One of the donors behind No Labels’ bid to get a third-party candidate on the 2024 ballot has close financial ties to Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law.
Drew McKnight and his wife, Amy, each gave $5,600 to the self-described “nonpartisan” group last year, according to a list of 36 contributors to No Labels published last month by Mother Jones. But Drew McKnight’s connection to Kushner has not been previously reported. He is the co-CEO of investment firm Fortress Investment Group, having been appointed to the role earlier this year after five years as a managing partner. Over that time, the firm has had several high-profile business deals with Kushner Companies, the Kushner family real estate business.
No Labels is trying to raise $70 million to place a third-party candidate on the presidential ballot, but it has so far refused to reveal the financial backers for this campaign. The group claims its goal is to create a space for centrists who are fed up with partisan politics, so it’s curious that the organization would accept money from someone closely tied to a member of Trump’s inner circle.
No Labels is “extremely clearly to me, speaking frankly, just a Republican ratfuck operation,” said Pat Dennis, the president of super PAC and Democratic opposition research group American Bridge, of the revelation. “Really just [an] incredibly dangerous effort and in bad faith.”
Neither McKnight nor No Labels had responded to The New Republic’s requests for comment at time of publication.
Fortress loaned Kushner Cos. $57 million in October 2017, for a project to develop two residential towers in New Jersey. While Jared Kushner had allegedly stepped down from his family business by then to focus on helping his father-in-law at the White House, his ties to the family company were never fully severed.
Kushner Cos. had come under fire just a few months earlier, when company president Nicole Meyer (Kushner’s younger sister) pitched the New Jersey project to potential Chinese investors. She specifically mentioned her brother’s role at the White House. The company later apologized for name-dropping Kushner—but the incident still spoke volumes as to how the Kushner family does business.
While the sizable 2017 loan did not fund the entire project, this wasn’t the first (or last) time Fortress and Kushner Cos. had worked together. A Kushner spokeswoman confirmed that the company has had a long history with Fortress. “Kushner Cos. and Fortress Investments have been long-time partners in various real estate transactions over the years,” Kushner spokeswoman Christine Taylor told Barron’s in 2018. “We have had many successes together and value their faith in our business.”
A few years later, in November 2022, Kushner Cos. made an unsolicited bid to buy rival real estate firm Veris Residential Inc. Veris initially rejected the takeover attempt, in part because the offer “grossly” undervalued the company. Fortress came to the rescue once more, offering to help fund Kushner’s takeover bid. Kushner Cos. ultimately pulled out of talks to buy Veris in January, but recall that at the time of Fortress’s offer, McKnight was managing partner at the firm.
“Those kinds of relationships are built on relationships,” Dennis said of Fortress and Kushner. “You do favors for each other, and you make deals that ultimately are profitable but, you know, you’re helping each other out in different ways.”
One of those deals just might be spoiling an election. McKnight donated to No Labels in August 2022, just a few months before Fortress joined Kushner Cos.’ takeover bid. While his total contribution seems small in the grand scheme of No Labels’ $70 million fundraising goal, McKnight’s donation was part of an initial round of fundraising that No Labels quickly spent on ballot initiatives.
Nearly all of that seed money went to a Virginia-based consulting firm specializing in ballot initiatives and state petition drives. The firm’s chief consultant, Michael Arno, told Mother Jones the main goal was to “get No Labels ballot access” across the country.
Dennis slammed the campaign as “incredibly dangerous.”
“If No Labels was acting in good faith here, they would have made completely different decisions at every step of this process,” he said.
Political strategists and even former allies of the group warn that No Labels could actually hand the election to Trump. Historically, third-party candidates have performed poorly in presidential elections, typically receiving (at best) a sliver of the electorate. The exceptions (Theodore Roosevelt in 1912; Ross Perot in 1992) prove the rule. But a third-party candidate could peel critical votes away from Biden while Trump cruises to victory.
Another outcome could be that a third candidate prevents anyone from getting 270 electoral votes, meaning that state delegations in the House of Representatives pick the winner. If Republicans maintain their state-delegation majority in the next Congress, it would almost certainly swing for Trump.
No Labels has pledged to back out—if Trump does not get the GOP nomination. The current runner-up is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has signed some of the most extreme laws in the country, targeting women, people of color, and LGBTQ people.
The organization has also accepted more than $100,000 from Harlan Crow, the billionaire and Nazi-memorabilia collector now infamous for giving Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas hundreds of thousands of dollars in luxury vacations, private school tuition, and real estate purchases. Crow helped attract new donors to No Labels, as well.
So maybe, even as it insists that it doesn’t stand on either side, No Labels doesn’t actually stand for anything at all. Jim Messina, who ran Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, suggested to TNR’s Daniel Strauss in May that No Labels’ efforts instead are about power.
No Labels CEO Nancy Jacobson and her husband Mark Penn “are sort of no longer relevant within the [Democratic] party,” Messina said, “so now they’re going outside the party looking for relevancy.”