WASHINGTON — Team Hillary — despite all her problems.
That could be the fashion and retail industry’s nickname this election season as a slew of designers and retail industry executives not only have held fund-raising events for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over the last six months, but have made contributions of their own as well.
They have stayed with her through a wave of controversies, from her speeches to Wall Street to questions over the Clinton Foundation to the scandal over her private e-mail server. That scandal again reared its head on Friday when the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was investigating further e-mails possibly pertaining to Clinton that had recently been discovered. FBI Director James Comey said he did not know how long the new review would take or whether the emails are “significant.”
But throughout all the controversies, the fashion and retail worlds have stuck with the Democratic presidential candidate. It’s perhaps not surprising the fashion world is a strong Clinton backer since the same group lined up firmly behind Barack Obama when he was running for president in 2008 and 2012. The industry — at least its designers — are generally liberal in their politics.
But as the election clock ticks down to seven days to go — and Clinton having a substantial lead in numerous polls — what has been possibly the most contentious, and perhaps low-brow presidential race in U.S. history, has had both candidates scurrying to raise as much cash as they can.
All told, Clinton’s campaign has raised about $445 million, while outside groups, such as Super PACs, have raised an additional $171.2 million for her coffers in this two-year election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Her Republican rival Donald Trump’s campaign has raised $218 million – $50 million of which came from his own money — and outside groups have raised about $214.5 million. The fund-raising gap has been seen as one of Trump’s many weaknesses in the campaign, along with the lack of grassroots organization that goes along with that.
Fashion industry executives and employees are helping build the coffers of the two candidates, with their contributions to Clinton significantly outpacing their donations to Trump, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission records done for WWD by the Center for Responsive Politics in this election cycle that began in January 2015.
There were 29 retailers and brands included in the analysis. According to the data from January 2015 through Sept. 30, department store, mass retail, specialty store and apparel brand executives and employees gave a combined $628,305 to Clinton, almost 200 times more than the $38,077 they contributed to Trump. Contributions from executives and employees in the analysis included such companies as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle Outfitters, Nike Inc., Macy’s Inc., the Estée Lauder Cos., Under Armour, L Brands and VF Corp.
Both the Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart and Macy’s have interesting stakes in the race, given that Clinton lived in Arkansas when her husband Bill was the state’s governor (and constantly reminds middle American voters of that fact), while Macy’s has had a war of words (and wallets) with Trump after dropping the tumultuous tycoon’s suits and ties after his comments on immigration during the primaries.
By category, donations also heavily favored Clinton. In the apparel and accessories store group, the Democratic candidate received 94 percent of the contributions. She also received 94 percent of the contributions in the miscellaneous retail store category. From employees and executives at department, variety and convenience stores, Clinton received 91 percent of the contributions, and from catalogue and mail-order houses, she received 64 percent.
Designers and industry executives who have given personally to Clinton so far include Tory Burch, Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Prabal Gurung, Vera Wang, Leonard Lauder, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Diane von Furstenberg and Ralph Lauren, whose suits the candidate wore during at least two of the three presidential debates (putting him in pole position perhaps to design her inaugural gown should she win).
Some also contributed greater amounts to Clinton’s “Victory Fund,” a joint fund-raising committee that has much higher caps on giving and is used to disburse funds to the candidate and several committees, including the Democratic National Committee and state committees. Burch, Wang and Lauder each gave $33,400 to the Victory Fund, while Klein gave $43,400 to the fund, according to FEC records.
The fashion world’s fund-raising for Clinton even stretched to New York Fashion Week last month, when the campaign held a fashion show and fund-raiser for her at Spring Studios. Anna Wintour, Conde Nast’s artistic director, pitched in to help orchestrate the event which was attended not by Clinton but by her daughter, Chelsea. Designers such as Thakoon, Jason Wu, Georgina Chapman, von Furstenberg, Burch and Brett Heyman have also designed campaign merchandise for Clinton, following similar efforts many made for her first presidential bid in 2008.
The surprising thing about the FEC records is the contribution gap between Clinton and Trump. The New York real estate mogul is a fixture on the Manhattan business and social scene and one would assume that top executives — who typically lean conservative — would line up behind Trump. But his views on trade, immigration and the latest scandal involving his comments on women have alienated many in the business community.
He has been criticized for reportedly having his signature suit collection made abroad while railing against companies that outsource U.S. jobs. Trump has also threatened to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, pull out of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and impose tariffs on imports from China and Mexico.
Clinton has also been criticized for her antitrade rhetoric on the hustings and her opposition to TPP, but the business community appears more hopeful that she will support at least some pro-trade policies should she reach office.
Several chief executive officers who have directly donated to the GOP presidential candidate in the past did not give directly to Trump in this election cycle, although they may have given to Super PACs supporting Trump.
Four years ago, the industry’s individual contributions were more evenly divided between Obama’s reelection bid and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, with the edge going to Obama.
An analysis of the retailer and brand contributions from employees and executives showed Obama netting 53.9 percent and Romney with 45.9 percent in April 2012.
Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said it was not surprising to see a shift in the industry’s contributions in this election cycle.
“Trump is a wild card. For business people, he represents uncertainty,” Krumholz said. “I don’t think that Trump as with other business has developed long-standing relationships like Clinton obviously has. I don’t think he has aggressively sought their support. My sense is that like others in the business community there is a sense of anxiety about the uncertainty attendant with a Trump presidency.”
Krumholz said Clinton has represented New York as a senator and can build off of those relationships as well as a fund-raising framework that she has built over the past 30 years in public office.
“So it is not at all surprising to me that there is a pretty substantial gap between the amount she’s raised and that Trump has raised so far,” she said. “These donors, maybe because they are excited to have the first female nominee run for the White House or maybe because she has worked these relationships over many years,” are giving to Clinton.
On the point that Trump does not appear to be receiving individual donations from some retail executives who have supported GOP candidates in past elections, Krumholz chalked it up to his unconventional style of campaigning.
“It’s not surprising to me that the retail end of things would be more conservative generally in their donations,” Krumholz said. “It’s like Hollywood. It’s the studios versus the creative. Here, too, you have designers who tilt liberal and the business side of things tilting more conservative. But they do hedge their bets, typically giving to those in power and those who have the ability to deliver their legislative agenda, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, even though they are perhaps more ideologically aligned with the GOP.”
Julia Hughes, president at the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, also pointed to the uncertainty of a Trump presidency.
“One of the most interesting things about the 2016 elections is that basically there is no traditional Republican in the race,” Hughes said.
She said many in the fashion industry have supported past GOP candidates because they represent a party that is trade and business-friendly.
“But obviously what we are seeing for brands and retailers in this campaign is that no one is supporting trade,” Hughes said. “Trump absolutely has been contradictory in many of his messages, so uncertainty both at the business level and I think at a personal level undoubtedly is reflected in campaign contributions.”
She said upheaval in politics is bad for consumer confidence.
“Trump is very unpredictable,” Hughes added. “People may or may not support Clinton’s policies, but you know what her policies are, whereas Trump is just too erratic to attract a lot of support from business professionals.”
Phillip Swagel, a professor of international economic policy at the University of Maryland and former Treasury Department official under President George W. Bush, said Trump is “such a profoundly flawed candidate, particularly on economic policy, that it seems reasonable that even Republican-leaning industry figures are supporting Clinton.
“Trump is especially poor on economic policies relating to international trade and other types of global engagement that matter so much to the industry,” Swagel added. “And then, of course, there are the issues of temperament and judgment. Secretary Clinton is far from a perfect candidate, but to these executives it must seem that Trump is much worse.”