It's well over a year until the 2020 presidential election. President Donald Trump has appeared in no debates against his three Republican primary opponents, he's won no primaries or caucuses, and there are still 20 Democrats fighting tooth and nail to take him on in the general election.
But almost 500 residents of Southern states have already contributed everything they're legally allowed to his re-election campaign.
The South is an important region for Trump. In the 2016 election, more than half of his electoral college votes came from the South, where he won every state but Virginia. The region will be highly contested in the 2020 elections, with Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas all expected to be swing states. Demographic shifts and rising populations are transforming the electorate and ensuring the region's political sway will only increase in coming years.
In this politically volatile moment, Facing South decided to see who in the South is among the earliest and most generous financiers of Trump's re-election campaign by looking at those donors who have already made the maximum allowable contributions.
We tallied contributions made directly to the Trump 2020 campaign as well as to the two joint fundraising committees the Republican National Committee (RNC) has formed with the Trump campaign: Trump Victory and the Trump Make America Great Again Committee. These joint fundraising committees funnel donations to the Trump campaign and the RNC based on formulas that disburse the money so no donor will exceed legal limits. The contribution limit to the campaign is $5,600 per election cycle ($2,800 each for the primary and general election), while the per-cycle limit for contributing to a joint fundraising committee varies based on the federal limits on donating to party committees. This cycle, the maximum donations are $360,600 to Trump Victory, and $41,400 to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee.
So far, 486 donors from Southern states have given as much as they legally can to the Trump campaign, including seven donors who have maxed out their giving to Trump Victory. Texas is home to the most at 209, followed by Florida with 152, Louisiana with 54, and Virginia with 24. Among them are people with deep ties to the oil and gas industry as well as a prominent leader in the private prison business — both industries that have benefited greatly from Trump administration policies. They include:
- Kelcy Warren, chair and CEO of Energy Transfer Equity of Dallas. This is the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, which sparked months of protests over its route through the Standing Rock Sioux reservation but that was approved by the Trump administration in 2017. Energy Transfer's net income more than quadrupled in 2017 due to the pipeline approval and Trump’s tax legislation, according to Bloomberg. Its stock value has also fared well under Trump, and the company has an inside man in the White House: Energy Secretary Rick Perry was on Energy Transfer's board from 2015 until 2017, when he joined Trump's cabinet. Warren and his wife, Amy, have donated a combined $721,200 to Trump Victory, including the maximum $5,600 each to Trump's campaign.
- Syed Javaid Anwar, CEO of Midland Energy in Midland, Texas. Midland Energy is an oil drilling and exploration company founded by Anwar in 1984. Anwar told E&E News that his interest in politics stems from the latest boom-and-bust cycle affecting oil prices, which began about a decade ago. Anwar and his wife, Vicky, have been actively contributing large sums to Republican candidates since 2012; their recent donations included $1.7 million to various Texas Republicans during the 2018 midterms. And now they appear to be jumping full-throttle into presidential giving. Anwar, who is friends with former President George W. Bush, told E&E News that though he was initially skeptical of Trump's candidacy, he wound up donating an unspecified amount to Trump's PAC before the 2016 election. The Anwars have each donated the $5,600 maximum to the Trump campaign, included in their $275,000 contributions each to the Trump Victory Fund.
- The Saulsbury family of Saulsbury Industries in Odessa, Texas. Saulsbury Industries is a oil and gas conglomerate that engineers and constructs energy infrastructure nationwide, including natural gas processing facilities and oil pipelines. Political contributions are a family affair for the Saulsburys: Father Charles "Dick" Saulsbury Sr., an Arkansas native who founded the company, donated $110,000 to Trump Victory this year while his wife Amelia gave $50,000 and his oldest son Charles "Bubba" Saulsbury Jr. donated $172,500, though none of their donations went directly to the Trump campaign. However, sons Matt and Mark Saulsbury and daughter Diane Zugg have all given the legal maximum to the Trump campaign through donations to Trump Victory. In total, the family has given $560,600 to Trump Victory and $16,800 to the Trump campaign. The family has a history of involvement in conservative Texas politics, while Charles Sr. has been heavily involved in conservative religious and pro-Second Amendment activism.
- George Zoley, CEO of the GEO Group in Boca Raton, Florida. The GEO Group is one of the largest for-profit private prison companies in the country. GEO facilities hold 32 percent of the immigrants detained by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the United States, according to 2017 ICE data obtained by the Detention Watch Network. The Trump administration's immigration policies have been lucrative for the GEO Group's bottom line: 23 percent of the company’s revenue came from ICE in 2017, up from 10 percent in 2007, and $480 million in federal funding has been directed from ICE to the GEO Group since Trump's inauguration. On an earnings call with shareholders earlier this year, Zoley told investors that he was "hopeful" that increased federal funding for immigrant detention would, in the words of an inquiring shareholder, "translate into business opportunities."
The ranks of Trump's maxed-out Southern donors also include Duke Buchan III of Florida, an investment manager who is the current ambassador to Spain; Isaac Perlmutter of Florida, the chair of Marvel Entertainment; Christopher Goldsbury of Texas, the former owner of Pace Picante Sauce; and Pat Chazen of Texas, whose husband, Stephen Chazen, is the CEO of Magnolia Oil & Gas, an oil extraction company in South Texas. See the complete list here: