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Donors, Profiles, and Political Contributions: Case Study of Kanye West

In early June, musician Kanye West made the news for something unexpected: his political contributions and philanthropy. As a result of recent events, West donated $2 million to the families of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. As a result of the gift, Distractify decided to take a deeper dive into his political contributions over the past few years and discovered that West’s contributions have been to Democratic campaigns, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign, despite his relationship with our sitting president.

In this age of misinformation, I decided to see if I could confirm any of this giving with our prospect research resources, notably OpenSecrets. I was able to confirm the three federal contributions: $1K to Barack Obama in 2012, $15K to DNC (Democratic National Committee) Services Corp in 2014 and $2.7K to Hillary Clinton in 2015. Interestingly, West gave the maximum amount that an individual can give to a candidate with his $2.7K gift to Hillary Clinton in 2015. (The maximum has been raised to $2.8K for 2019-2020). His $15K gift to the DNC was not the maximum gift that he could have given in that year, which would have been $33.4K (now $35.5K).

It also made me curious to find out what other celebrities have given to political campaigns. Beyoncé gave $2.7K to Hillary Clinton in 2015 but Kim Kardashian didn’t yield results. Tom Hanks has been giving through the years including $2.7K to Kamala Harris in 2016.

While people have been interpreting these contributions and other local contributions to suggest that Kanye’s public politics may be different from his private politics, I have to think of a recent question about a recent profile I completed on a prospect. While political contributions are only one part of the profile, we had a specific question about a prospect’s political contributions: he told the development officer that he had given $100K and more to Democratic campaigns and we were asked why we hadn’t found that giving.

So we went back to the drawing board, and looked deeper into the prospect’s political giving. No dice. Few gifts showed up on any resources. That’s when we realized that it’s possible that he hadn’t given directly, but rather through an LLC or corporation, a shell company. Called “Dark Money,” giving from an incorporated entity would not be transparent. If you know the LLC, you might be able to glean information about political giving from the LLC, but if you do not, it’s much harder to know.

So has Kanye West given to Republican campaigns and/or Donald Trump? It’s hard to know for certain. But I think it’s a good example to understand that while there is a lot of information publicly available, a lot of information is not. As fundraising research professionals, we are familiar with the data points we can find …and that they are only a part of the story.

Want more information about political contributions?

Check out Aspire Research Group’s white paper Prospect Research and Political Contribution Data 2020.

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