Trump’s New Team Brings Deep Ties to Major Donor Robert Mercer
When Donald Trump shook up his presidential campaign this week, he deepened his ties to Robert Mercer, a wealthy hedge-fund manager and conservative donor with a taste for bucking the Republican establishment.
Trump's new top operatives—Stephen Bannon, the campaign's new chief executive, and Kellyanne Conway, the campaign manager—are longtime advisers to the Long Island, New York-based investor and have aided his family on a web of interlocking projects. Even within a Republican Party that has battled Bill and Hillary Clinton for decades, the Mercers and their advisers stand out as among the Clintons' most dogged and long-standing critics.
Until recently, Trump was not the Mercers' favorite. During the Republican presidential primary, Mercer and his family put $13.5 million into a political action committee to support Senator Ted Cruz's bid for the party's nomination. They put Conway in charge of the spending.
A few weeks after Cruz dropped out, the Mercers lined up behind Trump. The move followed a meeting in Manhattan that included Mercer's daughter Rebekah, Conway, and Trump's daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
When Cruz refused to endorse Trump at the Republican National Convention last month, the Mercers issued a rare public statement that made clear their support for Trump is rooted in their opposition to Clinton.
"The Democratic Party will soon choose as their nominee a candidate who would repeal both the First and Second Amendments of the Bill of Rights, a nominee who would remake the Supreme Court in her own image," the Mercers wrote. "We need all hands on deck to ensure that Mr. Trump prevails."
The Mercers declined to comment Wednesday through a spokesman. Conway and Bannon didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
Robert Mercer, 70, is a computer programmer by training who is the co-chief executive officer of Renaissance Technologies in East Setauket, New York. The hedge-fund firm uses computers to spot patterns in financial markets that wouldn't be obvious to human traders, and has generated one of the best investing records in history.
He got involved in major political spending in 2010, buying ads supporting a New York gubernatorial candidate by highlighting his opposition to the so-called "Ground Zero mosque." Since then, he's become one of the country's biggest Republican givers, with a preference for anti-establishment candidates and Tea Party favorites. One of his most long-standing beneficiaries is a chemist and sometime congressional candidate who is collecting thousands of vials of human urine in freezers in rural Oregon for medical research.
Mercer's ties to Bannon date to at least to 2011, when Bannon's conservative Breitbart News network was struggling financially, and Mercer made a $10 million equity investment, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The next year, Bannon founded an organization called the Government Accountability Institute to research cronyism in Washington, and Mercer's family foundation became a major supporter.
The group produced a book, Clinton Cash, last year highlighting conflicts of interest between the Clintons' government service and their family foundation's courting of foreign donors. This year, Bannon and Rebekah Mercer turned the book into an hour-long documentary. Robert Mercer sent his 203-foot yacht, Sea Owl, to the premier of the film at Cannes.
Some of the ties between the Mercers, Bannon, and Conway are head-spinning. Bannon serves on the board of Reclaim New York, an advocacy group set up by the family devoted to transparency and tax cuts in the Empire State. That group shares an address in New York with Cambridge Analytica, a data and analytics firm of which the Mercers are part owners.
Cambridge Analytica has worked extensively for political groups funded by the Mercers, including Cruz's presidential campaign and the super-PAC that Conway oversaw. The Trump campaign recently started using the firm's services, according to a report in the National Review.
Meanwhile, the Mercers' super-PAC has retooled from supporting Cruz to attacking Clinton. Succeeding Conway at the PAC is David Bossie, who has devoted much of his professional career to battling the Clintons, starting as an investigator for House Republicans in the 1990s. His effort to promote an anti-Clinton movie during the 2008 presidential campaign led to the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, opening up a flood of new political money from wealthy individuals like the Mercers.
Mercer put $2 million more into the super-PAC last month, and Bossie is now marketing it to other donors as a way to fight the Democratic nominee without explicitly endorsing Trump. Its name: Defeat Crooked Hillary.