John Kasich met privately with billionaire donor Ron Burkle as the Republican Ohio governor considers another run for president: Sources

  • Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is contemplating another run for president, met with billionaire Ron Burkle in March in Los Angeles, sources told CNBC.
  • It was not clear whether they discussed the possibility of Kasich making another run for the Oval Office.
  • Burkle, co-founder of investment firm Yucaipa Cos. and a part owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, donated to a pro-Kasich super PAC in 2016.
Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at a campaign rally at the Crowne Plaza Milwaukee West hotel on March 23, 2016 in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.
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Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at a campaign rally at the Crowne Plaza Milwaukee West hotel on March 23, 2016 in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is considering another run for president in 2020, recently met privately with billionaire investor and philanthropist Ron Burkle, who has a reputation for donating to candidates and causes across the political spectrum, CNBC has learned.

Kasich met with Burkle in March in Los Angeles, sources with direct knowledge of the matter said.

Kasich, who has been crisscrossing the country, was asked to host a speaking event at Burkle's home. The billionaire co-founder of investment firm Yucaipa Companies did not attend the event, the sources said.

The event at Burkle's mansion was not a fundraiser, and Kasich focused his speech, as well as a question-and-answer session, on leadership values and police reforms, according to people who attended the talk.

It is unclear whether Kasich, who is in his second term as Ohio's governor, discussed a potential 2020 run with Burkle during their meeting on the sidelines. Term limits prevent Kasich from running for a third term.

The meeting took place at a time when Kasich deliberates whether he should run for president in two years. His friends and associates have been meeting with megadonors to gauge their interest in backing him for another go at the White House, sources previously told CNBC.

According to the sources, donors have told Kasich's top political lieutenants that they would support a Kasich presidential campaign against President Donald Trump — depending on whether Republicans can hold congressional majorities this fall and how close federal investigations get to Trump. It was not clear which donors Kasich's allies talked to.

During his March stop in Los Angeles, Kasich declined to rule out a run in 2020. "All of my options are on the table," he said, according to Politico.

Kasich ran for president in 2016. He won only his home state of Ohio, while Trump systematically stacked up wins and delegates on his way to the nomination.

A spokesman for Kasich did not return requests for comment. A spokesman for Burkle declined to comment.

Burkle's political history

Burkle, who also owns a part of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins franchise, has a history of contributing to candidates on both sides of the political divide — including a hefty donation to a pro-Kasich super PAC.

In the 2008 election cycle, he gave thousands of dollars to the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama during their battle for president, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Burkle was also a longtime supporter of President Bill Clinton.

In 2016, he gave $15,400 to California Democrat Kamala Harris' joint fundraising committee, the Kamala Harris Victory Fund, during her first run for Senate and $5,400 directly to her campaign committee. During that same cycle, he gave $100,000 to New Day for America, a pro-Kasich super PAC, and hosted a fundraiser for the Republican.

Throughout 2017, Burkle directed most of his political contributions toward the cause of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. The billionaire gave $100,000 to the McCarthy Victory Fund and $89,600 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the fundraising arm for House Republicans seeking re-election.

Burkle did not make any contributions during the first quarter this year, according to federal filings.

Weighing Trump's vulnerability

Friends of Kasich say it's unclear what he will eventually decide about running for president, particularly if he would have to face Trump in a primary.

"Something would have to happen to greatly wound Trump to get that hardcore base away from him," Charlie Black, a former advisor to Kasich's 2016 campaign, told CNBC. "If the primary polling numbers continue to be where they roughly are now, nobody would run against [Trump] because it would be suicide."

If he does decide to run, he will need a big infusion of cash — which is where donors such as Burkle could come in.

While Kasich had a formidable fundraising operation, his 2016 presidential campaign committee ended up with $176,000 on hand, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. His campaign raised $18 million, while the pro-Kasich super PAC, New Day for America, brought in $15 million.

The PAC is still active and has $281,000 on hand, according to financial disclosure reports. Even though the group hasn't received many contributions this year, it brought in donations as lucrative as $100,000 in 2017.