Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks thus far have been controversial, to say the least. He appointed Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier, to head the EPA. He has selected James “Mad Dog” Mattis to lead the Department of Defense, breaking from the U.S. tradition of maintaining civilian-led armed forces. He picked radically unqualified Ben Carson to lead HUD and address America’s inner city dilemmas. Perhaps the appointment that will make the biggest news so far, however, is Trump’s pick in Linda McMahon, co-founder and former CEO of the WWE, to be the next head of the Small Business Administration.
McMahon is a qualified businesswoman with extensive experience in starting and managing a corporation, and thus she certainly maintains the requisite competence for the position. What is problematic, however, is the amount of money she donated to Trump’s campaign, suggesting a return to Jacksonian spoils system politics.
According to the most recent FEC filings, McMahon’s total donations to Trump super PACs reached nearly $7 million following a late $1 million contribution made just weeks before Election Day. The substantial last-minute donation was made to a super PAC called Future 45, which is managed and funded by the Ricketts family and casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Additionally, a Ricketts sibling, Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts, has been appointed to the position of deputy commerce secretary.
Per a report in Forbes, “Linda McMahon donated $6 million to Trump’s campaign in August and September, despite calling Trump’s comments about women ‘deplorable’ during the GOP primary.” This financial support for his campaign parallels that for the Trump Foundation, as the McMahons donated roughly $5 million between 2007 and 2009, making them among the biggest outside donors to the organization.
McMahon’s major contributions make her one of the largest individual contributors to his campaign efforts. The fact that she has now been given a position in the administration suggests a degree of political patronage reminiscent of the early 1800’s. Presidents used to award cabinet positions and executive roles to individuals who were influential in their campaigns or the party. This predated any form of meritocracy in the Executive. Now, this is not to say that McMahon is not qualified – she most certainly is; this is merely to say that within her position in Trump’s administration and her major contributions to his campaign there exists a link that should not go unnoticed.
For what it’s worth, Trump’s move is not unprecedented. According to CNN, “current Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker is a billionaire businesswoman who was a major backer of President Barack Obama, serving as finance chairwoman for his 2008 campaign."
What do you think of McMahon’s donations to Trump’s campaign?