The need for strong, independent local journalism
is more urgent than ever. Please support the city we
love by joining Friends of Willamette Week.

Donald J. Trump Is Visiting Portland. Major GOP Donors Are Running Away.

Mitt Romney's Oregon and Washington fundraising chairman endorses Hillary Clinton.

Typically, a presidential candidate's visit to a city goes like this: The campaign schedules a stop, and as public anticipation builds, major donors line up to host a fundraising dinner.

But Donald J. Trump isn't a typical candidate, and Portland isn't his city.

Last week, the Trump campaign announced the Republican presidential nominee would swing through the Pacific Northwest this month, visiting Seattle on Aug. 30 and Portland on Aug. 31.

But over the weekend, those plans ran smack into a Little Beirut backlash—culminating with Trump's Oregon finance chairman declaring he would have nothing to do with the nominee.

On Aug. 6, The Seattle Times uncovered an invitation to a $2,700-a-person fundraising event in Seattle. WW reported that three prominent Portland businessmen were listed as hosts of the Seattle event: hoteliers Gordon Sondland and Bashar Wali, and private equity manager Peter Stott.

Within 48 hours of the report, all three men disavowed the Trump campaign, saying their names had been placed on the invitation without their approval, and they would not participate in any fundraisers for Trump.

Now the chairman of onetime Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Oregon and Washington fundraising efforts tells WW he will endorse Hillary Rodham Clinton.

David Nierenberg, a Southwest Washington investor, was one of eight original national finance chairs for Romney for President. He says he's backing Clinton because Trump lacks "the basic human decency" to be president.

"I don't want to bequeath that kind of leader to my kids' generation," Nierenberg says. "I owe them better."

Nierenberg has closely watched the GOP donor class fleeing Trump. "We're now at the point where the most productive fundraising members of our team are not helping the Trump campaign," he says. "Gordon [Sondland] is a truly prolific fundraiser."

The key figure in the mess is Sondland, who owns stakes in five downtown Portland hotels: the Lucia, deLuxe, Sentinel, Westin and Benson. He and Wali, president of Sondland's company Provenance Hotels, pointed to Trump's anti-immigrant statements and his war of words with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.

"Historically, Mr. Sondland has been supportive of the Republican Party's nominees for president," Provenance spokeswoman Kate Buska told WW in an Aug. 7 statement. "However, in light of Mr. Trump's treatment of the Khan family and the fact his constantly evolving positions diverge from their personal beliefs and values on so many levels, neither Mr. Sondland nor Mr. Wali can support his candidacy."

But Sondland appears to have been supporting Trump's candidacy for more than a month. On July 1, the Republican National Committee listed Sondland among 80 Republican donors who had agreed to be "bundlers" for Trump Victory, an independent fundraising committee. As Oregon finance chairman, Sondland would help recruit other GOP donors for Trump.

And the Seattle invitation lists Sondland as co-chairman of Trump Victory's chapter in Oregon and Washington.

Sondland's spokeswoman confirms he initially agreed to be part of the Trump fundraising team.

"Mr. Sondland, as a lifelong Republican, fully expected to support the Republican nominee and originally agreed to be listed as such on certain campaign materials," Buska tells WW. "Once it became apparent he could no longer support the nominee for the reasons previously given, Mr. Sondland resigned from all campaign-related activities, including the Victory campaign."

Stott, who is a trustee at Portland State University and longtime donor to Republican candidates, says he asked Trump fundraisers to take his name off the Seattle invitation. "While I have been a longtime supporter of Republican candidates and causes, I have no role in the Trump campaign and did not approve the use of my name in conjunction with any Trump campaign event in Seattle," Stott tells WW in a statement.

The flurry of donors distancing themselves from Trump comes as the Republican nominee continues to slide in national polls, following the party conventions and his repeated anti-Muslim screeds, including attacks on the Khans.

The controversy also raises questions about what kind of reception Trump will get in Portland, where protesters have a long tradition of trying to disrupt Republican visits. The Trump campaign told WW last week it hopes to hold a public rally in Portland along with its private fundraising dinner but is still looking for a venue.

Trump's Oregon campaign director, Jacob Daniels, says he doesn't know much about the retreating donors.

"It's between these particular donors and the fundraising committee," Daniels tells WW. "My job's to win votes for Mr. Trump out here in Oregon, not to fundraise."