Trump is rewarding big political donors with speaking time at his coronavirus briefings, and they're thanking God for his leadership

Michael Lindell, CEO of My Pillow, with President Donald Trump at the White House.

CARLOS BARRIA/Reuters

Michael Lindell, CEO of My Pillow, with President Donald Trump at the White House.

  • President Donald Trump has lavished praise on American businesses that are partnering with his administration to produce needed medical equipment to fight the coronavirus.
  • The president has also given these businesses, some of which are run by GOP donors, a platform to advertise.
  • Ethics experts told Insider that while Trump's engagement with the donors likely doesn't violate ethics laws, it reeks of cronyism.
  • "While it's nice that these business owners want to help the government fight coronavirus, it confirms that cronyism is at the root of practically every decision President Trump makes," Donald Sherman, deputy director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump has developed a mutually beneficial relationship with some of his top donors in the business world: they support him financially and he rewards them with access and, in some cases, favorable policy.

This dynamic extends to the coronavirus pandemic response. Advertisement

Trump, who has invoked the Defense Production Act to compel businesses to produce a range of military equipment, has largely refused to use that same power to help speed up the production of essential medical supplies, including life-saving ventilators, which are in short supply amid the pandemic.

Instead, the president has encouraged businesses to do "their patriotic duty" by manufacturing the critical equipment and lavished praise on those who do - particularly those companies friendly to his presidency. And he's given a host of these executives a massive public platform to advertise their businesses by giving them time to speak from the White House podium at his coronavirus press briefings.

Presidential 'cronyism'

Last week, Trump introduced Michael Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow and a major Trump donor and Fox News advertiser, as a "friend" and called his pillow sales "unbelievable." When Lindell took the podium soon after, he used his time on national television to proclaim that Trump's election was a gift from God.
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"God gave us grace on November 8, 2016, to change the course we were on," he read from prepared remarks at the Rose Garden podium. "God had been taken out of our schools and lives. A nation had turned its back on God ... Our president gave us so much hope. Just a few short months ago, we had the best economy, the lowest unemployment, and wages going up - it was amazing."

Lindell, the 2020 Trump campaign's Minnesota chair, announced late last month that MyPillow would begin producing up to 50,000 face masks for health care workers daily in an effort to make up for national shortages. The CEO told former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka last month that he was "very strongly thinking of" running for governor of Minnesota in 2022. And Lindell has told associates that Trump has urged him to run for governor, but Lindell has publicly denied talking with the president about a potential bid, Politico recently reported. Advertisement

A handful of other deep-pocketed Republican donors, including Jockey International CEO Debra Waller, have also gotten their time in the spotlight at the coronavirus briefings.

Ethics experts told Insider that while Trump's engagement with the donors likely doesn't violate ethics laws, it reeks of cronyism.

"While it's nice that these business owners want to help the government fight coronavirus, it confirms that cronyism is at the root of practically every decision President Trump makes," Donald Sherman, deputy director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told Insider.Advertisement

He added, "It's loyalty or patronage to Trump that gets you at the top of the list, whether it's a place on the White House lawn to promote your business, input in the coronavirus response, ambassadorships, and even IG positions."

Scott Amey, the general counsel and editor-in-chief of the Project on Government Oversight, told Insider that the president appears to be combining campaigning with his public health response, an unsavory if not rule-breaking practice.

"It's one thing to recognize the many companies that stepped up in the COVID-19 battle, it's another thing to cherry pick his supporters and provide them with an endorsement and free infomercial," Amey said. "The president shouldn't merge his election campaign and the needs of the public during the COVID-19 crisis and he seems to be doing that by giving his supporters airtime." Advertisement

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