Don Eichelberger, Bohemian Grove Action Network
Perhaps the one and only thing Americans will agree on this year is that 2020 has been a weird year for all of us. No one has gone unscathed, not even the ruling elite. This year, for the first time since the Second World War, the annual gathering at Bohemian Grove was suspended, this time due to the coronavirus. As a result, we were not allowed our annual peek behind the curtain. No new club membership lists were leaked, no events programs came to us telling who was speaking at Lakeside Talks on what subject, and no reports from workers on inside scuttlebutt.
Coming as it has during an election year leaves us to wonder if Donald Trump is any more popular among the super-rich class of donors than he was last time around, when the Koch brothers led an insurgency that all but blocked big money in 2016. He was seen as an outside insurgent candidate with little chance of winning, anyway, and might have been undone but for the hundreds of millions in free advertising given to him by mainstream media and help from the Russians.
With no grove encampment to use as a gauge this year, we used a more traditional news search for indicators; results were not surprising. Disclaimer: Information is limited to publicly reported donations identifying donors using a 2010 Bohemian Club membership list; the most recent we have been able to procure.
A few high profile Bohemians have spoken out against his continued incumbency. The Koch brothers announced in January, 2019, that they would not be supporting the president this time. David Koch has since died, but there is no indication of change in the Koch machine.
Former George W. Bush Chief of Staff, Colin Powell, a Mandalay camper, along with many military comrades, have come out strongly against the president. George H.W. Bush and son George W. have indicted antipathy with Trump while Jeb Bush is still deciding. Former Secretary of State, etc., George Schultz has long been a never Trumper. And Mitt Romney, the last Republican presidential candidate not to be invited to the Grove, the only Senator to vote yes on an article of Trump’s impeachment has announced he will support Trump naming a new Supreme Court Justice before the election (more on that below).
But Trump’s gutting of business and environmental regulation and tax cuts to the wealthy have not gone unnoticed. Trump is trying to woo new investor class donors with an agenda that, according to The Guardian, “would reverse rules that eased speculative bank investments, reduced swap capital cushions, and overhauled fair lending regulation.” One thing both Bohemian and non-Bohemian rich businessmen have in common is a love of accumulating money, and the Trump agenda has always been one that favors them in doing that.
A Forbes list of Trump’s 50 largest donors reveals two Bohemians willing to go on record, with donations exceeding $250,000. It should come as no surprise that both donors head large investment firms. Ken Fisher of Owler camp is founder of Fisher Investments, most famous for his comment at an investors’ conference (in true Boho fashion) that wooing new investors is “like trying to get in to a girl’s pants.” Charles B. Johnson, Colon Powel’s mate at Mandalay camp, is Forbes’ 176th of the top 400 richest in the world. He headed Franklin Investments until his retirement earlier this year after taking over the company in 1957. The firm’s assets under management rose in that time from $2.5 million in 1957 to more than $800 billion when he retired (up from $271 billion just since 2014).
Jack Oliver, a major fundraiser for both W. and Jeb, but not a Boho, is heading a fundraising push for Trump to convince Republicans such as himself, who sat out the 2016 campaign, to support Trump this time, telling Politico, “I think you’ll have a significant number of Bush and Romney veterans that were on the sidelines or didn’t get overly involved in 2016 but will be involved in the 2020 campaign.”
America First, the super PAC used by Trump in 2016 to pump millions in to his campaign has been reportedly missing in action this year as donations have slowed. Just six of his biggest donors to the 2016 campaign have given this year, including above-named Boho, Charles B. Johnson. Last May, the Trump campaign called America First the “one approved outside non-campaign group.” The campaign reportedly did not respond when asked if that statement still stands.
But a new group in town, Preserve America, is raising big money for Trump, although he has not called it an approved outside group. Chris LaCivita will be heading up the new group. He played a significant role in the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign that torpedoed Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s run in 2004.
Preserve America’s primary backers reportedly include casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, rich, but not Bohos. Adelson gave $20 million to Trump’s 2016 run through his America First PAC, but has not donated to that PAC this time after a reportedly contentious August call with Trump, who accused him of not helping him enough.
Adelson, for his part, seems less worried by what Trump says than by how he says it, indicating he would prefer a more positive, inclusive Republican message than what Trump offers.
Another Republican fundraiser, not a Boho, but one who knows how to get their money, Geoph Verhoff, told Politico, “From a policy standpoint, there’s virtually nothing they (rich supporters) disagree with, then layer on top of that the choice that the other side is presenting to the country and it’s a no-brainer.”
This was said before Joe Biden won the Democratic nomination when there was still great fear of Bernie Sanders. Democrats seem to be hoping to peel off Trump voters who agree that, “(w)hat (Biden has) always been is not scary,” said one former large Trump donor. “A lot of people that voted for President Trump did so because they did not like Hillary Clinton. I don’t see that happening with Joe Biden — how can you not like Joe Biden?”
To be honest, political party aside, I see Joe Biden as a better fit among Bohemians than Trump. But the recent death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg could forewarn of a seismic shift in support for both sides.
The Trump campaign is faced with a “bird in the hand” dilemma of ramming a nomination through the Senate before the election versus waiting and use the Supreme Court nomination to build support for Trump and a Republican Senate. Mitch McConnell says he will, in true power politics fashion, have a vote on a nomination before Election Day, or maybe even during the Lame Duck session after Trump loses the election. Democrats, and possibly a good chunk of society will be doing what they can to delay that vote.
Either way, it’s a win-win for Republicans. They will either likely ram through a Trump nominated Supreme Court Justice, or use that promise to turn out Trump voters in the election. And the fundraising will go on. Democrats have not been slouches to now, having out fundraised Trump in the last tally. New printing presses will be needed, so to speak, to supply all the money these campaigns will need, thanks to Citizens United giving us all that free speech. Last presidential election, elite money came in late to the Trump campaign. So, as with all things political, follow the money for an idea on how it will all turn out, since we couldn’t get the scoop at the Grove.