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Trump: Fund-raiser backlash makes SoulCycle owner Stephen Ross ‘hotter’

Steven Ross, who is scheduled to host the president at his Southampton home in August, owns spin studio chain SoulCycle.
Steven Ross, who is scheduled to host the president at his Southampton home in August, owns spin studio chain SoulCycle. (hang W. Lee/The New York Times)

NEW YORK — President Trump began a fund-raising swing through the Hamptons on Friday, a visit that’s spurred threats of boycotts and employee complaints against high-dollar donors for supporting a leader many Democrats say is racist.

The president landed just before noon and traveled to the first of two fund-raisers, each closed to media. He’s scheduled to fly on to his New Jersey golf course later Friday.

One of the fund-raisers is being held by Stephen Ross, a real estate developer who owns Related Cos LP, stakes in upscale fitness facilities, and the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. Celebrities and social media users have threatened to cancel their memberships to Equinox Fitness Club and its indoor-cycling subsidiary SoulCycle after Ross agreed to host a fund-raiser for Trump at his Southampton home.

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Trump praised Ross as a ‘‘great friend’’ and ‘‘very successful guy,’’ and insisted the scrutiny will actually be positive. ‘‘The controversy makes Steve Ross hotter,” Trump said.

Prominent investment and real estate executives have been invited to Ross’s fund-raiser, according to names provided by a person familiar with planning for the event, and they too may find themselves facing a backlash should they attend.

Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills criticized Ross for hosting the event, tweeting that the team owner couldn’t promote equality in sports and “then open your doors to Trump.”

Celebrities including model Chrissy Teigen and actors Billy Eichner, Amber Tamblyn, and Sophia Bush tweeted they would stop going to Equinox and SoulCycle gyms.

“I rode with SoulCycle for more than 5 years,” Tamblyn tweeted. “To think the money I spent on your classes went into the pockets of Stephen Ross and therefore fund-raisers for the likes of Donald Trump are unacceptable. As long as he owns you, I will not be riding.“

Trump has long been a lightning rod on the left, but criticism of his anti-immigrant and racial rhetoric has grown heavier recently, after Twitter attacks on minority lawmakers, and especially since a pair of shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, last weekend that left at least 31 dead.

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The two Hamptons fund-raisers are expected to raise a combined $10 million, according to a Republican Party official.

SoulCycle chief executive Melanie Whelan issued a statement on Wednesday attempting to distance her company from the Ross fund-raiser.

“SoulCycle in no way endorses the political fundraising event being held later this week,” Whelan said, going on to describe Ross as a “passive investor” not involved in the company’s management. “SoulCycle has nothing to do with the event and does not support it.”

Equinox issued a similar statement, saying that it had been contacted by many members expressing concerns about the fund-raiser.

And Ross himself looked to quell the controversy, issuing a statement to the Miami Herald saying that he’s known Trump for 40 years and that he preferred to “engage directly” in the democratic process.

“While we agree on some issues, we strongly disagree on many others and I have never been bashful about expressing my opinions,” Ross said, adding that he would continue to be “an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education, and environmental sustainability.”

People invited to the Ross fund-raiser include the two adult children of John Catsimatidis, owner of the Manhattan grocery chain Gristedes Foods Inc.; and Ronald Lauder, an Estée Lauder Companies Inc. heir who’s president of the World Jewish Congress, according to a person familiar with the invitations.

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The invitation to John Catsimatidis Jr. and Andrea Catsimatidis comes after their father — a prolific donor to both Republican and Democratic campaigns who served as a member of Hillary Clinton’s finance team during her 2008 presidential campaign — publicly declined former Vice President Joe Biden’s request for fund-raising assistance earlier this year, saying he would continue to support the president.

Other invitees include K2 Advisers co-founder William Douglass, General Atlantic LLC chief executive Bill Ford, New York real estate developer Richard LeFrak, Harbor Group chief executive Michael Liebowitz, Cantor Fitzgerald chief executive Howard Lutnick, and cryptocurrency entrepreneur and former “Mighty Ducks” child actor Brock Pierce, according to the person familiar with the invitations.

Liebowitz confirmed he would attend. Other invitees didn’t immediately respond to calls and messages left at their offices or with representatives. Tickets to the event will range from $100,000 for lunch and a photo with the president, to $250,000 for a package that also includes a roundtable discussion with Trump.

Trump will hold a second Hamptons fund-raiser at the “Sandcastle” mansion owned by developer Joe Farrell, which celebrities including Justin Bieber and Madonna have rented for summer vacations.

Tickets to that event -- hosted by the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., his girlfriend and former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, and New York Representative Lee Zeldin -- range from $2,800 to $250,000, according to an invitation obtained by Bloomberg. Zeldin greeted Trump at the airport for his arrival on Friday.

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The Sandcastle property has become a familiar spot for high-profile Republican events and played host to the 75th birthday party for former New York mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani earlier this year. Guests will wander a 17,000-square-foot property with 11 bedrooms, 17 bathrooms, a baseball field, a bowling alley, a DJ booth and recording studio, a skateboard halfpipe, a tree house, a yoga studio and a 60-foot-long pool with an underwater sound system, according to the New York Post.

Farrell, a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, told the tabloid that the home rents for as much as $1 million per month in the summer and has been booked for five straight years. Jay-Z and Beyoncé, who rented the mansion in the summer of 2012, paid $400,000 for their rental.

Those shelling out for the most expensive tickets offered to Friday’s event will receive two photos with the president, eight tickets to a reception that Trump is attending, and access to a “VIP After-Party.”

The high-dollar events will benefit a joint fund-raising committee for the president’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee. The president has sought to tap a network of high-dollar Republican donors that largely shied away from his first campaign. Trump also seeks to extend an immense cash advantage over Democrats, who’ve struggled to match Republican fund-raising efforts that have been under way since the president’s inauguration.

The president’s re-election campaign raised $56.7 million in the last quarter alone, while the RNC banked $51 million during that period. The Trump campaign and the joint fund-raising committees have $80 million cash on hand and the RNC has $43 million in the bank, according to the campaign.

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Democratic primary contenders collectively raised $131.6 million in the same quarter, but no individual candidate topped $25 million. The 22 Democratic campaigns active in the second quarter reported a combined $140 million in the bank at the end of June. Most of that money was raised for the primaries, not the general election.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.