Trump Lures New Big-Money Donors as Old Guard Retreats

Of the contributions disclosed so far, the biggest Trump supporter in the country is Geoffrey Palmer, a real-estate developer in Beverly Hills.

An attendee hands a $2 banknote to Donald Trump as Trump signs autographs in Gaffney, South Carolina, on Feb. 18, 2016.

Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Even as he drives away some stalwart Republican party donors, Donald Trump is attracting new sources of money.

That was clear on Friday and Saturday, as Trump and his allies revealed the names of some of his most generous supporters. Of the contributions disclosed so far, the biggest Trump supporter in the country is Geoffrey Palmer, a real-estate developer in Beverly Hills, who gave $2 million to a pro-Trump group known as Rebuilding America Now. Palmer isn't widely known in donor circles and hadn't previously written checks of that size, according to Federal Election Commission data.

Since Trump defeated the last of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination in May, he's been working to win over the Republican donor class with a series of fundraising dinners around the country. It hasn't been enough for power brokers such as Charles Koch, the Kansas industrialist, or Paul Singer, the New York hedge-fund manager, both of whom have declared they don't support the candidate.

In their places are people like Tom Barrack, a longtime friend of Trump's in Santa Monica, California, whose few previous political contributions had included Dianne Feinstein, a Senate Democrat. Barrack, a real-estate investor, hosted Trump's first fundraiser in May, and gave $415,000 to a committee raising money for both Trump and the party. Another big donor revealed yesterday was Carleton Allen, a trash-bag tycoon from Roanoke, Texas. He gave the maximum of $449,000, a much larger amount than any of his previous contributions reported to the FEC.

Trump raised $32.4 million for a pair of joint-fundraising committees in late May and June, their FEC reports show. That's less than the $36.5 million that Democrat Hillary Clinton's main joint fundraising committee raised during the same time period. And with many top Republican donors on the sidelines, Clinton has an edge in super-PACs, the independent groups that can accept contributions of unlimited size. 

One major donor, the New York hedge-fund manager Robert Mercer, laid the groundwork last month for a super-PAC dedicated to attacking Clinton's record. That group isn't required to report until next week how much it raised during its first days of operation.

Palmer didn't respond to calls and email messages seeking comment on his donation.

A hard-charging builder, Palmer has often been at odds with the Los Angeles Democratic power structure. He's known for building faux-Italianate apartment buildings—he once called them "fortress-like"—with names like the Medici and the Da Vinci. Local activists have sometimes complained his buildings don't fit in an increasingly dense downtown area, singling out his plan for a pedestrian bridge at the Da Vinci that would have separated residents from areas frequented by the homeless.

Speaking to the Los Angeles Downtown News last year, he called a city requirement to set aside apartments  for low-income residents "immoral." In 2003, he was accused by the city of illegally demolishing an historic home without a permit, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal that's posted on his company's website.

Palmer's firm owns 10,400 apartment units in Southern California valued at more than $3 billion, according to its website.

Palmer had never before played in the top echelon of Republican financiers. According to the FEC, his biggest previous gifts were a pair of $250,000 contributions to a super-PAC supporting Mitt Romney in 2012. Rebuilding America Now said on Saturday that it raised a total of $2.2 million, most of it from Palmer's gift.

James Nash contributed to this article.

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