Political Contributions: Fashion’s Heavy Hitters Support Candidates With Cash

This year’s campaign trail has been a bumpy one, filled with a global health pandemic, a volatile stock market, the death of a Supreme Court justice and tens of millions of unemployed U.S. workers. The hospitalization of President Trump late last week for the coronavirus — as well as the infection of First Lady Melania Trump, several senators and other government officials — added yet another curveball.  

Adding to the tension are millions of Americans — still fearful of the virus themselves — who have opted for mail-in voting.

Either way, with just 28 days until Nov. 3, one embarrassingly vituperative presidential debate behind the nation — and two more to go — Trump and former vice president Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, are in an all-out sprint in the race for the Oval Office.

But the road to the White House has never been an easy — or inexpensive — one. The large number of candidates who vied for the country’s highest office early on — including Kanye West’s brief plans to run  — plus Trump’s fund-raising ability and several key senatorial races have made this the most expensive election in U.S. history, with spending estimated to hit $10.98 billion by Nov. 3, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

With so much at stake for both sides of the political divide, heavy hitters from nearly every industry have donated to causes and candidates. The fashion industry is no different. 

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While companies are generally prohibited from using business funds to contribute to a candidate or campaign directly, they can hire lobbyists or lobbying groups that work to influence decision-makers in Washington. Individuals, though, can contribute as they like. Candidate contributions are capped at $2,800 per election. (Individual contribution limits for one election cycle, which includes a primary and main election, equals $5,600.) The limits on how much individuals can contribute to campaigns or political action committees is much higher — sometimes in the six-figure range. While super political action committees, or super PACs, can raise funds without any legal limits.   

Since the early Nineties, employees at fashion and apparel companies have continued to increase their individual contributions year over year — peaking during the 2015 to 2016 election cycle at $6.6 million. From 2019 to 2020, the same category of people have contributed just $3.5 million, 64 percent to Democratic candidates and campaigns and 36 percent to Republican candidates and campaigns. That includes all elections during that time period: primaries, congressional and presidential.

Further complicating matters is that donors are expected to report their contributions to the Federal Election Commission but contributors are not fined if they report incorrectly. For example, there are a multitude of donors who report their names spelled incorrectly, either because they don’t want their contributions showing up in public documents, or because of simple error, making it more difficult to keep track of contributors. Alex Baumgart, an individual contributions researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan nonprofit, said it’s the job of watchdog groups like his to try to keep track of contributions. 

As for donations by the fashion industry, they historically bear shades of both red and blue come election time, Baumgart said, only polarizing more dramatically during the two most recent presidential elections.  

“There’s a degree of parity there between the parties for the most part; they’re giving to Dems and Republicans in fairly equal proportions,” he said. 

So far this year, employees at clothing companies and brands have contributed $172,663 to Biden, versus $113,031 to Trump, for example. (Additional funds have been contributed by fashion companies and brands to both Republican and Democratic campaigns and PACs.)    

President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate. Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

Still, it’s also hard not to notice some glaring trends in the fashion world — like the predisposition of designers and celebrities to swing blue, while retail executives are more likely to lean right. 

Like-minded political thinkers also appear to congregate within companies. As is the case with Levi’s and Jordache. Employees at Levi Strauss & Co. donated a total of $487,171 between 2019 and 2020; $477,421 of those funds have gone to the Democratic Party, which includes the Democratic campaign, candidates and PACs. Meanwhile, associates at jeans and apparel rival Jordache Enterprises, which also includes brands such as Earl Jeans and XOXO, have donated a combined $386,101 during the same period; $385,500 of those funds have gone to the Republican Party. Fashion companies are hardly the only example of this.

Levi’s Hello Kitty-inspired jeans. Courtesy of Levi's

Baumgart pointed out that large donations tend to come from a relatively small number of sources. 

“Most of these big contributions are from single executives,” he said. “The chances of the person selling the jeans or making the jeans contributing significantly to those totals in a meaningful way is going to be pretty low, just because traditionally those small-dollar contributions are dwarfed by the millions that a single executive can give to an outside group.” 

At Levi’s, Robert Haas, chairman emeritus and chief executive officer of the company from 1984 to 1999, as well as Levi’s chairman of the board from 1989 to 2008, and his wife Colleen, gave $277,200 out of the $487,171 to various Democratic organizations, such as the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign. 

Joseph Nakash, cofounder and ceo of Jordache Enterprises. contributed $385,000 to Trump and the Republican National Committee, out of the total $386,101 contributed by Jordache employees.

But while fashion figures and retail executives are often quick to publicly endorse a candidate — Anna Wintour and Cardi B are calling for voters to support Biden — few are willing to discuss their political contributions. 

Cardi B Stephane Feugere/WWD

Designers Vera Wang, Michael Kors and Tom Ford have all also donated tens of thousands of dollars to various political action committees and candidates this election cycle. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos donated millions. None of them returned calls seeking comment.

At the same time, fashion firms are contributing to lobbying efforts for causes they care about. Some are expected, i.e. taxes and trade issues. Others reveal a bigger shift among society’s most pressing concerns, such as increased contributions toward environmental causes, including climate change. 

Meanwhile, contributions to Congress illustrate perhaps the largest political divide. Employees in retail and clothing companies have contributed more than $1.09 million to Democrats in 2020, indicating their eagerness to flip control of Congress. Employees in the same industries have donated just $369,071 to Republicans in Congress this year. 

Here, WWD compiles a snapshot of where companies and individuals in the fashion and retail industries are putting their money this election cycle. 

Individual Contributors From the Fashion and Retail Industries

Source: Federal Election Commission

Fashion/ Retail IndividualDescription of Contributions
Stacey BendetThe founder, ceo and creative director of fashion brand Alice + Olivia has contributed to a number of Democratic candidates over the years, including $2,800 to Joe Biden in March 2020. Bendet also donated $2,700 to Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris in January 2019.
Chip BerghThe president and ceo of Levi Strauss & Co. donated $5,000 to Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kelly in October 2019.
James BersaniThe president of real estate at L Brands, parent company to Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, contributed $1,000 in April 2019 to political action committee International Council of Shopping Centers, of which he has donated to every year since 2008.
Jeff BezosThe founder of Amazon has a long history of donating to political candidates and political action committees. Although Bezos’ candidate contributions swing back and forth between the Democratic and Republican parties, with all but one of his contributions to candidates being to the Republicans since 2014. (Bezos donated $5,400 to U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington State, in August 2017.) His most recent contribution was in September 2018 when he contributed $5,400 to Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner. Bezos has also contributed a number of times to political action committees run by Amazon and Blue Origin, Bezos’ aerospace manufacturer, in the last few years. Bezos’ largest contribution — and perhaps most telling — was to cross-partisan group the With Honor Fund, in the amount of more than $10.1 million in August 2018. In addition, both of Bezos’ parents, Miguel and Jacklyn, separately donated more than $2 million each to With Honor Fund.
Timothy BoyleThe chairman, president and ceo of Columbia Sportswear donated to a number of Democratic candidates over the years. Most recently, he contributed $50,000 to political action committee Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic group, in July 2020. That’s on top of $100,000 to the same organization in November 2019. Boyle also donated $5,000 to political action committee Committee for a Livable Future in December 2019. In addition, he contributed $19,500 to a number of Democratic candidates this year and last, including $2,800 to Joe Biden in November 2019.
Stuart BurgdoerferThe executive vice president and chief financial officer of L Brands and interim ceo of VS Newco donated $1,000 to Kamala Harris in October 2019, despite having contributed to a number of Republican candidates and the Republican National Committee in the past. (In 2012, he donated $15,000 to the Republican National Committee.)
Emanuel ChiricoThe chairman of PVH Corp. contributed $5,600 to U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, (D-N.Y.), in June 2020. However, in past years, he’s donated to Republican candidates, including the Republican National Committee.
Brian CornellThe board chairman and ceo of Target last donated in February 2018 $5,000 to the Retail Industry Leaders Association. He donated $5,000 to the same group in 2017. In early 2016, he donated $2,700 to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, which is also the headquarters of Target Corp.
William T. DillardThe Dillard’s heir has a long history of donating to a number of Republican candidates, in addition to the RNC, over the years. Most recently, $500 to Republican Congressional candidate Leo Valentin in June 2020 and $500 to U.S. Representative for Florida Daniel Webster in January 2020. In 2016, he donated $800 to Donald Trump.
Mary DillonThe ceo of Ulta Beauty donated $1,000 to Kamala Harris in July 2019. She also donated to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
John DonahoeNike’s president and ceo donated twice to a political action committee named “Nike Inc.” in 2020, totaling $625.
Tom FordThe designer and filmmaker, who also serves as chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, has contributed heavily to the Democratic party over the years. Most recently, Ford contributed $2,800 to Kamala Harris in February 2020 and the same amount to Joe Biden in May 2019. He’s also contributed to a number of Democratic-leaning political action committees, including $100,000 to Swing Left in October 2019. In August 2018, the designer contributed $25,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Mohamed HadidThe real estate developer — and father to model siblings Gigi, Bella and Anwar Hadid — has donated to various Democratic parties for years. Most recently, he donated $1,500 to Kamala Harris in January 2019.
Richard A. HayneThe ceo and chairman of the board of Urban Outfitters donated a combined $6,100 to Republican candidates in 2020, including Pat Toomey and Martha McSally.
Gabriela HearstThe designer has donated heavily to the Democratic party for years. In 2020, she has donated $7,400 to the Democratic National Convention. She wrote a check for another $2,700 to the DNC in 2019, in addition to a number of Democratic candidates.
Tommy HilfigerThe designer is a longtime supporter of the Republican party. In 2017, he donated $5,400 to Donald Trump. That same year, he donated $29,600 to the Republican National Committee. That’s on top of a $24,600 contribution to the same committee the year before. He also donated $5,400 to Donald Trump in 2016. Before that, Hilfiger had a history of supporting the Democratic party, including total contributions of $98,200 to the Democratic National Committee between 2016 and 2013. He also donated to a number of Democratic candidates, including Barack Obama in 2012.
Paris HiltonThe model, reality star and fragrance mogul contributed $3,000 to former Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives Jimmy Crumpacker in February 2020.
John D. IdolThe chairman, ceo and director of Capri Holdings Inc., parent company to the Versace, Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo brands, has a long history of donating to a number of Republican candidates and causes over the years. Most recently, Idol donated in April 2019 to One Georgia PAC, a Republican leadership group. But his biggest contributions came in 2016, when he donated $33,400 to the Republican National Committee, and in 2012, when he contributed a total of $188,400 to a number of Republican causes and candidates, including $7,100 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, $7,100 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, $30,800 to the Republican National Committee and another $50,000 to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee dedicated to electing Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Todd KahnThe interim ceo and brand president of Coach, as well as parent company Tapestry’s chief administrative officer, contributed $500 to Joe Biden in May 2020.
Donna KaranThe designer donated $7,300 to Joe Biden in 2020. She also donated $1,000 to political action group Everytown for Gun Safety Victory Fund in November 2019.
Chad KesslerThe American Eagle global brand president last donated $250 in 2018 to Democratic U.S. Congress candidate Rick Neal.
Karlie KlossThe model — and wife of Joshua Kushner, younger brother to Jared Kushner, senior adviser to President Trump and Ivanka Trump’s husband — donated $250 in June 2020 to political action committee Fair Fight, which works to protect the rights of voters.
Michael KorsThe designer has donated heavily to both the Democratic party and Democratic candidates over the years. Most recently, Kors donated $35,500 to the Democratic National Committee, in August 2020. In January 2020, he contributed $70,000 to Swing Left, a progressive political action committee, on top of $5,000 to the same organization in 2019. He’s also donated to a number of Democratic candidates, including $2,800 to Joe Biden in March 2020 and $2,800 to Kamala Harris in November 2019.
Doug McMillonThe president and ceo of Walmart last contributed $384 to a political action fund owned by Walmart in January 2016. McMillion has a history, though, of contributing to Republican candidates, including U.S. Rep. Steve Womack in November 2013 and Sen. John Boozman in June 2013, to which he donated $2,600 and $500, respectively.
Shelley MilanoThe executive vice president and chief human resources officer of L Brands, contributed $500 to Kamala Harris in October 2019. In 2016, Milano also contributed to then Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Rebecca MinkoffThe designer donated in August 2018, when she contributed to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the U.S. Representative from New York, who is a Democrat.
Joseph NakashThe cofounder and ceo of Jordache Enterprises, has a long history of contributing to the Republican party. Most recently, Nakash contributed $35,500 to the Republican National Committee. That’s on top of contributions of $100,000 and $244,400 in May and December 2019, respectively. In May 2019, he also contributed $5,600 to Trump’s campaign.
Sarah NashThe chair and ceo of Novagard Solutions — and independent director on the L Brands board — contributed $250 to Kamala Harris in June 2019.
Richard A. NollThe former Hanesbrands ceo has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to a number of Republican candidates and the Republican National Committee this year. In 2020 alone, Noll has donated $100,000 to the RNC and $12,700 to a number of Republican candidates. Last year, Noll contributed $17,800 to Republican candidates, including $2,800 to Donald Trump in May 2019. He also donated another $29,400 to the RNC in 2019.
Sarah Jessica ParkerThe actress and designer contributed $250 to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, in January 2020.
Mark ParkerThe executive chairman of Nike has donated to several times to political action committee named “Nike Inc.” in 2020, totaling $4,163.
Kevin PlankThe Under Armour founder, executive chairman and brand chief last donated in 2015, when he donated to both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican Jeb Bush, who also ran for president in 2015 and early 2016.
Steve RendleThe chairman, president and ceo of VF Corp. last donated in June 2018, when he contributed $2,700 to Democratic candidate Kathy Manning.
Tracee Ellis RossThe star of ABC’s “Black-ish” and founder of hair brand Pattern contributed $1,167 to Kamala Harris in 2018.
Sonia SyngalThe ceo of the Gap donated $2,000 to Democrat U.S. Sen. and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris in May 2019.
Julie WainwrightThe founder and ceo of the luxury consignment shop The RealReal is a longtime supporter of the Democratic party. Wainwright contributed $2,800 to the Democratic National Committee in 2020, in addition to another $500 to the National Democratic Training Committee. She also contributed $2,800 to Joe Biden in May 2020. That’s on top of another $2,000 donated to Biden in 2019 and a number of other Democratic candidates and PACs.
Alice WaltonOne of the heirs to the Walmart fortune, and sister to Jim Walton, contributed to both Democratic and Republican causes and candidates. In 2020, Alice has contributed $30,000 to various left-leaning political action committees and $11,200 to Democratic candidates. She’s also donated $11,200 to support Republican candidates this year.
Christy WaltonIn 2020, the widow of heir John Walton contributed $40,000 to The Lincoln Project, a left-leaning political action committee formed by ex-Republicans with the intent of preventing Donald Trump from being reelected. She also donated $5,600 to U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey in February 2020, $25,000 to the LGBTQ Victory Fund in December 2019, $100,000 to cross-partisan group the With Honor Fund in December 2019, and $100,000 to political action committee No Labels Action in November 2019, among other organizations.
Jim WaltonThe heir to the Walmart empire has a long history of contributing to the Republican party. In 2020 alone, he has contributed $20,000 to the Republican party of California. He also contributed $142,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, in addition to right-leaning political action committees and a total of $33,600 to a number of Republican candidates.
Lukas WaltonThe grandson of the founder of Walmart contributed $11,200 to Democratic candidates in 2020, including $5,600 to Joe Biden. He also contributed $142,000 to the Democratic National Committee and another $5,000 to left-leaning political action committee Great Lakes PAC.
Samuel Robson WaltonThe oldest heir to the Walmart fortune — and retired chairman of the board of directors of Walmart Inc. — has donated $142,000 to the Democratic National Committee in 2020. He’s also donated $5,600 to Joe Biden. In August 2020, he donated $10,000 to the Democratic party of Iowa. And in July, he donated $1.25 million to the political action committee LCV Victory Fund, which works to support candidates who back clean energy.
Steuart WaltonAnother member of the Walton family, Steuart Walton is an entrepreneur and founder of several companies, in addition to a member of the Walmart board of director. Steuart has a history of contributing to Republican candidates and committees, including $106,500 to the National Republican Congressional Committee between 2019 and 2020. He also donated $5,600 to U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, a Republican from Arkansas, in March 2020.
Vera WangThe designer has donated heavily to the Democratic party over the years. In 2020 alone, she gave Joe Biden’s campaign $5,600 and shelled out another $94,400 to the Democratic National Committee. In 2016, she contributed to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Leslie WexnerThe founder and chairman emeritus of L Brands has a history of contributing to both Republican and Democratic candidates. Most recently, in December 2019, Wexner contributed $,2800 to U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, a Republican from Ohio, where L Brands’ headquarters is located. In September 2019, Wexner donated $5,000 each to political action committees Georgetown Co.; “L Brands”; Support to Ensure Victory Everywhere PAC, a Republican group, and Promoting Our Republican Team PAC. Meanwhile, Abigail Wexner, Leslie’s wife and a member of the L Brands board, contributed $2,982 to the Democratic party of Montana in August 2020. A month earlier, in July 2019, Abigail contributed $8,400 to Biden’s campaign, in addition to a number of other Democratic candidates. Abigail’s contributions to political action committees, though, span both sides of the political divide. She gave $5,000 to the With Honor Fund in December 2019 and $50,000 to political action committee EDF Action Votes, a group that works to promote the goals of the Environmental Defense Action Fund. Abigail also gave $5,000 each to Republican political action committees Promoting Our Republican Team PAC and Support to Ensure Victory Everywhere PAC in April 2019, in addition to $100,000 to political action committee New Day For America in March 2019.
Anna WintourThe Vogue editor in chief and Condé Nast artistic director has been supporting the Democratic party and its candidates for years. Most recently, Wintour donated $2,800 to Kamala Harris in April 2019. That’s in addition to the $16,800 she contributed to a number of other Democratic candidates in 2019. The editor has also donated to Hillary Clinton ($8,700 between 2005 and 2016) and former U.S. President Obama ($5,750 between 2008 and 2011). But Wintour’s biggest contributions were to the Democratic National Committee ($113,100 between 2008 and 2016). She also has helped raise millions for Democratic candidates through fund-raisers and other activities.
Mark ZuckerbergThe founder of Facebook donated a total of $10,000 to a political action committee, owned by Facebook, between 2018 and 2019. Most recently, he donated $501 to U.S. Rep. Katie Porter, a Democrat, in June 2017. Zuckerberg’s wife, Priscilla Chan, has also donated to a number of political action committees, also owned by Facebook, over the last five years. The most recent was a contribution of $5,000 to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Apparel and Accessories Companies Contributing to Lobbying Efforts, 2020

Source: Senate Office of Public Records

Company Partial List of BrandsContributions to Lobbying GroupsPartial List of Causes
VF Corp.The North Face, Vans, Kipling$660,000Natural Resources, Trade, Clean Air
Gitman & Co.Gitman$400,000Apparel & Textiles, Trade
Tom James Co.Tom James$380,000Apparel & Textiles, Trade
Hanesbrands Inc.Hanes, Champion, Maidenform, Bali$340,000Taxes, Trade
Levi Strauss & Co.Levi’s$220,000Trade, Apparel & Textiles, Taxes
Gildan ActivewearGildan Activewear$140,000Trade
Under Armour Inc.Under Armour$120,000Trade
W Diamond GroupW Diamond Group$80,000Apparel & Textiles, Trade
Oros ApparelOros Apparel$70,000Federal Budget & Appropriations
Color Image ApparelColor Image Apparel$60,000Defense
KeringGucci, Alexander McQueen, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga$60,000Law Enforcement & Crime
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.Fruit of the Loom$40,000Transportation, Taxes, Energy
Columbia Sportswear Co.Columbia Sportswear$40,000Trade
Hickey-Freeman Co.Hickey Freeman Tailored Clothing$40,000Apparel & Textiles, Trade
Ann Inc.Ann Taylor, Loft, Lane Bryant$30,000Trade
Hardwick ClothesHardwick Clothes$20,000Apparel & Textiles, Trade
PVH Corp.Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, True & Co.$20,000Trade

Top Employees Contributions in Clothing Companies, 2018 -2020 Election Cycle 

Source: Center for Responsive Politics

CompanyRepublican ContributionsDemocratic ContributionsLiberal Groups ContributionsUnknown ContributionsTotal Employee Contributions
Levi Strauss & Co.$865$477,421$13,150$487,171
Jordache Enterprises Inc.$385,500$1,101$0$386,101
Global Brands Group Holding Ltd.$2,327$173,223$50,000$223,550
Columbia Sportswear$625$63,841$150,000$214,624
Hanesbrands$157,510$7,253$0$164,781
Capri Holdings Inc.$15,600$49,916$65,000$130,516
Tory Burch LLC$437$121,236$5,250$126,923
Michael Stars$0$64,162$29,000$68,662
VF Corp.$34,808$27,819$0$63,656
Dharma Joy (vegan clothing company)$58,485$0$0$58,485
Under Armour$2,174$50,808$0$53,739
Moda Operandi$0$46,800$0$100$46,900
Republic Clothing Group$40,303$5,644$0$45,977
Bonobos (owned by Walmart)$0$41,999$0$10$42,009
Herman Kay$21,200$12,800$0$34,000
United Legwear$33,600$191$0$33,791

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