Discover more from Popular Information
GOP donors fuel RFK Jr's presidential campaign
Mark Dickson, a Californian who amassed a fortune treating aluminum for the aerospace industry, has donated more than $450,000 to federal candidates since 2015. The total includes $400,000 to Trump Victory, the joint fundraising committee that allows individuals to contribute large amounts to support Donald Trump. That money was then distributed to Trump's presidential campaign, the Republican National Committee, state Republican parties, and others working on behalf of Trump.
Keith Sheldon, a retired car dealership executive from Argyle, Texas, also has consistently backed Trump. In 2016, Sheldon donated $5,400, then the individual maximum, to Trump's presidential campaign and affiliated committees. In 2020, Sheldon donated the new individual maximum, $5,600, to Trump's reelection campaign. In 2022, Sheldon donated $2,900 to one of Trump's favorites, Senate candidate Herschel Walker (R-GA). Over the years, Sheldon, a registered Republican, donated several thousand dollars to GOP candidates for the House of Representatives.
According to Federal Election Commission (FEC) records, neither Dickson nor Sheldon has ever donated a dime to a Democrat. Until now. This year, both donated $6,600 — the current legal maximum — to Robert F. Kennedy Jr, a Democratic candidate for president.
Dickson and Sheldon's sudden interest in a Democratic primary candidate is unexpected. But, for Kennedy's campaign, it is not uncommon. According to a Popular Information analysis of Kennedy's first FEC filing, the lion's share of Kennedy's biggest donors have previously only donated to Republicans.
Through June 30, Kennedy's campaign has collected the maximum, $6,600, from 96 individuals. Of that group, 37 individuals have previously only donated to Republican candidates for federal office. Only 19 have a history of consistently supporting Democratic candidates. The remainder either have no giving history (30), have donated to members of both parties (8), or supported Libertarian or alternative candidates (2).
In addition to the individual contributions, Kennedy also received $6,600 from Purple Good Government PAC, a committee controlled by David Sacks, an investor publicly backing Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis. American Values 2024, a Super PAC supporting Kennedy, said it raised $10.25 million in the first half of the year. As a Super PAC, it is not required to disclose its donors until the end of July. But the group's co-chair indicated that about 50% of the money came from Republican donors. A second Super PAC supporting Kennedy, Common Sense PAC, has not released any information about its fundraising.
The unusual profile of Kennedy's financial supporters raises serious questions about their motivations. Are wealthy supporters of Trump and other Republicans backing Kennedy because they want him to be the next president? Or are they sending cash to Kennedy, a promoter of conspiracy theories about vaccines and other topics, so he can create havoc in the Democratic primary?
In April, CBS News reported that far-right extremist Steve Bannon encouraged Kennedy for “months” to run against Biden, “believing he could be both a useful chaos agent in the 2024 race and a big name who could help stoke anti-vaccine sentiment around the country.”
The Kennedy-Trump mutual admiration society
It's not just Trump donors that are backing Kennedy. It's Trump himself. Appearing on a radio show on a radio show last month, Trump encouraged Kennedy to "hang in" the presidential race and praised him as "very smart;" Trump said they had a lot in common.
He’s been very nice to me, I’ve actually had a very nice relationship with him over the years. He’s a very smart guy, and a good guy. He’s a common sense guy, and so am I. So, whether you’re conservative or liberal, common sense is common sense. A lot of what I run on is common sense. He’s doing really well, I saw a poll, he’s at 22. That’s pretty good! That’s pretty good, doing very well.
The feeling appears to be mutual. During a television appearance, Kennedy was asked what he thought of Trump's comments. "I'm proud that President Trump likes me," Kennedy said. In 2017, Kennedy was in talks with Trump to potentially chair a commission related to vaccines, according to the Washington Post.
Kennedy has courted Trump supporters and other right-wing voters by appearing frequently on Fox News, where he enjoys unusually favorable coverage. Former Fox News host Tucker Carlson featured Kennedy as a guest on his program on the day of Kennedy's announcement. Carlson described Kennedy as one of the few people in public life who is not "corrupt" and is "telling the truth." He introduced Kennedy as " one of the most remarkable people we have ever met," saying he was "honored to have him on our show."
Kennedy's collaboration with the right-wing
On July 20, Kennedy will be the star witness at the hearing of the Republican-led House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. The subcommittee's hearings have "regularly featured chaotic and often one-sided airings of conservative grievances against agencies like the FBI and the Justice Department," according to Newsweek. Kennedy is expected to use his appearance "to attack one of his political opponents — Joe Biden."
Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH), the chair of the subcommittee, said the hearing will demonstrate that "the Biden administration is trying to censor their Democrat opponent." Jordan said he texts regularly with former Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who is now managing Kennedy's campaign.
Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), one of the most hardline members of the Senate, recently said that he hoped Kennedy "gains traction and wins the nomination." Johnson said Kennedy had "extraordinary political courage" and had earned his "respect." Kennedy has also earned public praise from Congressman Jim Banks (R-IN) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).
Kennedy's collaboration with Republicans began before his run for the presidency. Popular Information broke the news that, in July 2021, Kennedy's non-profit, Children's Health Defense, illegally donated $50,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA). This “fee,” Children's Health Defense said at the time, was in exchange for an opportunity "to educate attorneys general on health policy issues." After Popular Information's report, published in February 2022, RAGA returned the donation.
In December 2021, a member of RAGA’s leadership, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R), invited Kennedy to testify alongside him against school vaccine requirements. During his appearance, Kennedy falsely called the COVID-19 vaccine the “deadliest vaccine ever made” and peddled countless lies about the risk of the vaccine.
Kennedy has been photographed alongside right-wing figures, including Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (who called for a military coup to overturn the 2020 election), anti-vaccine profiteer Charlene Bollinger, and longtime Trump ally Roger Stone. The photo was taken backstage at Flynn’s ReAwaken America tour, a roadshow Frontline describes as a “recruiting tool” for the “Christian nationalist movement.” Kennedy has participated in ReAwaken America in previous years.
Mohan Legum provided research assistance for this report.