Real estate donors backing Biden over Trump

Industry from which the president hails has put more money toward his challenger

National /
Sep.September 10, 2020 05:00 PM
President Donald Trump and Joseph Biden (Getty, iStock)

President Donald Trump and Joseph Biden (Getty, iStock)

As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on real estate, industry donors are siding with Joe Biden over President Donald Trump, records show.

They have so far given $17.1 million to the former vice president’s campaign and political action committees backing him, and $15.6 million to Trump, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group which tracks money in U.S. politics.

Although markets have prospered under presidents of both parties, Republicans have long been regarded as more business-friendly. And Trump hails from the real estate world. Investors, however, value certainty above just about everything else — and the chaos of Trump’s first term has driven some real estate players to retract their support.

Some longtime Trump backers are holding off on donating to his campaign, while prominent figures in New York City real estate, where Trump got his start, are betting on Biden. Other firms are hedging their bets by giving to both candidates.

Backing the Democratic challenger might open the door for stricter regulation of capital markets and higher taxes on the wealthy, but many in the real estate industry are willing to take that chance or feel the tradeoff would be worth it.

“A competent, rational and scientific-based response to Covid is essential for the real estate industry,” said developer Douglas Durst, chairman of the Durst Organization, who put $14,000 into Biden’s campaign.

The Trump administration has in the past drawn enthusiastic support from the real estate industry, and continued to do so in 2020. Nonetheless, support for his opponent surged in this election cycle.

Real estate industry executives who backed Biden this year include Charles Bendit, co-CEO of developer Taconic Investment Partners, who donated $2,800 to Biden’s campaign in January, and Scott Rechler, CEO of RXR Realty, who donated $50,000 in June.

Bendit declined to comment on his donation, but said investments in infrastructure and affordable housing are both “sorely needed” in New York City, where his firm is based. A spokesperson for RXR declined to comment.

Norman Radow, CEO of Atlanta-based developer Radco Companies, gave $250,000 to Biden’s campaign. Jeff Worthe, president of Worthe Real Estate Group, a Los Angeles-area developer, gave $100,000, as did Dan Tishman, vice chairman of Tishman Realty, and affordable housing developer Jonathan Rose.

Wayne Jordan, CEO of Oakland-based investment and office development firm Jordan Real Estate Investment, also donated $100,000 to Biden. Michael Van Konynenburg, president of investment bank Eastdil Secured, gave $50,000.

Rose, Tishman and RADCO Companies declined to comment. Jeff Worthe, Wayne Jordan and Van Konynenburg did not return requests for comment.

Campaign contributions are public, and industry sources who previously donated to Biden said privately they are wary of drawing the ire of Trump and his supporters for backing the Democrat directly. Many instead gave generously to political action committees which spend for things like television ads on Biden’s behalf.

George Marcus, who heads real estate brokerage Marcus and Millichap as well as Essex Property Trust, a publicly traded real estate investment trust which owns more than 60,000 apartments on the West coast, is a prolific Democratic donor.

Marcus and his wife Judith backed Biden last May, chipping in $2,800 to the candidate, but have yet to donate directly to Biden this year. Marcus is not sitting out the race, however; he has sent nearly $4.5 million to political action committees which spend on Biden’s behalf.

A spokesperson for Marcus declined to comment.

Joe Gebbia, co-founder of Airbnb, which is preparing an IPO, in January gave $100,000 to Unite The Country, a PAC that has spent $22 million for Biden. Kenneth Fisher, co-managing partner of New York City-based real estate investment firm Fisher Brothers, donated $50,000 to the same committee. Stewart Bainum Jr., who heads up Choice Hotels, a hotel franchisor that operates 7,100 hotels and senior housing facilities, donated more than $600,000 to Biden’s campaign directly and later $2 million to Unite the Country.

Fisher declined to comment. Gebbia and Bainum did not return a request for comment.

Most firms chose one candidate or the other, but records also showed splits at companies — even at the top.

Stephen Schwarzman, a strong and vocal supporter of Trump’s and CEO of Blackstone Group, the world’s largest commercial landlord, donated $3 million to America First Action, a PAC that supports the president. Jonathan Gray, president of Blackstone, has put more than $1.3 million toward Biden and other Democrats in this election cycle.

A person familiar with the firm’s thinking noted that its employees’ donations to Biden far outnumbered those to Trump. Blackstone declined to comment.

It is not the only firm to back both sides.

Related Companies’ top brass Jeff Blau and Stephen Ross donated $35,500 each to Senate Republicans, and a high-profile fundraiser Ross hosted for Trump last year caused a backlash that the Hudson Yards mogul later said he regretted.

A spokesperson for Related said the company has funded both sides and that employees at the firm have supported or plan to support Biden’s campaign. Ross has declined to say how he will vote in November.

Although the country is perhaps more politically divided than ever in advance of a presidential election, many in the real estate industry are more focused on what will follow it.

“The last thing markets want is uncertainty,” said Jon Woloshin, who heads real estate at UBS Global Wealth Management. “Once we know who is in the White House and who controls Congress, then we can talk about policy.”


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