Trump fundraiser puts billionaire host on defensive

WASHINGTON (AP) — A billionaire New York investor and owner of the Miami Dolphins who hosted a high-dollar fundraiser for Donald Trump yesterday also has a financial interest in the president’s business empire — including his iconic Manhattan tower.

Shortly after Trump’s election, Stephen M Ross tried to take over Ladder Capital, one of Trump’s biggest creditors, which also holds a mortgage on Trump Tower. Though the takeover failed, Ross’ private equity firm Related Companies purchased an USD80 million stake in Ladder, which is still owed more than USD100 million by Trump, records show.

The campaign fundraiser at Ross’ home in the Hamptons, with tickets costing up to USD250,000, provides another stark example of the intersection between Trump’s business and political interests, the sort of comingling of wealth and power that Trump crusaded against during the 2016 race when he derided politicians for taking money from special interests.

“It’s another reminder of how the president’s refusal to divest from the Trump Organisation continues to present potential conflicts of interest,” said Brendan Fischer, an attorney with the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center. “We don’t know what they might want, or what they might be getting in return.”

Unlike other presidents, Trump has refused to divest himself from his business holdings, and he is not legally required to do so. His campaign did not respond to repeated request for comment on Thursday.

Daniel I Weiner, a former attorney for the Federal Election Commission (FEC), said concern about the influence big donors may wield over a president is not unique to Trump.

“It’s not that this is some completely new universe that we’re living in. It’s that longstanding problems with our political system are now on steroids,” said Weiner, who is now senior counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. “It becomes very hard to know where a president’s personal and political interests end and his service to the public interest begins.”

The fundraiser, which was first reported by The Washington Post, has already set off a wave of bad publicity for Ross and Related Companies, which also owns Equinox, an upscale chain of athletic clubs, and the indoor cycling studio SoulCycle.

Some celebrities and activists threatened to boycott. Kenny Stills, a Dolphins wide receiver, also criticised Ross’ decision to hold the fundraiser. He tweeted a screen capture from the website for Ross’ anti-racism initiative RISE which said the programme “educates and empowers the sports community to eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve race relations.”

“You can’t have a non-profit with this mission statement then open your doors to Trump,” he tweeted.

Ross regularly donates to Republicans — as well as a few Democrats — though he does not appear to have given to Trump in the past, according to FEC records.