In her six-year quest to become a political player, former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon has spent money like a drunken sailor on steroids.
In two unsuccessful runs for a U.S. Senate seat from Connecticut, Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Small Business Administration blew through a total of $97 million, only to get smacked down twice. And the level of her giving during the 2015-2016 election cycle catapults her into the big leagues alongside multimillion-dollar contributors such as Republican casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, and Democrat George Soros.
But both Adelson and Soros are serious billionaires – Adelson is No. 22 on the 2016 Forbes list of the world’s richest people, with a net worth of $25.2 billion, and Soros is No. 23 with $24.9 billion. While Forbes says Linda McMahon’s husband, Vince, is worth $1.1 billion, her individual wealth, while substantial, is nowhere near the titans at the top.
Still, in just the 2015-16 election cycle alone, she donated more than $6.2 million to support the Trump candidacy, according to Open Secrets at the Center for Responsive Politics, and gave a total of more than $4 million to the Republican National Committee, Senate Leadership Fund, state Republican organizations, GOP super PACs and individual candidates.
For example, McMahon gave more than $500,000 to elect Republican senators and coughed up $200,000 for the Trump-supporting super PAC Future45, to which the Adelsons contributed $10 million. That put her at around the same level as hedge fund billionaires Paul Singer of Elliott Management and Ken Griffin of Citadel, who each gave $250,000 to Future45.
Another donor to Future45 was TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, who gave $1 million and whose son Todd, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, has been nominated for Deputy Commerce Secretary.
McMahon gave $500,000 to the ESAFund (formerly the Ending Spending Action Fund), a group started by Joe Ricketts to address the debt crisis and support candidates who want to rein in government spending.
Wealthy businesspeople spending big for a place at the political table is nothing new. Michael Huffington, heir to a natural-gas fortune and married to Ariana Huffington (who later divorced him and founded The Huffington Post), spent more than $5 million in 1992 to win election as a Republican representative from California. He then ran through $28 million in 1994 in an unsuccessful bid for a Senate seat. Adjusted for inflation, that’s a total of about $53.5 million and at the time was considered an astounding sum.
But Huffington’s folly was a pittance compared with what Mike Bloomberg spent to be mayor of New York three times. His last term cost him $102 million, The New York Times estimated in 2009, and the bill for his three elections added up to more than $260 million – or over $292.5 million in 2016 dollars.
Bloomberg, though, is worth $36 billion to $48.8 billion, depending on whose calculations you believe. He also never lost.
Even though Vince and Linda McMahon were the largest outside donors to the Trump Foundation – contributing $5 million between 2007 and 2009 – old pal Trump was apparently not her first choice for president.
Between June 2015 and January 2016, months before she ponied up for Trump, McMahon gave $550,000 to a super PAC supporting the presidential candidacy of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. She also gave $12,700 to the campaign of Trump another rival, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.
After McMahon’s second senatorial defeat in 2012, she told journalist Diane Brady: “The way it’s framed is that I’m trying to buy the election for my own personal gain. What would be my personal gain? I’m not looking for a new career. I’ve had a wonderful career. I was hoping to bring a different voice and perspective and use my skills that have been honed as a CEO in bringing people together. I’ve had a little bit of fame and fortune. I’ve been in the public eye. I wasn’t looking for a hobby.”
And certainly it would be unfair to suggest that the 68-year-old McMahon knows nothing about the business of the SBA, the agency she has been nominated to lead. She and Vince McMahon, who have been together since they were teenagers in North Carolina, struggled as they built their small business into what has become a multi-billion-dollar professional wrestling empire.