President Trump has been a big booster of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and, according to a new BuzzFeed article, many in the UFC are all in for the president in return.
For BuzzFeed, Tarini Parti noted in an April 23 article that Donald Trump has been supporting the UFC since the early 2000’s. Some lawmakers began to denigrate the sport as “human cockfighting,” but Trump stepped up when lawmakers began making noises about banning or heavily regulating the sport. Trump, Parti noted, held two UFC events 20 years ago at his Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.
Now, Parti reports, “the former co-owners of UFC are returning the favor: Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta III, who sold UFC for $4 billion in 2016, have quickly become among the president’s biggest, early re-election supporters.”
The Fertitta brothers are grateful to Trump who “had their back when a lot of others didn’t.”
But apparently, it goes farther than that, too. The Fertittas and other UFC officials are very impressed with Trump’s pro-business agenda. So, they are now jumping in as big donors for the president’s 2020 re-election.
The brothers, their families, and their company have already contributed about $5.3 million to Republican candidates and groups that disclose their donors since Trump took office. Their giving includes a $1 million-check each — their largest single donation ever — to a pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, Inc., the group’s latest fundraising reports show.
Frank Fertitta and Fertitta Entertainment also gave a combined $707,000 to the president’s inaugural committee, bringing their contribution total since Trump’s election to more than $6 million. Days before Trump took office, members of the family celebrated with administration officials, with Frank Fertitta III’s daughters, Victoria and Kelley, posing for pictures with White House counselor Kellyanne Conway during the inaugural festivities.
The Fertittas have “significantly increased their contributions since Trump became involved in politics, and even more so since he took office,” Parti added.
While the brothers do have a long record of supporting Nevada Democrat Harry Reid and have made many donations to the Democrat Senate campaign arm, their more recent donations have leaned far more toward the GOP.
“Before 2016, the Fertittas together gave less than $800,000 in each of the 2012 and 2014 election cycles and contributed a chunk of their giving to Democrats,” Parti reported. “In the last presidential race, they increased their giving to $5.7 million, and now — still eight months away from the midterm election — they have already surpassed their 2016 total.”
Besides giving to the Trump group and inauguration, they’ve also contributed $500,000 each to a super PAC trying to protect the GOP majority in the Senate and hundreds of thousands more to Republican party committees.
In addition to their contributions to the president and prominent GOP groups, a super PAC created in July of 2017 also appears to be tied to the Fertitta brothers. About two-thirds of the contributions, or $105,000, to the group Fighting for Nevada come from two companies owned by the Fertittas, Station Casinos and Zuffa LLC, a BuzzFeed News review of federal records shows.
Titans of Nevada gaming industry have typically given to both major parties, but with the Fertittas beginning to favor the GOP. “Frankly, it’s a big statement,” Nevada GOP strategist Zachary Moyle told BuzzFeed.
BuzzFeed goes on to claim that the brothers are leaning ever more toward Trump because they fear government regulations and many proposed regulations are being revisited.
Still, there are ongoing federal efforts for tighter control on mixed martial arts and the UFC. Some fighters and others have pushed for Congress to expand 2000’s Muhammad Ali Act, which is intended to protect boxers, to include the mixed martial arts industry. Republican Rep. Markwayne Mullin, a former MMA fighter himself, reintroduced a bill expanding those protections in the House last January, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the issue last November. The UFC is adamantly opposed to the measure and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby against it.
‘The biggest thing when (the Fertittas) owned UFC was deregulation, especially in the sports world,’ said the source who knows the brothers, pointing to efforts to gain acceptance from states. ‘I think they see that with the administration, there’s a whole bunch of regulations that they’re pulling back. That’s what aligns with what the administration is doing.’
Trump has shown an affinity for “combat sports,” BuzzFeed notes. But there is also an “overlap,” Parti says, between the UFC and the Trump administration:
There’s also overlap between those who have worked for UFC and those who have worked for the administration: Steven Cheung, the White House’s director for strategic response, was formerly a director of communications for public affairs at the UFC; and Michael Britt, formerly a lobbyist for UFC, worked as a senior adviser in the Department of Transportation under Trump. Britt now serves as a lobbyist for Fertitta-owned Station Casinos.
But while the Fertittas brothers — now former owners of the UFC — are big Trump fans, Parti points out that current UFC chief Dana White is far more connected to the Democrats.
Trump did meet with White and pronounced the UFC head “a very good friend,” Parti points out that White’s co-owner, Ari Emanuel, is linked to Trump accuser Stormy Daniels. Emanuel, Parti reminds her readers, is also, “a donor to President Obama and brother of his former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.”
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.