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Chef donations to presidential candidates appear to lean blue
Chef donations to presidential candidates appear to lean blue
Tyson Whiting

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Who Are Chefs and Restaurant Owners Donating to This Election Cycle?

Spoiler: Hillary Clinton is leading the pack

Throughout the 2016 election, Eater's column Politics Plated will investigate the surprisingly interconnected relationship between politics and the food industry. In this installment, a look at how much financial support culinary professionals and restaurant owners are giving presidential candidates.

Hillary Clinton is making a big impression on political donors in the culinary community. Chefs, caterers, cooking personalities, and restaurateurs who donate to this season's presidential candidates are more likely to give to Clinton than to any other candidate, an analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows. The former Secretary of State and First Lady has already taken more than 70 percent of the money this self-identified group has given to the current roundup of presidential hopefuls in the last two years. She also has the most culinary donors out of the five top candidates.

Past elections show that many celebrity chefs and food personalities appear to lean Democrat with their contribution dollars. Culinary masters like Marcus Samuelsson and Rocco DiSpirito have donated to Barack Obama's campaigns, for instance, while Iron Chefs Bobby Flay and Mario Batali have given to other non-presidential Democratic leaders. This campaign season, chefs, caterers, and restaurant owners donating to presidential candidates are almost twice as likely to support one of the Democrats than a Republican. Furthermore, 99.5 percent of the money they've given so far to the two remaining Democratic candidates has gone to Clinton's campaign, whose hefty list of contributors includes food industry darlings like Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis and Shake Shack's Danny Meyer. Republican donations, split almost evenly between Ted Cruz and John Kasich (Donald Trump spent much of his campaign self-financing, giving himself a late start), come primarily from local restaurants and small catering services.

Candidate Hillary Clinton visits a restaurant kitchen in New York City, April 2016. Photo: Yana Paskova/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

While America’s chefs might be leaning left, the broader food industry historically leans right, except when it comes to presidential candidates. Earlier in this series we learned that political action committees (PACs) at leading restaurant chains tend to swing Republican (possibly to leverage the millions the food industry spends on lobbying Congress). But when it comes to the presidential race, FEC data shows that out of all this season's candidates, Clinton received the most money from the food and beverage industry (more than $500,000). That includes PACs and employers associated with the industry.

But in the grand scheme of things, donations from culinary and food industry professionals don't add much to campaigns, no matter who the candidate is. Overall, contributions from chefs and restaurateurs account for less than one percent of total contributions for each of the current presidential candidates. This includes "in-kind" donations in which people give non-monetary support like free catering or discounted food to candidates. Clinton’s in-kind food donations alone — totaling about $47,000 in catered food and services — still puts her ahead of the other candidates, even when considering their monetary donations. The winning candidate won't be crowned for months, but when it comes to political contributions from the culinary community, Clinton is taking the cake.

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