WASHINGTON – Letantia Bussell, a Beverly Hills dermatologist, says she appreciates Donald Trump’s “unique personality.” Peter Zieve, an engineer in Washington, loves Trump because “the guy’s a person, not a robot.” Daniel Arias, an El Salvadoran immigrant in Florida, is positive Trump will put an end to newcomers “coming here and begging for food stamps.”
They are the few, the proud, the maxed-out Trump donors.
The leader of the Republican presidential contest ridicules donors and insists he is a billionaire who wants to “self-fund.” Yet there’s a prominent “donate” button on his campaign website, and he has raised more than $9.5 million, including from about 200 people who have given $2,700, the maximum allowed by law for the primary election.
Because it’s such a relatively small sample – a tiny sliver compared with Hillary Clinton’s nearly 29,000 maxed-out donors – it’s impossible to reach broad conclusions about Trump’s benefactors. Still, these are arguably the most loyal of Trump fans, and their interviews with The Associated Press reveal unexpected layers of the political newcomer’s appeal.
They’re both attracted and repelled by Trump’s inflammatory comments. Just like the thousands who attend Trump’s massive rallies, these well-off fans want dramatic change and see Trump as the only person capable of making it happen. And far from being embarrassed by their candidate, the donors seem to love converting their friends and associates to the cause.
The list of maxed-out donors includes some characters. Literally. One is Alice Chapman, a reality television star and the wife of Dog the Bounty Hunter.
Most people who part ways with several thousand dollars are on firm financial footing. Some of Trump’s donors are downright rich. John Ferolito, who co-founded AriZona iced tea, gave in July. And Scott Shleifer, head of the multi-billion-dollar New York hedge fund Tiger Global, ponied up $2,700 last year, a few months before he purchased an $18 million Park Avenue condo.
The AP culled the names of Trump’s top donors from his public Federal Election Commission filings, which are complete through the end of February. More contributors will emerge on Wednesday, when he files his March fundraising documents.
It’s all about immigration for Arias, himself an immigrant.
The 75-year-old real estate investor in Coconut Grove said he came to the country legally some 30 years ago.
“He’s the only one who is going to do something to stop illegal immigration,” said Arias, who contends many come here for the government benefits and “to steal and sell drugs.” Trump famously kicked off his campaign by saying some Mexican immigrants who entered the country illegally are “rapists.”
Some of the donors have taken issue with Trump’s most incendiary comments.
Zieve, an engineer who said he conducts business around the world and is a longtime Republican Party donor, said he’s “not proud of some the silly stuff he’s said.”
“Sometimes I wish he would put a zipper on it,” Zieve said.
At the same time, that no-holds-barred approach has kept him riveted – and supportive. Zieve gave $2,700 at the end of February.
“Every time something comes out of his mouth, it’s exactly something that would come out of my mouth,” he said.
Bussell, the dermatologist, said she gave because she likes Trump, though she hasn’t met him. Trump, she said, has “a certain sense of humor” and doesn’t precisely mean everything he says.
“We don’t need more of the same,” she said. “We need a change. It’s as if the country is in need of a significant oil change and he is the best mechanic.”
The first person to donate $2,700 to Trump’s presidential bid, weeks before he even glided down the escalator in his New York tower and declared his candidacy, was Pamela Newman, a friend and a longtime insurance provider for Trump’s business.
The campaign has been good to her, as well: Between June and February, it paid the branch of Aon Risk Services where she works almost $300,000.
Yet not all of those who know Trump and gave him money are doing so for the usual reasons.
Joe Kaminkow, a well-known game developer, met Trump years ago when designing a slot-machine version of “The Apprentice,” Trump’s hit TV show. He described him as “a gentleman.”
Still, he said, “I think we need a president who maintains our stability and strength with understanding. And he isn’t behaving in that way.”
So why the heck did Kaminkow, an admitted Democrat, give Trump $2,700 in August?
“I was so entertained by what I saw from the Republicans on TV,” he said, “that I wanted to do my part to keep that party going.”
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