Turned off by Trump: Republican mega-donors focus on congressional races
Peter Stone, Graun, Aug 27 2016
Several leading Republican donors and groups that spent large sums in the 2012 presidential campaign are either wavering or opting outright not to back Donald Trump this year. Instead, they are spending tens of millions of dollars on congressional races as fears mount that the candidate’s poor poll numbers and incendiary gaffes are placing majorities in the House and Senate in danger. Vin Weber, a former Minnesota representative turned lobbyist who helps raise money for House candidates, told the Guardian:
I believe there’s an emerging consensus in the party that Trump isn’t going to win. We need to shift resources as much as we can to help down-ticket candidates, including sitting Congress critturs.
Should Hillary defeat the Donald, Dems would need only four more Senate seats to take control through the vote wielded by the Senate president, Clinton vice-president Tim Kaine. The Republicans’ House majority is stronger, but not safe. The Guardian can reveal that the casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is said by well-placed sources to be worried about losing control of Congress, met Trump in New York last week. The donor, who one friend said has been “irked by a lot of things,” had already met Trump privately at least twice this year. He has pushed for the candidate to visit Israel, which has not happened, and supported former House speaker Newt Gingrich for vice-president. Trump chose the governor of Indiana, Mike Pence. Earlier this summer, Adelson endorsed Trump, reportedly signaling that he was willing to spend up to $100m on the presidential contest. To date, however, he has not given money to any Super Pac. Three fundraising sources with good ties to Adelson said he is focused on trying to keep control of Congress, though he could donate to Trump if his gaffes are eliminated and his poll numbers improve.
While in New York, Adelson also met the South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham. The two men, who share a sharply pro-Israel stance, discussed the financial needs of senators in tough races. Two other GOP operatives familiar with Adelson told the Guardian he had given $10m to One Nation, a group run by Steven Law, once a top aide to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. A “dark money” group, legally able to keep its donors secret, One Nation was launched in May 2015. This year it has spent at least $16m on ads in several Senate races. Asked if Adelson had given $10m, Law said “we don’t comment” on donors. Asked if the group or two others of which he is president, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, would get involved in the presidential election at all, he said:
We’re keeping our options open.
In 2012, groups backed by the Koch brothers and American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, both of which were co-founded by former Bush adviser Karl Rove, focused heavily on the presidential race, spending more than $200m. Adelson and his wife gave $23m to American Crossroads. In 2016, Koch network leaders have said they do not intend to get involved and Rove has been sharply critical of Trump, writing in the WSJ that he has been “graceless and divisive.
Several groups are pouring millions into TV spots and get-out-the-vote drives in Senate races in states including Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Nevada and North Carolina. The Pindo Chamber of Commerce has run ads in eight states as part of “Save the Senate,” a drive it launched in May, its earliest ad foray in a presidential year. Michael Epstein, a Maryland executive who has helped raise money for the Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, said:
I think the most productive way of using our money right now is for the Senate and House elections. Winning the Senate would be a terrific victory and help rebuild the GOP brand. But it’s going to be a tough struggle.
Many donors and fundraisers worry that a heavy Trump defeat could wreak havoc on Republican Congress critturs. <a href="https://www.publicintegrity.org/2013/05/31/12750/norm-coleman-sees-big-paydays-nonprofits"Former Minnesota senator Norm Coleman, who helps steer the dark-money-driven American Action Network and the Super-PAC Congressional Leadership Fund, said:
If the guy at the top of the ticket is going to lose by double digits it’s a cause of concern.
This week, the Congressional Leadership Fund unveiled a $10m ad buy to support House members in a dozen key races. Even some old friends of Trump seem to have soured. In May, the casino tycoon Steve Wynn, arranged a meeting for Trump and Rove at his own New York residence. According to a GOP operative briefed on the meeting, Wynn was disappointed Trump “didn’t listen to Rove’s advice”. Earlier this month, Wynn said he would stay out of the presidential race.