Fundraising slows at pro-Trump super PACs

Fundraising slows at pro-Trump super PACs
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The super PACs that raised tens of millions of dollars to help elect President Trump have seen their fundraising slow dramatically since the election.

Of the five largest big-money machines that supported Trump during the presidential election, only two are still pulling in contributions. Another super PAC that formed just after Trump’s inauguration is already idling. 

In eight months last year, the pro-Trump super PAC Rebuilding America Now pulled in $22.6 million, including from donors such as billionaire Bernard Marcus, real estate developer Geoffrey Palmer and professional wrestling magnate Linda McMahon, who now leads the Small Business Administration. The private prison company GEO Group also threw in $275,000. 

That fundraising slowed to a crawl in the first half of 2017, and the super PAC only brought in a single $5,000 donation.  

Experts note that it’s not unusual for campaign-related fundraising to dry up after an election is over.

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“It's not surprising to see some of them winding down and shutting down shop because their job is done, he's been elected,” said Michael Beckel, the manager of research, investigations and policy analysis at Issue One. 

Still, Beckel added that since super PACs can accept donations of unlimited amounts, “you don't have to fundraise year round. A big donor ... can bring a super PAC back from the dead with relative ease.” 

Rebuilding America Now did receive a $1.5 million “offset” to expenditures it had budgeted but never spent, however, so it still has $1 million left in the bank. It did spend more than $950,000 on overhead costs, including travel, hotel stays and almost $3,000 at BLT Prime, the steakhouse in Trump International Hotel in Washington. 

Chris Martson, who is listed as the group’s treasurer, did not respond to a request for comment about whether the group’s fundraising would be ramping up again or what the plan is for the rest of its money. 

The other pro-Trump super PACs active in 2016 include Make America Number 1, Future 45, Great America PAC and the Committee to Defend the President, which had been previously known as Stop Hillary PAC. 

During the campaign, Trump criticized super PACs, saying that he didn’t need them and decrying them as part of the corruption in Washington.

“These super PACs are a disaster by the way, folks, very corrupt. It’s going to lead to a lot of disasters. … There is total control of the candidates. I know it better than anybody that probably ever lived,” Trump said during a debate last year. “I know the system far better than anybody else, and I know the system is broken. I’m the only one up here that’s going to be able to fix that system because that system is wrong.”  

The more than a dozen outside groups supporting Trump spent more than $70 million on advertisements and other efforts to elect him, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

That tally doesn’t even include all of the cash spent by nonprofits — such as Great America Alliance, Making America Great, and America First Politics — that don’t have to disclose their donors. 

One super PAC that had backed one of Trump’s challengers ultimately supported him in the general election. 

Make America Number 1 had originally been Keep the Promise I, where billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Mercer and others dumped a total of $20.7 million to support Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDebbie Wasserman Schultz marks 10 years as breast cancer survivor Foreign agent registration is no magical shield against Russian propaganda Let Trump be Trump and he'll sail through 2020 MORE (R-Texas), then a GOP presidential candidate.

In June 2016, the group changed its name and began supporting Trump after Cruz withdrew from the race. Two weeks before Election Day, Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel gave the PAC $1 million.

In the first half of this year, Make America Number 1 raised only $739.34 from donors, and all in amounts of $200 or less.

It’s unclear what the group’s plans are for the future; it still has nearly $875,000 cash on hand.

Meanwhile, Future45, which collected $20 million of its $25 million in donations from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson during the 2016 campaign, had zero donors so far this year.  

It did take in almost $105,000 from two super PACs that were created to support former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who now leads the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Of all the pro-Trump super PACs, Future45 had the least left in its coffers and also the smallest amount of operating costs in the fist half of the year, spending just over $19,000, which could indicate it is shutting down or going on hiatus. 

Other pro-Trump super PACs, however, have continued to rake in cash.

The Committee to Defend the President, for instance, raised almost $3.3 million dollars in the first six months of this year.

While that isn’t a large sum by the standards of super PACs, the group has been active this year, running ads to help Trump’s pick for Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, win confirmation.

After Gorsuch was confirmed, the Committee to Defend the President created a video ad about the president’s first 100 days that already mentioned the 2020 presidential race. 

“We have spent a lot of money over the last month putting pressure on Republicans to support the president's repeal of Obamacare,” Ted Harvey, the super PAC’s chairman, told The Hill. “When we saw there were six senators questioning whether they were going to vote for a repeal [of ObamaCare], we spent a lot of money in their states telling [our grassroots network] to get involved and put pressure on them.” 

The average donation to the group is about $30 to $50, Harvey says, adding that monthly fundraising numbers are on pace to meet the same levels as the 2016 election cycle. 

Great America PAC, which raised $1.87 million from January through June, had a $5,000 per person reception in July featuring Vice President Pence, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids MORE (Wis.), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters MORE (Ky.).

Like the Committee to Defend the President, Great America PAC is a hybrid PAC. 

A hybrid PAC can raise the large amounts allowed for super PACs but can also make donations to the campaigns of candidates like a traditional PAC with contribution limits. 

The newest entry to the world of Trump super PACs, Great America Agenda, hasn’t really gotten off the ground.

The group had been touted as a potential force in the campaign finance world, having put out two fundraising pleas signed by former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

Lewandowski told The Hill he is not involved in this group, or any other PAC or outside group. 

Douglas Watts, who set up the committee, confirmed that Lewandowski was only “nominally involved” and that he wrote two fundraising emails signed by Lewandowski, in which the group called him its chairman. Watts said the former top Trump campaign aide had been “a chairman in name only.” Lewandowski also said he only lent his name, as prominent figures do, to help raise money and wasn’t paid. 

Until a call from The Hill, Great America Agenda still listed Lewandowski on its website as the chairman, complete with his signature.

The group has not been active for three months, Watts said, and it had only raised about $15,000. It had primarily been a brainchild, beginning in December, of Watts and Barry Bennett, a former Trump adviser now at lobbying firm Avenue Strategies.  

“Quite honestly, they got busy, they got distracted,” said Watts, of Lewandowski and Bennett. “I got busy, I got distracted by other things.” 

Despite its slow start, Watts said he’s bullish about the super PAC’s future. 

“There certainly room and need to support Trump’s agenda items,” he said, adding that although he is optimistic about Trump’s policy outlook, “from my perspective, those [agenda items] aren't clear enough in general for the public” to get involved in the super PAC game.