The billionaire helping Trump hold on to his real estate


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This is an onsite version of the US Election Countdown newsletter. You can read the previous edition here. Sign up for free here to get it on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Email us at electioncountdown@ft.com

Good morning and welcome to US Election Countdown. Today we’ll be getting into:

  • The billionaire behind Trump’s $175mn bond

  • A swing state Trump rally

  • The latest polling figures

Subprime auto loan billionaire Don Hankey came to Donald Trump’s rescue earlier this week when his company Knight Insurance agreed to underwrite the former president’s more palatable, reduced $175mn bond.

The posted bond has prevented New York state from seizing his assets — particularly his prized real estate — while he appeals a $464mn fraud judgment.

Before New York attorney-general Letitia James more than halved the original bond, Trump’s lawyers said 30 surety companies refused to underwrite such a large amount.

Hankey, whose net worth is estimated by Forbes to total $7.4bn, told the Associated Press that Trump put up cash and bonds as collateral to Knight, but gave no details about how much the bond will cost the former president. While Hankey’s company first approached Trump’s team about the deal, the billionaire told the AP that his decision was a business one — not political. 

Yet, Hankey is also a Republican donor. He gave more than $100,000 to the Republican National Committee for the 2016 election and has supported previous Trump runs. He also has a $200mn stake in Axos, an online-only bank that is one of Trump’s largest direct lenders, making him the group’s biggest shareholder.

The auto lender is used to doing risky business. He has said that two mistakes he made early in his career were to do business only with honest people and to trust his gut to identify them.

But some of Hankey’s companies have been accused of being dishonest with their customers, too. In 2015, the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ordered two such companies, Westlake Services and Wilshire Consumer Credit, to pay nearly $50mn in combined restitution and fines. Learn more about the man who rode to Trump’s rescue — and his financial empire. [Free to read.]

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Campaign clips: the latest election headlines

A montage featuring one of the stories on the Chicago City Wire website
Pink slime sites mimic local news providers but are highly partisan © FT Montage
  • Partisan sites funded by dark money are masquerading as legitimate local news outlets, and they’re getting more sophisticated ahead of November’s election. [Free to read]

  • Fed chair Jay Powell has said the US’s inflation fight “is not done”, an important economic message to voters straining under higher interest rates.

  • Joe Biden’s relationship with corporate America is complicated as he courts executives with listening sessions but bristles them with his tax and regulatory plans. (NYT)

  • Trump and the Republican party raised $65.6mn in March, ending the month with $93.1mn in cash on hand. (Politico)

  • A new poll has Trump leading Biden in six of seven swing states, with the president ahead only in Wisconsin. (WSJ)

  • Nato is planning a $100bn “Trump-proof” defence fund for Ukraine as the Republican frontrunner continues to oppose more direct aid for Kyiv.

Behind the scenes

Trump has been campaigning in swing states this week, and on Tuesday Wisconsonites braved freezing rain, snow and gusting winds in Green Bay to pack the city’s convention centre. The FT’s Joshua Chaffin sent this dispatch:

A vigorous Trump arrived from neighbouring Michigan, another Midwestern battleground state, and played the standards. He saluted his patriots while vowing to defend them against communists, fascists, Marxists, squatters, the fake news media, and — to the crowd’s greatest delight — illegal immigrants.

“We’re going to have the largest deportation ever,” the former president promised, as the crowd roared. (“Get ‘em out of here!” someone shouted.) Trump also drew particularly strong reactions when promising “to keep men out of women’s sports” and stamp out critical race theory.

“The people are what makes it,” Melissa Sample, 56, a bar owner who drove three hours from LaCrosse, Wisconsin, said of the unique atmosphere of a Trump rally. Afterward, as the snow fell outside, she lingered by the stage, talking with new friends with a shared love of Trump. “Everyone was like family,” she explained.

Datapoint

With Biden and Trump so dominant in the race, it can be easy to forget that there are actually other presidential candidates.

The Democratic and Republican nominees are joined by the dynastic Robert F Kennedy Jr and leftist academic Cornel West running as independents, and the Green Party’s Jill Stein. The No Labels group also hopes to field a candidate.

The danger third-party candidates pose to the two major parties is that they can siphon off votes, potentially tipping the scales when there are thin results margins.

Bar chart of 14 per cent of Americans would vote third-party in a five-way match up, polls show showing Independent Robert Kennedy Jr. stands to win more than 10 per cent of the vote

At this stage in the race, the Biden camp seems more worried than the Trump campaign about independent candidates peeling off potential supporters. For the first time, the Democratic National Committee has set up a team dedicated solely to squashing third-party candidates, and has accused American Values, a super Pac backing RFK Jr, of violating campaign finance laws.

With seven months until election day nothing is set in stone, but RFK Jr currently holds 10 per cent of voters’ support in a five-way RealClearPolitics polling average. This is particularly notable in what is expected to be a tight race. But Kennedy has his work cut out for him. Utah is the only state that has confirmed he is on the ballot.

Viewpoints

  • Democrats need to push on their abortion advantage and turn the issue into Trump’s Waterloo, writes Edward Luce.

  • Billionaires’ love for Trump is politically naive, Simon Kuper argues.

  • As tyranny’s appeal seems to grow around the world, Martin Wolf reminds us that democracy is still better than autocracy.

  • As RFK Jr fights his way on to state ballots, it will matter most if people are able to vote for him in the six battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, says Jim Geraghty. (Washington Post)

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