John P. Cook, Governor Charlie Baker’s campaign finance wizard, created a lot of chatter within Massachusetts GOP circles when he was seen close to President Trump at a Mar-a-Lago charity fund-raising event last weekend.
Baker, a Republican, refused to endorse Trump in last year’s election. But his chief money-man was caught on camera just a couple feet from him, according to a photo snapped by the Palm Beach Daily News.
Also awkward? Baker was also hanging around Palm Beach over the weekend, raising funds just a few miles away for his presumed 2018 campaign (Baker has yet to officially announce his re-election).
Cook, who is a financial adviser at UBS Financial Services in Boston, was apparently as surprised as anyone when the President took a seat next to him. But his explanation for their impromptu meeting helps solve the mystery as to why Trump was showing up to an event to raise money for Boston’s Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
Cook said he attend the fund-raiser at the invitation of one of his UBS clients. That client, whom he declined to identify, also knew Trump — apparently well enough that the he was able to slip out of the gala to find the President elsewhere on the Mar-a-Lago campus and persuade him to stop by the Dana Farber gathering.
That set off all kinds of bells and whistles in the media and political circles. First, no one could make the connection between Trump and Dana Farber. In fact, the medical facility was taking a huge amount of flak for holding the event at Trump’s so-called Winter White House.
Trump’s appearance, news media noted, was not on his schedule.
In an interview, Cook said he merely had some “small talk” for a few minutes with Trump before the President changed seats and that there was no mention of Baker.
Meanwhile, Baker, coming close but never getting too close to Trump, was also moving around Florida’s Gold Coast over the weekend, sweeping up cash for his political operations.
On Saturday, the governor and the Massachusetts Republican Party threw a fund-raising event for the state GOP at the famous, historic, five-star luxury hotel, The Breakers in Pam Beach — just a few miles north of Mar-a-Lago.
The GOP declined to say how much was raised. But that haul could be huge, considering the Daedalian fund-raising scheme that Cook created, allowing Baker and his political crew to raise millions of dollars in individual donations — of $43,300 and more — using federal campaign finance laws. The state law limits annual contributions to his committee to $1,000.
Baker spent Sunday filling up his own campaign committee’s bank account — already at a record $4.7 million for a sitting governor a little over two years into his term. He went up the east coast to Vero Beach for a fund-raiser and then back that evening for another reception at The Breakers.
Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.