Meet Kelly Craft, the billionaire Republican donor poised to become ambassador to Canada

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau details NAFTA talks with U.S. President Donald Trump at G7 – May 27, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump has, five months after taking office, nominated his pick for ambassador to Canada.

Once the U.S. Senate approves her nomination, Kelly Knight Craft – a wealthy Republican donor with family ties to the coal industry – will become the 31st United States ambassador to Canada, and head to Ottawa for as long as Trump keeps her in the post.

Kelly Knight Craft, the big-time donor

Kentucky-based Knight Craft is well known among Republicans, to whom she has donated piles of money.

In two donations last year, she gave a total of US$265,400 to Trump’s campaign, and in July, she gave almost US$17,000 to the Republican National Committee.

Additionally, she made dozens of contributions in 2016 to Republican funds and candidates across the country. Not one of those donations was less than four figures.

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Kelly Craft, seen here at the Chairman’s Global Dinner in Washington D.C. on Jan. 17, 2017. Clint Spaulding/WWD/REX/Shutterstock

Records compiled by the U.S. Center for Responsive Politics show a multi-million-dollar history of political donations — her husband’s business gave $2 million to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads Super PAC in 2010, $250,000 in 2014, and $500,000 each to other Super PACs.

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Knight Craft, the Jane of all trades

On her donation receipts to various Republican campaigns, Knight Craft has identified herself alternatively as a homemaker, philanthropist and consultant.

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In 2007, then-president George W. Bush accredited Knight Craft as part of the US. Delegation to the UN. As part of that delegation, she spoke to the General Assembly about America’s efforts to fight HIV and malaria in Africa.

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Knight Craft also co-founded a charity to provide food, shelter and clothing to Sri Lankan children who were left homeless or orphaned in the wake of the 2004 tsunami.

Her husband is coal billionaire Joe Craft, who’s been called the most powerful non-elected person in Kentucky. He is the president and CEO of Alliance Resource Partners LP, which is among the largest coal producers in the eastern U.S.

Craft was a fierce critic of the Obama administration’s climate policies, getting his SUV’s licence plate stamped with the slogan, “Friends of Coal.”

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Whose footsteps she is following

Democrats and Republicans alike have treated the Canadian ambassador post as a reward for party loyalists.

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Her predecessor, Bruce Heyman, was a Chicago-based investment banker who’d made major donations to Barack Obama’s campaigns.

Before Heyman, David Jacobson held the post. He was also known for his large donations to the Democrats.

The last Republican in the post was David Wilkins, a lawyer who had chaired the 2004 Bush-Cheney South Carolina campaign.

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What can she expect?

The nomination comes with weeks to go before Canada, the U.S. and Mexico officially launch into NAFTA negotiations in mid-August.

Knight Craft’s husband’s involvement with the coal industry runs opposite Canada’s commitments to the Paris climate change agreement to phase out coal by 2030.

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Maryscott Greenwood, head of the Canadian-American Business Council told the Canadian Press she’s doubtful the connection to coal will become a sore spot with Canada.

“It’s pretty clear that the United States and Canada see the world differently at the moment when it comes to climate change,” she said.

“The Trump administration has its path, the Trudeau government has its path and the job of the ambassador is to find a common ground and build upon it — and that’s what she’ll do.”

— With files from the Canadian Press

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