Celebrity Party: The mysterious family behind In-N-Out has donated more than $15,000 to Trump and the GOP since 2016

Celebrity Party: The mysterious family behind In-N-Out has donated more than $15,000 to Trump and the GOP since 2016

Celebrity Party:

A top In-N-Out executive and his wife have donated thousands of dollars to President Donald Trump, even as many brands shy away from associating with the president.

Mark Taylor, In-N-Out’s chief operating officer, and his wife, Traci Taylor — who is the half-sister of In-N-Out’s president and owner, Lynsi Snyder, and who lists In-N-Out as her employer — have donated more than $15,000 to Trump and the national Republican Party since August 2016.

Both Mark and Traci Taylor hit the maximum that an individual can donate to a candidate in donations to Trump in the 2016 election. In fact, both exceeded the limit and had thousands of dollars in donations returned.

Since Trump’s election, the Taylors have continued to donate thousands of dollars to Trump and the Republican National Committee.

Of the 46 top executives leading 21 major companies in the restaurant industry, Mark Taylor was one of only two who have donated directly to Trump’s campaign. The other was Paul Brown, the CEO of Inspire Brands — the parent company of Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Sonic — who paid $367.69 in January 2017 to attend “an event attended by a delegation of business leaders during the President’s inauguration,” according to an Inspire Brands representative.

“Politics aside, most executives from widely respected, major brands have avoided any connection with Trump,” Chris Allieri, the founder of the brand consultancy Mulberry & Astor, told Business Insider. “For their customers … and for their employees — an alliance with Trump and what he stands for does not make good business sense.”

In-N-Out’s Mark and Traci Taylor maxed out on Trump donations in 2016

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Mark Taylor has been a top executive at In-N-Out for more than two decades, with roughly 35 years of experience at the chain.

Taylor was at the helm of In-N-Out before Snyder — the sole granddaughter of its founders, Harry and Esther Snyder — assumed the position in 2010. In the 2000s, Taylor controlled trusts holding most of Snyder’s stake in the company. Snyder inherited these stakes when she turned 35 in 2017, taking full control of the company.

Today, Taylor is the chief operating officer. He is also Snyder’s brother-in-law, married to her half-sister, Traci; she and Snyder share a mother, Lynda Lou Perkins. Snyder is the sole child of her father, the In-N-Out heir Guy Snyder, who died of a drug overdose in 1999, meaning Traci did not inherit an ownership stake in the company.

Mark Taylor donated $2,700 — the limit for what an individual can donate to any candidate — to Donald J. Trump for President in August 2016, according to public Federal Election Commission records. Originally, Taylor made two donations of $2,700; one was returned. Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center told Business Insider that this return would typically indicate that an individual exceeded the maximum donation limit, likely by accident.

Taylor donated an additional $1,000 to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee on November 3, 2016.

The In-N-Out COO made three donations to the Republican National Committee: $200 on November 2, 2016; $100 on November 7, 2016; and $2,700 on April 11, 2017. All told, FEC data shows that Taylor donated $6,700 to Trump and the Republican Party since 2016.

Traci Taylor, who lists In-N-Out as her employer in public FEC documents, has made even more significant donations to Trump’s campaigns. She has donated $8,600 to Trump and the Republican Party since October 2016:

  • $5,000 was donated to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee on October 16, 2016; $1,000 went to the RNC, and the rest went to Trump’s campaign. Of that, $1,300 was returned so that she would not exceed the $2,700 individual donation limit.
  • $250 went to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee on May 8, 2017.
  • Another $1,000 went to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee on March 9, 2018.
  • $1,000 was donated to America First Action, a super PAC dedicated to reelecting Trump, on July 26, 2018.
  • Since July 2017, Taylor has donated $2,650 to the Republican National Committee in 20 payments, with the most recent recorded donation in late June.

Trump’s 2016 campaign seems to have motivated the Taylors (no relation to this reporter) to donate. Before August 2016, neither Mark nor Traci Taylor had donated to a federal political candidate since George Bush’s 1988 presidential run.

It is unclear what Traci Taylor’s role is at In-N-Out. The chain declined Business Insider’s request for comment on this story. Neither Traci nor Mark Taylor responded to Business Insider’s request for comment.

In-N-Out is no stranger to politics

An In-N-Out burger.
Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

While the Taylors may be new to political donations, In-N-Out is no stranger to politics.

Esther Snyder, the cofounder and longtime on-again-off-again head of In-N-Out, donated tens of thousands of dollars to the RNC and various Republican candidates before her death in 2006. There is no evidence that Lynsi Snyder, the current president, has made any political donations.

In-N-Out received backlash over a $25,000 donation to California’s Republican Party in August 2018. At the time, the company countered by saying it donated to both the right and the left.

2018 filings show that the company donated $50,000 to Californians for Jobs & a Strong Economy, a pro-business PAC led by moderate Democrats that has garnered donations from companies including Chevron, PG&E, and Walmart. In-N-Out also donated $25,000 to New Way California, a PAC founded by the Republicans Kristin Olsen, Chad Mayes, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In-N-Out’s donations were similarly split between pro-business Democrats and Republicans in 2017 and 2016, with Californians for Jobs & a Strong Economy donations balancing contributions to the California Republican Party. Before 2016, the company had not made any significant donations to either major party in California since the early 2000s.

Many fast-food chains donate to federal campaigns and PACs, typically supporting right-leaning, pro-business groups. There are no records of In-N-Out making donations to federal campaigns, PACs, or political parties, perhaps because the chain’s locations are concentrated in California.

Taylor is a rare top executive at a major fast-food chain donating directly to Trump

Trump with a fast-food feast.
Susan Walsh/AP

Restaurant industry executives have largely avoided actions that could link their companies to Trump, despite rumors about chains and executives donating to the president’s reelection campaign. While Trump has served fast food from chains including Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s multiple times for championship athletes, companies have declined to comment on the events.

Paul Brown, the other top restaurant executive to have a record of donating to Trump’s campaigns, was formerly the CEO of Arby’s, founding Inspire Brands and leading the company in acquiring Buffalo Wild Wings and Sonic. FEC records show that Brown, who has donated to the campaigns of Republican politicians including Sens. David Perdue, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey, donated $367.69 to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee on January 5, 2017.

“The donation covered the cost of an event attended by a delegation of business leaders during the President’s inauguration,” a representative for Inspire Brands told Business Insider in an email.

Business Insider examined the donations of CEOs and other top executives at 21 major restaurant companies, including included the leaders of the 20 largest chains in the US by sales, CEOs of restaurant parent companies such as Dine Brands and Inspire Brands, and executives at other well-known brands.

The most common donation for these executives was to their company’s PACs, which do not typically donate to presidential candidates.

Two former CEOs and chairmen (not counted in the 46) made major donations to Hillary Clinton: Sonic CEO Cliff Hudson, who donated more than $61,000 to Clinton in the 2016 race and left Sonic last November, and Howard Schultz, who donated $10,800 to the Hillary Victory Fund in 2016 and teased his own presidential run after officially cutting ties with Starbucks in 2017.

John Schnatter, the founder and former CEO of Papa John’s, was a rare executive who donated to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, giving $1,000. Schnatter was ousted at the pizza chain after his controversial remarks about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem and after reports that he said the n-word on a company conference call.

Trump nominated Andy Puzder, a Trump donor and the outspoken CEO of Carl’s Jr. and the parent company of Hardee’s, CKE Restaurants, as labor secretary. Puzder withdrew from consideration in February 2017 following reports that his ex-wife accused him of abuse, attacks on his business record, and backlash over his employing an undocumented person as a housekeeper. That April, he stepped down as CKE’s CEO.

Boycotts have become the norm for pro-Trump brands

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A wide range of brands tied to Trump have faced backlash in recent years.

Equinox and SoulCycle recently faced boycotts threats after news broke that their chairman, Stephen Ross, was holding a fundraiser for Trump in his house in the Hamptons, New York. Home Depot shoppers threatened to boycott it after Bernie Marcus, a cofounder who retired from the company in 2002, said he planned to donate to the president’s 2020 reelection bid. The #GrabYourWallet campaign maintains a list of companies with ties to Trump that it says opponents of Trump should avoid.

Trump supporters frequently respond to these boycott threats by doubling down on their support of the brands.

“There’s much that has been said and done by Trump and the Republican Party that wouldn’t sit well with many consumers,” Allieri said. “On the other hand, pro-Trump consumers will be angered by a so-called ‘left-leaning mob’ calling the shots.”

He added: “For a brand like In-N-Out, which has California, one of the bluest of blue states, in its DNA and has greatly benefited from Hollywood and celebrity endorsement, it doesn’t make much [sense] for its executives or founders being seen embracing Trump.”

In-N-Out is in a unique position as a private, family-owned chain, in contrast with publicly traded companies like Papa John’s, McDonald’s, or Yum Brands, which owns Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut.

Lynsi Snyder and other executives rarely give interviews, and details of the mysterious family’s private life have mostly leaked out in court filings. Snyder is famously reclusive, acknowledging having struggled with addiction and survived two kidnapping attempts before becoming In-N-Out’s president.

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