Lengel: Can $750,000 Buy Dan Gilbert Justice in the Trump Era?

May 01, 2017, 11:00 PM by  Allan Lengel

Dan Gilbert photo by Steve Jennings

WASHINGTON -- Billionaires and their companies often donate to politicians. Why? 

The most obvious answer is for influence and access. It's the American way. Has been for a long time. Companies often have regulatory issues before Congress and they want things to go their way.

So, you might ask what does Dan Gilbert's Quicken Loans gain by donating $750,000 to President Donald Trump's inauguration? Access? Justice? The joy of seeing Trump happy?

I've written the company twice to ask that question and gotten no response. On Monday, I also called Aaron Emerson, vice president of communications, but his cell phone voice mail is full. 

Gilbert isn't the top donor for the inauguration. There's a list of folks who kicked in $1 million, according to The Center for Public Integrity. But Quicken Loans gave more than many of the nation's biggest corporations: Chevron ($525,000), American Financial Group ($500,000), Intel ($500,000) JPMorgan Chase and Co. ($500,000), Citgo Petroleum ($500,000), oil comapny BP Corporation of North America ($500,000), General Motors ($498,650), Cocoa Cola ($330,638), MetLife ($100,000).

All, obviously have an interest in policy issues inside the Beltway. 

Didn't Back Trump

What we do know is that Gilbert didn't publicly back Trump, and during the primary contributed $1.25 million to a super PAC that supported New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and $100,000 to New Day for America, the super PAC that supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich. So, he's not likely a buddy trying to support his old friend in the White House. 

The most obvious guess is that Gilbert wants the White House to know of his generosity while the Justice Department pursues its case against Quicken Loans in federal court.  

Under President Obama, the department in April 2015 alleged in a civil lawsuit that the Detroit-based mortgage giant ignored red flags on bad home loans that cost the government millions of dollars. Quicken refuses to settle, insisting it has done nothing wrong.

In March, a federal judge in Detroit denied Quicken's request to dismiss the case, setting the stage for a high-stakes trial if a settlement can't be reached. 

Stain on Quicken's Image

Gilbert would like nothing more than to make it go away. Such allegations make for bad public relations.

It would be unfair not to recognize Gilbert's contributions to Detroit. He's done some amazing things and is likely continue to do so. He's a visionary when it comes to business.  

Still, it wouldn't be right to ignore his $750,000 contribution to Trump's inauguration when he's got this big battle brewing with Trump's Justice Department.

It doesn't look or feel right, even if other corporations routinely do the same. 

At minimum, for the sake of justice, we shouldn't ignore it. 

It wouldn't look or feel right if we did. 

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