people who work for him

October 13, 2016 6:07 AM EDT

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Lakeland, Florida, U.S., October 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

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By Michelle Conlin and Grant Smith

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Kerry Woolard, the 37-year-old manager of Trump Winery in Charlottesville, Virginia, went online in June and made her first political contribution: A $250 donation to the campaign of her boss, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Woolard's donation was unusual.

Only a dozen of an estimated 22,450 people employed at Trump's companies have donated more than $200 to the celebrity businessman's bid for the U.S. presidency, a Reuters review of federal campaign finance records through August shows. Those who gave less to either Trump's campaign or his joint fundraising committees would not have shown up in the review.

The contributors, including an office cleaner, a golf course groundskeeper, a bartender and an attorney, have given $5,298 to Trump's campaign, a fraction of the $112 million Trump's political operation has received from donors and joint fundraisers.

An employee at Trump enterprises gave $275 to the campaign of her employer’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. A 13th Trump employee, a lawyer at the Trump Organization, contributed to a Trump Super PAC, giving $1,000.

“Honestly, I wish I could do more,” said Woolard, who addressed the Republican national convention in July and has attended private dinners with Trump, his wife Melania, and their son, Barron. “He is an amazing boss, has been a great leader and I believe would do a great job for our country.”

Trump has made his business record central to his campaign. He often speaks about the thousands of jobs he has created and portrays himself as a dealmaker who drove hard bargains and avoided paying taxes to benefit his company, his family and his employees.

Those employees may vote for Trump on Nov. 8, and could be supporting his candidacy with smaller-dollar contributions that do not appear on the filings. But when it comes to putting more significant money toward Trump's candidacy, his workers have shown little inclination to support their boss.

That stands in stark contrast to the 2012 election, when Mitt Romney, also an affluent businessman, was the Republican nominee.

Employees at the private equity firm Romney led and then retired from in 1999, Bain Capital, and a separate company for which he worked, Bain & Company, donated nearly $375,000 directly to his campaign and through joint fundraising committees during a comparable period in the election cycle, FEC records show. Bain Capital employees gave an additional $1.125 million to Romney's Super PAC.

Clinton received $324,000 directly to her campaign and through her joint fundraising committee from employees at the State Department, where she served as secretary of state from 2009 until 2013, according to FEC filings through August. No State Department employee has given so far to Clinton's Super PAC.

A spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, Hope Hicks, said in an emailed statement: "Mr. Trump has self-funded the majority of his campaign so the comparison is not realistic."

A Trump Organization spokeswoman said: "While The Trump Organization is not political, there has been tremendous excitement and support for Mr. Trump from his employees, those that know firsthand he is an incredible leader."

After vowing to self-fund his campaign - and spending $47 million of his own money to defeat his primary challengers - Trump changed course once he secured the Republican nomination. Of the $112 million he raised, 43 percent came from people who gave $200 or less directly to his campaign.

A study published in September of companies on the Standard & Poor's 1,500 stock market index found that employees’ political donations typically mirror those of their chief executive officers.

The study, conducted by business and finance professors at Arizona State University, Bocconi University in Milan and the Swiss Finance Institute in Zurich, found workers donated almost three times more money to candidates supported by their CEOs. The influence of the chief executives was particularly pronounced at firms that explicitly advocate for political campaigns.


Reuters cross-referenced Trump’s federal financial disclosure records, which lists him as controlling more than 500 entities, including some based overseas, with FEC campaign finance data.

The FEC requires that political campaigns disclose the identities, addresses and employers of anyone who contributes $200 or more to Super PACs, a campaign or a joint fundraising committee, which typically coordinates fundraising between a political campaign and the party's central organizing body.

The estimate of Trump’s total employees, 22,450, comes from financial data intelligence provider PrivCo and includes some entities abroad. Federal election law stipulates that permanent residents and American citizens, including those working outside the United States, can donate to political campaigns. But foreign nationals working for Trump operations either in the United States or abroad cannot.

Six of the 12 people who said they worked for Trump on campaign donation forms did not respond to multiple requests for comment on their home and business phones.

Two had phone numbers that are not in service, according to a background search database. One confirmed his employment and donation before hanging up the phone. Another confirmed her donation but said she needed clearance from the Trump Organization to comment.

The only two who discussed their donations with Reuters were Woolard, the Trump Winery manager, and Fred Laderer, an 81-year-old employee at Trump National Golf Club in North Carolina.

Laderer made two donations to Republican political entities, of which $56 was earmarked for the Trump campaign.

Laderer, who schedules start times for golfers, said since Trump took over the North Carolina club "it’s a much better place to work. The members are much happier.”

Still, he added that he didn't donate to Trump's campaign because he works for the candidate, but because "Clinton would bring a lot of bad luggage."

(Reporting by Michelle Conlin and Grant Smith, editing by Paul Thomasch and Ross Colvin)

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