GOP aims to keep money flowing after Wynn, Cohen controversies

Tuesday , April 17, 2018 - 9:26 AM

Bill Allison and John McCormick

(c) 2018, Bloomberg.

Donors poured money into GOP coffers in the first part of this year, but their loyalty may be tested in coming months by turmoil at the Republican National Committee after the resignations of two top fundraising officials and a criminal investigation involving a third.

The GOP’s hold on the presidency and Congress has helped the RNC surpass its Democratic counterpart in every month reported so far this year. President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection committee and affiliated joint RNC fundraising entities have also collected sums that are unprecedented so early in a presidency.

Most Republican donors seemed unfazed by drama surrounding Trump or the resignation in January of billionaire casino mogul Steve Wynn as RNC finance chairman after a deluge of sexual harassment allegations connected to his role as chief executive of Wynn Resorts Ltd. He also was ousted at the company.

The two committees that raise jointly for the RNC and Trump’s reelection committee filed Federal Election Commission reports this week showing collections of $16.7 million in the first quarter of 2018, while Trump’s campaign netted $10.1 million after transfers from those two entities, up 70 percent and 53 percent respectively from the first quarter of 2017.

But that money arrived before controversy enveloped the two other top RNC finance officers, Los Angeles-based investor Elliott Broidy and Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney.

Broidy resigned his post as the committee’s deputy finance chairman following a Wall Street Journal report April 13 that he, with Cohen’s legal assistance, paid $1.6 million to a Playboy model who had an abortion after their extramarital affair ended. Meanwhile, Cohen, another party deputy finance chairman, was in federal court Monday to discuss legal issues surrounding an FBI search last week of his office, home and hotel room as part of a criminal probe of possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations.

Both the RNC and the Democratic National Committee must file their latest fundraising data no later than Friday, but that report also won’t capture any potential fallout from the latest controversies atop the GOP’s money machine. An accounting of the RNC’s April fundraising, covering the period when controversy first swirled around Broidy and Cohen, isn’t due until May 20.

Cohen, Broidy and Wynn all declined to comment through their lawyers or representatives. Two spokesmen at the RNC didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.

“I don’t think Cohen or Broidy will have a material impact on GOP fundraising,” said Dan Eberhart, a wealthy oil industry executive and GOP fundraiser.

The bigger problem for Republicans, Eberhart said, is the announced retirement of House Speaker Paul Ryan, one of the party’s top fundraisers, just months before the November elections that will decide control of Congress. Eberhart worries donations will suffer if Ryan retains the gavel without a confirmed successor in place.

“Donors want to be in the room with the guy that’s rising. The guy that will affect the future,” he said. “I think Ryan needs to step aside ASAP.”

In its most recent FEC filing, the RNC said it raised $12.8 million in February, while the DNC collected $8.6 million. Small-dollar donors making contributions of $200 or less gave $7.1 million to RNC, compared to $3.1 million for the DNC.

Trump Victory, which raises money from large-dollar donors, reported raising $6.5 million in the first quarter. The Trump Make American Great Again Committee, the other joint fundraising vehicle that raises money for Trump’s campaign and the RNC, raised $10.2 million. It focuses on small-dollar donors, and is the beneficiary of sales of caps, T-shirts and other campaign merchandise.

“There’s a lot of people who are still very fired up about this president and what he hopes to accomplish,” said Michael Beckel, research manager of Issue One, a Washington group that advocates for limits on the role of money in politics. “Controlling Congress is a very big motivating factor for Republican donors.”

The totals for the Trump campaign and joint fundraising committees are unusually high for so early in a presidency. Former President Barack Obama had been in office more than two years before he headlined his first re-election fundraiser, while former President George W. Bush raised less than $300,000 in his first two years in office.

Those who study campaign finance say allegations of wrongdoing made against the party’s top tier of fundraisers could eventually hurt collections.

“It can’t help,” said Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, a group that analyzes money in politics. “There have been other times when donors have wondered whether the committee is a good steward of their money and have held back.”

Traditionally, national party committees don’t raise as much money in non-presidential election years, so any angst over troubles with the RNC’s fundraising network are less significant this year than they’d be in 2020.

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