The Real Deal New York

The son-in-law also rises: For Jared Kushner, championing Trump marks break with Democratic past

Kushner Cos. CEO was an active donor to liberal politicians in NJ, NY

March 10, 2016 02:40PM
By Konrad Putzier

Donald Trump speaking in Greenville, SC (credit: Donald Trump campaign) and Jared Kushner

Donald Trump speaking in Greenville, SC (credit: Donald Trump campaign) and Jared Kushner

UPDATED, 7:58 a.m., March 11: These days, political observers may recognize Jared Kushner as the man who stands on stage at some campaign events next to his father-in-law, Donald Trump.

“Jared is a very, very successful real estate entrepreneur in Manhattan,” Trump told supporters at his New Hampshire primary victory party in February. “But he likes this better than real estate I think.”

Whether out of political conviction or family obligation, the CEO of development firm Kushner Cos. is now a high-profile supporter of the Republican Party’s front-runner. But until 2014, Jared, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, was a reliable and influential patron of the Democratic Party.

His paper, the New York Observer, was the first in the city to endorse Barack Obama for president in 2008. “It was hard for me to do,” said Jared in an interview for a book about the Observer, “because I really like Hillary a lot and respect her, and she’s as stand-up as they come as a person. But I felt that Obama would be a great president for the country at the time.”

And he has a long history of financially supporting Democrats: In 2014, he donated $10,000 each to the New Jersey Democratic State Committee and the New York State Democratic Committee, according to data from watchdog site OpenSecrets. In 2013, he donated a combined $20,800 to the U.S. Senate campaign of then-Newark mayor Cory Booker and $5,200 to Sean Eldridge’s unsuccessful congressional campaign.

Jared declined to comment for this article. But OpenSecrets data show that between 1992 and 2004, 44 political donations of $1,000 or more were made in his name, and with the exception of four of those donations to then-New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 1999, all went to Democrats. In 2000 and 2003, Kushner made four donations totaling $6,000 to Hillary Clinton – now the Democratic front-runner and someone who Trump said he hasn’t “even started” going after.

Jared was a teenager or college student when many of these pre-2004 donations were made, and it isn’t clear to what degree he was actually behind them. In 2005, his father Charles Kushner pleaded guilty to charges of making illegal campaign contributions (among other things). According to news reports, he avoided contribution limits in part by donating through different entities and under the names of relatives.

Charles, whom Jared succeeded as CEO of the family firm after his 2005 incarceration, is known as a long-time supporter of the Democratic Party in New Jersey. According to New York magazine, he gave more than $1.5 million to Jim McGreevey in his 1997 and 2001 New Jersey gubernatorial campaigns.

Jared’s brother Joshua, a co-founder of health insurance startup Oscar and venture capital firm Thrive Capital, which is a significant investor in the real estate technology space, is also no stranger to the Democratic Party. In October 2013, he donated $4,950, the maximum amount permitted, to Bill de Blasio’s mayoral campaign, according to New York City campaign finance records.

While Charles was a highly visible figure in New Jersey politics, seeking direct contact with powerful politicians and briefly securing a post on the Port Authority’s board, sources said his son is less politically active.

“The situation with Charles which transpired significantly decreased the public profile of the Kushner family in politics,” Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, told The Real Deal. Unlike other real estate scions like Rob Speyer, Jared isn’t prominently involved in industry groups like the Real Estate Board of New York, according to well-connected lobbyists.

“He’s never been involved in politics, doesn’t necessarily like politics and isn’t particularly politically attuned,” one consultant said.

Now, Jared is taking a more visible role in politics for the first time. His father also appears to be in the Trump camp: In August, Charles hosted a fundraiser for Trump in his New Jersey home and also gave $100,000 to a Super PAC supporting him, according to Politico. And in one of the many ironies of the Trump campaign, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who prosecuted the case against Charles, is now Trump’s most important cheerleader.

One political consultant who spoke on the condition of anonymity suggested that Jared’s new political allegiance has little to do with actual politics. “Not everyone realizes that he’s in the family. It would look terrible if he didn’t back Trump,” he said. “He’s given a pass on this.”

This story was updated to include a remark Jared Kushner made about Hillary Clinton and his paper’s Obama endorsement.