Donald Trump’s recent campaign speeches have the tenor of a scorned child, with much ranting and raving about the “rigged” nomination process. “Little Marco, his State Chairman, & their minions are working overtime-trying to rig the vote,” Trump tweeted in March. A few weeks ago, griping about losing Colorado’s delegate race, he barked, “We have a rigged system.” He also told a crowd in Syracuse, “The system is rigged. … They gotta do something about it. The Republican National Committee better get going because I’ll tell you what, you’re gonna have a rough time at that convention in July … because people want to vote and the people wanna be represented properly.”
Trump paints himself as the hero of the political underdog, warring against a monolithic system that stamps down the little guy — little guys like billionaire businessmen who’ve spent their careers giving political donations in an effort to curry favor, it seems. Indeed, the system Trump claims to be so upset about now that he’s running for president is the same one he’s admitted to using to his advantage (or at least trying to).
Trump has given to political candidates on both sides of the aisle. For example, he gave a total of $12,500 to Hillary Clinton’s Senate and 2008 presidential campaigns, and a whopping $77,500 to current nemesis Mitt Romney’s White House run. (All numbers in this piece are derived from data the Trump campaign reported to the FEC, and accessed via the Center for Responsive Politics.) Trump makes no secret of this; in fact, he seems somewhat proud of it, and his explanations for his bipartisan largesse are perhaps some of his most honest yet: “I was a businessman, and it was my obligation to get along with everybody, including the Clintons, including Democrats and liberals and Republicans and conservatives,” he told Sean Hannity in January. “As a businessman, I had an obligation to do that.” And, like a businessman, Trump expected favors from those to whom he donated, as he noted during a Fox News debate in Cleveland all last August:
“I gave to many people before this — before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what, when I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them. They are there for me. That’s a broken system.”
Likewise, at a March CNN debate in Florida, during a discussion of America’s “corrupt” electoral system, specifically super PACs, Trump remarked, “I know the system far better than anybody else, and I know the system is broken. … I know it so well because I was on both sides of it.”
He went on:
“I was on the other side all my life and I’ve always made large contributions. And frankly, I know the system better than anybody else, and I’m the only one up here that’s going to be able to fix that system because that system is wrong.”
An examination of Trump’s donations since 1998 reveals that the bulk of Trump’s political largesse has gone to politicians in places where he does business — like Florida, where he long supported disgraced politico Mark Foley; Nevada, where he’s given $9,400 to Democratic Sen. Harry Reid over the years; and of course New York, where notables like Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand and Anthony Weiner have all received Trump dough.
It’s unclear what, if any, favors Trump actually received from any specific politicians to whom he donated. But the donations that most make one wonder what favors he was hoping for were those made during the 2014 election cycle, just as his current White House run took shape.