Lisa Spies Interviewed in The Hill

 

GOP donors not enthusiastic about Trump in Nov. election

By Jonathan Swan - 04/20/16 06:00 AM EDT 

A victorious Donald Trump coming out of the Republican National Convention would have a hard time raising the money he needs to beat the Democratic presidential nominee in November.

Interviews with leading GOP fundraisers, donors and outside conservative groups reveal that Trump is so deeply disliked by large parts of the Republican Party’s donor community that he will have trouble winning their favor in a general election. Then, he’d need more than $1 billion to defeat the money machine of the Hillary Clinton campaign, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

“Trump has insulted most of the contributors and fundraisers in the country,” said Mel Sembler, a former Republican National Committee (RNC) finance chairman and board member for the super-PAC Right to Rise, which raised and spent more than $100 million in support of Jeb Bush’s unsuccessful primary campaign.

The finance chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Fred Malek, said Trump has perilously little time to build the kind of fundraising apparatus required to compete nationwide in a general election.

“Many major donors are very uncertain about who the nominee’s going to be, so he can’t really gear up much of a fundraising operation until after the convention,” Malek told The Hill. “Should he become the nominee, I don’t think there’ll be a great deal of enthusiasm.” 

Lisa Spies, who is raising funds for Senate Republicans and did outreach and fundraising for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, went even further, saying Trump has built none of the relationships required for even a basic political fundraising apparatus.

“One of the reasons Gov. Romney was so good at fundraising was because he knew it wasn’t just about the ask; he knew it was about forming a relationship,” said Spies, who as director of Women for Romney led the effort to raise more than $23 million. 

“But when you have a candidate who’s vilifying you for giving money, why the heck would you give them money?

“If we are running against Hillary Clinton, she will wipe us out as far as fundraising goes.”

Trump has financed his primary campaign on the cheap, largely through a series of personal loans. He has boasted that he alone among his rivals is uncorrupted by special interest donors. 

Trump’s alienation of GOP donors wouldn’t be a problem if he intended to keep paying his own way, but he has indicated that he will rely on outside money for the vastly more expensive general election.

Despite claiming a personal wealth of $10 billion — a figure disputed by independent analysts — Trump has, until recently, shown a reluctance to fund basic campaign expenses, including professional staffers. 

And while it’s likely that Trump will continue to command 24/7 cable coverage — The New York Times estimates he already has received more than $2 billion worth of free airtime — he’d need hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for technology, ground operations and a much larger and more experienced political staff to compete against Clinton.

Should Trump become the nominee, he then becomes, in effect, the leader of the Republican Party and the central magnet for fundraising by the RNC, which creates a joint fundraising account to support the candidate.

But rather than wooing the RNC as he heads closer to the nomination, Trump, upset with losing delegates to rival Ted Cruz at conventions around the country, has attacked the party. He labeled its nominee selection process a “scam” and a “disgrace” and said the RNC Chairman Reince Priebus “should be ashamed of himself.” 

Trump has also hinted more than once that there would be violence at the July convention in Cleveland if party insiders try to wrest the nomination away from him.

Donors are not taking kindly to Trump’s violent rhetoric and are increasingly concerned about their safety given the billionaire’s rough rallies, Spies says.

“Right now none of my donors that I talk to are even planning on going to the convention,” Spies told The Hill. “This is a different type of protesting. If I’m a major donor and I’m in my 70s and I’m going to bring my wife, there are very real concerns about how to get out of the way if protesters are there.

“I’m not saying my donors are giving up on the party … but what I’m hearing [is] that they’re going to focus on the House and the Senate.”

Trump, whose campaign declined to respond to questions for this story, insists he has turned down numerous mega-donors, suggesting he would have no trouble raising tons of cash if he decides to take outside money. 

“I have not made that decision,” Trump said during the March 10 Republican debate in Miami when asked whether he would maintain his pledge not to take outside contributions throughout the general election. 

“My decision was that I would go through the entire primary season, and I have turned down probably $275 million worth. I have many, many friends that come up all day long, $5 million, $10 million; I’m turning down money. I feel sort of foolish, to be honest with you.”

There is scant evidence to support Trump’s claims. An early super-PAC supporting Trump — which was subsequently shut down after The Washington Post exposed improper links to the campaign — received $1 million from Trump’s friend and business partner, casino mogul Phil Ruffin. 

But it takes dozens of Phil Ruffins to fund a general election campaign. 

The powerful Koch network — a collection of some 700 wealthy donors helmed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch — has a budget of nearly $900 million for political and conservative advocacy spending, but the group dislikes Trump so much that it plans not to spend a penny of that on the presidential race if he becomes the nominee.

Mark Holden, a top Koch official, said in a recent statement to the Los Angeles Times that the organization would only participate in the presidential race if a candidate refrained from “personal attacks and mudslinging.

“That hasn’t happened yet, and there is no indication that this will happen given the current tenor and tone of the various campaigns,” Holden’s statement said. 

If Trump wins the GOP nomination, the Koch network will likely dedicate most of its political cash to saving vulnerable Republicans in the Senate.

Other major conservative groups are also hostile to Trump, including American Crossroads, a super-PAC founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove, who is in a long-running feud with Trump. American Crossroads and its sister organization — the nonprofit Crossroads GPS — spent more than $175 million during the 2012 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Trump insists that once he secures the nomination, he will moderate his tone, become more “presidential” and unify the Republican Party.

It’s a rare GOP donor or fundraiser who believes him.

Ron Kaufman, a longtime Washington lobbyist and fundraiser, is among the few who say they are optimistic that the party will patch itself together again even if Trump is its nominee.

“This is the time in the cycle where everybody is tense, the rhetoric is the hottest,” Kaufman told The Hill. “The bottom line is I believe once we get through this process and we have a nominee, the party will pull together.

“I think Chairman Priebus has done a good job, not just raising money but building a strong network to support whoever the nominee is. … Trump or Cruz or whoever the nominee is will have good fundamentals in place.”

But Trump would need more than fundamentals to match the famous Clinton fundraising machine, which has been cultivated over 30 years. 

The RNC would need to convince hoards of skeptical conservative donors to support a man who has told them, loudly and repeatedly, that he doesn’t want their money.

“It’s very hard to stroke a $10,000 check when the candidate is saying ‘I don’t take money from these big donors,’ ” Spies says.

Sembler, who writes six-figure checks to super-PACs, recalls watching Trump speak at a Republican Jewish Coalition event in December.

 

Read more: http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/276905-gop-donors-not-enthusiastic-about-trump-in-nov-election



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