While the owner of the Equinox, Blink, SoulCycle, and Pure Yoga brands has presented himself as bipartisan in his participation in politics, his record indicates that he has been far more generous to Republicans than to Democrats.
“I started my business with nothing and a reason for my engagement with our leaders is my deep concern for creating jobs and growing our country’s economy,” Stephen Ross, the founder and chairman of The Related Companies, the parent of the fitness brands, said in a statement. “I have been, and will continue to be, an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education, and environmental sustainability, and I have and will continue to support leaders on both sides of the aisle to address these challenges.”
Ross was caught up in controversy when the Washington Post reported on August 6 that he would host an August 9 fundraiser for Donald Trump’s re-election campaign at his Hamptons estate. There were immediate calls for boycotts of the fitness brands, and the Equinox and Blink subsidiaries issued statements asserting that Ross was merely a “passive investor” in the companies. Ross issued his statement on August 7. The Related Companies, which is privately held, bought Equinox in 2005 for $505 million.
“I always have been an active participant in the democratic process,” he wrote. “While some prefer to sit outside of the process and criticize, I prefer to engage directly and support the things I deeply care about. I have known Donald Trump for 40 years, and while we agree on some issues, we strongly disagree on many others and I have never been bashful about expressing my opinions.”
While Ross has donated to the federal political campaigns of Democrats, notably to Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Jerry Nadler, both of New York, he has also donated to plenty of Republicans who hold or sought seats in the US Senate or the House. The greater difference is in his support for political action and party committees.
In the current election cycle, Ross has given just under $50,000 the Republican National Committee (RNC) and $33,600 to National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). He gave $10,000 to the Democratic Party of Virginia.
In the 2017-2018 election cycle, Ross gave $150,000 to the RNC; $150,000 to Team Ryan, a joint fundraising committee headed by run by Republican Paul Ryan, now the former House speaker; $67,300 to the NRSC; and $10,000 to a PAC headed by Representative Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican. He gave $20,000 to the New Jersey State Democratic Committee and $10,400 to a PAC headed by Democrat Joe Crowley, who was defeated in the 2018 primary by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to represent a district of Bronx and Queens taxpayers.
In the 2015-2016 election cycle, he gave $200,000 to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican PAC, $100,000 to the RNC, $66,400 to the NRSC, and $86,600 to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). He gave $50,000 to the Fighting for Ohio Fund, a PAC run by Republican Senator Rob Portman and $50,000 to We the People, Not Washington, a PAC that was supporting Republican former New York Governor George Pataki’s quixotic run for president. The Democratic PAC Floridians for a Strong Middle Class received $50,000. These donations represent contributions to PACs and committees above $10,000 and are taken from Federal Election Commission (FEC) records. Ross has donated in amounts at $10,000 or less to other PACs and committees. A cursory review of FEC records suggest that most of that cash went to Republican entities.
In New York State, where there are not many Republicans to donate to, Ross has spread the wealth among Democrats and Republicans giving $55,000 to Governor Andrew Cuomo, but also $27,603 to Rob Astorino, the former Westchester County executive who ran against Cuomo and lost in 2014.
Ross’ political donations in New York City are minimal. Where The Related Companies has distinguished itself here is in lobbying city officials on the local real estate projects the company has launched, including the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle and, more recently, the Hudson Yards development. From 2014 through mid-2019, the company has spent just over $440,000 lobbying City Council members, including Council Speaker Corey Johnson; Emma Wolfe, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s chief of staff, and other members of the de Blasio administration; borough presidents; and other city officials.
Trump attended two fundraisers in the Hamptons on August 9. The second was hosted by Joe Jarrell, a developer who builds luxury homes in eastern Long Island. Published reports put the combined take of the two events at $12 to $13 million.
The news of the Ross fundraiser sparked protests in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City and calls on social media for people to end their memberships at the clubs.
“Even if he were giving more money to Democrats, I would still boycott Equinox and SoulCycle,” said Michael Petrelis, an activist who organized a protest outside of a SoulCycle outlet in San Francisco. “The corporate leaders who are donating to Trump, regardless of any donations they may have made to Democrats, have given a reason for us to hold them accountable.”
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