President Donald Trump has known billionaire Ronald Lauder for close to 50 years. Yet, even as the president is down in the polls, the heir of Estée Lauder Companies has been virtually silent on whether he will assist Trump in his re-election effort this year.
Lauder, who has a net-worth of just under $5 billion according to Forbes, hasn’t given any money to help Trump’s bid since last summer. He gave $200,000 to the Trump Victory joint fundraising committee in August 2019, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Since then, Lauder has recorded no contributions to either the president’s campaign, his joint fundraising committees, the Republican National Committee or the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action.
A single donor is allowed to give almost $600,000 to Trump Victory.
Fundraisers and friends of the president’s have yet to hear from Lauder on whether he plans to give larger contributions to Trump’s reelection, according to people familiar with the matter, who declined to be named as these conversations were deemed private.
Eric Soufer, a spokesman for Lauder, told CNBC that the businessman is currently focused on assisting schools in Europe that have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, Mr. Lauder has been focused on rescuing the 35 schools he founded in Eastern Europe, among others, and covering the full tuition for families that have been devastated by the current economic and public health crisis,” Soufer said on Friday.
The statement, which did not mention Trump, was a response to CNBC’s inquiry about whether Lauder planned to spend more money to back the president’s campaign.
Representatives for the Trump campaign and RNC did not return requests for comment.
While Lauder has historically not written large checks to Trump-related entities, he has spent more in previous cycles backing Republican groups that often align with the president’s agenda. Records show that he did not contribute to Trump’s initial run for president in 2016.
Still, Lauder has stood with the president on a variety of issues and has the resources where he could be a key asset to Trump’s reelection. In 2018, he put out a statement praising Trump’s “incredible insight and intelligence.” In 2017, when Trump spoke in front of the World Jewish Congress, an organization Lauder leads, the president called him a friend.
“I want to thank Ronald Lauder, not only for his many years of friendship – and he truly has been my good friend, he even predicted early that I was going to win the presidency – but also for his leadership of this organization. He has done a fantastic job,” Trump said at the time.
Trump trails rival Joe Biden by more than seven points in the Real Clear Politics national polling average. However, his fundraising operation has remained strong. In July, Trump’s campaign raised $165 million in conjunction with the RNC. Biden, along with the Democratic National Committee, brought in $140 million over that same time period. Trump went into August with $300 million on hand compared to Biden’s $294 million.
Lauder’s ties to Trump have come under fire from Estée Lauder employees. Recently, more than 100 employees sent a letter to the company’s chairman, William Lauder, asking for the removal of Ronald Lauder from the board. The letter arrived during the nationwide protests for George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed by Minneapolis police officers.
Lauder has since publicly defended his history in fighting against anti-Semitism and racism.
He’s currently the president of the World Jewish Congress, which represents Jewish communities and organizations in over 100 countries. He founded and pledged $25 million to the Anti-Semitism Accountability Project, or ASAP, which focuses on holding lawmakers accountable for what Lauder deems as anti-Semitic views. Lauder has also said he is expanding his anti-Semitism campaign to include causes for racial injustice.
The organization added an online portal at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in order for people to report hate crimes and for the group to “track trends of COVID-inspired discrimination across the country.”
Trump himself has been criticized for comments that, at times, appear to target minorities. He called protesters in Minneapolis “thugs” and has repeatedly disparaged undocumented immigrants.
Lauder has spent more in prior cycles backing Republican groups then he has in 2020. While the organizations he supported are not intended to directly help Trump, they are for causes that are linked to the president’s party.
In 2018, he was the top donor to a super PAC titled National Horizons. He contributed at least $1.6 million to the PAC, which spent almost 60% of its donations on media attacks that were mostly either against Democrats or in support of Republicans running for House and Senate seats, according to data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Those targeted by the PAC include Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.,Reps. Colin Allred, D-Texas., Anthony Brindisi, D-N.Y., and former Texas Senate nominee, Beto O’Rourke.
The group’s website criticizes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
“In a campaign where unions and other liberal special interests are turning the spigot wide open with campaign cash and organizational muscle, groups like National Horizon are the best weapon to defeat the Left,” the website says.
In 2016, Lauder gave $700,000 to National Horizon and spent over $66,000 on the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.