Donors: Trump’s remark on judge hurts fundraising

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Republican donors and even leadership of Donald Trump’s joint fundraising team say that his comments about a federal judge’s Mexican heritage are harming their efforts to raise money for the campaign.

More than half a dozen top donors and fundraisers have told The Hill they are exasperated by the racially tinged comments from their party’s presumptive presidential nominee, including two members of the leadership of the Trump Victory Committee, a joint arrangement between Trump, the Republican National Committee and 11 state parties.

{mosads}“These kinds of comments make it more difficult,” said a member of Trump’s joint fundraising leadership, granted anonymity to discuss private conversations.

“I am telling the Trump people that, but whether they can control him or not, I don’t know. … They are tearing their hair out, too.”

A second leading fundraiser for the committee said Trump’s comments about U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, coupled with his recent attacks on Republican Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, were hurting fundraising efforts at a crucial moment when the party’s wealthy supporters need to be consolidating behind the nominee.

Trump last week said Curiel, who was born in Indiana, is biased in a case against Trump University because he is the son of Mexican immigrants.

“It’s not helpful,” the fundraiser said. “It does turn off some donors and supporters.

“We don’t think anything that relates to discussing minorities or things that can be misconstrued as racial comments are acceptable. It puts people off.”

Minnesota billionaire Stanley Hubbard said he has already sent a $100,000 check to the pro-Trump super-PAC Great America PAC, but he said he “doesn’t know what [Trump] was thinking” with the comments about Curiel.

“It makes it harder, no question,” Hubbard said. “It’s unbelievably bad judgment.”

A well-known Republican donor and fundraiser who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Hill he was supporting the party but was fed up with Trump.

“I can’t be unique in this. There must be dozens of people who say ‘f— this guy’ if he behaves this way,” he said.

Members of the Trump fundraising leadership insist Trump’s comments about the judge are not necessarily shutting off donors permanently but may be delaying decisions to contribute or reducing their enthusiasm to give large sums.

“They might say, ‘Well, let me watch it for the next few weeks,’ ” a fundraising leadership source said. “It’s not helpful.”

The last things Trump or the Republican Party need right now are any obstacles to presidential fundraising. 

He needs donors and fundraisers not only writing large checks themselves but also soliciting from their friends and associates on Trump’s behalf.

Fallout from the Curiel remark has put fundraisers in a tricky position, forcing them to explain why party leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) are wrong to rebuke the presumptive nominee.

“I don’t know what I would say [to donors] if I was making a call [for Trump] today,” said Lisa Spies, a top Republican fundraiser who worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign but is not raising money for Trump.

“I literally have no idea what I would say. … You’re trying to sell someone that nobody understands.”

Trump’s team is already beginning its general election fundraising from way behind the Clinton machine, which -organized early, tapped a multidecade family donor network and raised more than $200 million for Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary season.

Trump did not fundraise during the primary season, and most of the money he spent — more than $40 million — he personally loaned to his campaign.

But since becoming the GOP’s presumptive nominee, Trump has made it clear to party officials that he does not intend to use his own cash to pay for a general election campaign that will likely cost each side more than $1 billion.

Enter the RNC. 

As happens every presidential year, the national party has formed a joint fundraising committee with the Trump campaign. The well-respected RNC finance chairman, Lew Eisenberg, is leading the committee in conjunction with Trump’s campaign finance chairman, New York banker Steve Mnuchin.

Through the joint fundraising committee, individual donors can give up to $449,400, which is distributed across the groups.

The committee’s first major fundraiser, held at the home of Tom Barrack, a Los Angeles-based investor and friend of Trump’s, reportedly raised $6 million.

But the joint fundraising arrangement has its problems. It’s led by a number of Republicans who were, and remain, uncertain about Trump. Additionally, the Trump campaign lacks an experienced finance team to support the RNC’s efforts.

And while at least four super-PACs have formed or are in the process of forming to support Trump’s candidacy, no single, authorized vehicle exists for donors. This is causing some confusion.

Clinton, by contrast, has privately blessed a single super-PAC, Priorities USA, as the place where big donors should feel safe depositing their checks. Priorities — which cannot legally coordinate with the Clinton campaign but is stocked with top Democratic Party staffers and Clinton allies — has reserved more than $130 million in advertising and is already running attack ads against Trump.

A pro-Trump super-PAC to rival Priorities USA may yet emerge, but so far only a handful of GOP megadonors have committed themselves to Trump. 

The highest profile one, Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, has signaled he could spend more than $100 million, but even that exorbitant sum only gets Trump a part of the way there. He’ll ultimately need party loyalists to support him wholeheartedly — and they say they’re struggling to do so.

A good example is the situation that California-based donor Rockwell Schnabel finds himself in. 

A longtime party loyalist and former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Schnabel has pledged to support the party as he always does, and by default that means supporting the presidential nominee. But he’s deeply uneasy about it.

“The comment about the judge, I just don’t get it,” Schnabel told The Hill on Monday. “I don’t know where it comes from. … I am troubled by it.

“I am not involved in raising money partly because I have already done it for four presidents,” Schnabel said, but he concedes there are other reasons why he couldn’t be a big-time Trump fundraiser.

Schnabel said that if he were to raise money on Trump’s behalf, he’d have to first “clear up some of these things” because he wouldn’t know how to explain Trump’s comments to his friends.

“Unless and until he changes that kind of approach, I would have a hard time getting people to show up at a fundraiser.”

Neither the RNC nor Trump’s campaign responded to requests for comment.

Trump has a few defenders in the donor and fundraising community who are public in their support, but they appear, so far, to be in the minority.

Hushang Ansary, a trustee on the Trump Victory Committee, told The Hill that presidential campaigns “are not for the faint-hearted.” When asked about Trump’s Curiel comments, he praised the nominee for having “a mind of his own.”

Los Angeles developer “Papa” Doug Manchester, an influential Trump donor, said he thought Trump’s attacks on Curiel’s ethnicity were “incredibly helpful” because, in his opinion, the judge’s background would mean he favors open borders and could not be trusted to rule fairly on the Trump University case.

The dominant view among the GOP finance community is that Trump needs to change tack fast or risk cutting off a large portion of the Republican Party’s financial lifeblood.  

Asked about Trump’s recent behavior, Fred Malek, the finance chairman of the Republican Governors Association, paused a moment, choosing his words carefully.

“Donors who have now accepted Trump as the nominee are looking for him to become presidential in order to win their wholehearted support,” he said.

“And things like the attack on Judge Curiel is making it very difficult.”

Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Paul Ryan
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