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Trump helped the GOP raise $2 billion. Now former aides and allies are jockeying to tap into his fundraising power.

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 3/27/2021 Josh Dawsey, Ashley Parker, Michael Scherer, Anu Narayanswamy
a group of people performing on stage in front of a crowd: President Donald Trump departs after speaking in support of Republican Senate candidates at a rally in Dalton, Ga., on Jan. 4. © Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post President Donald Trump departs after speaking in support of Republican Senate candidates at a rally in Dalton, Ga., on Jan. 4.

One day before the Republican Party’s elite donors are slated to gather for their April retreat in Palm Beach, Fla., a nonprofit group aligned with onetime aides to former president Donald Trump is hosting an “investors meeting” a few miles away for major GOP contributors.

The keynote speaker is Trump himself, and his gilded Mar-a-Lago Club is hosting the event.

The group, the Conservative Partnership Institute, now has former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on its payroll and has partnered with other former Trump aides, such as Russ Vought and Stephen Miller. It has planned a slate of events that buttress Trump’s agenda, including a dinner titled “An America First Future” and a panel on “Fighting Big Tech,” according to an agenda obtained by The Washington Post.

The goal, according to people familiar with the organization, is to woo at least some wealthy party donors in town for the Republican National Committee retreat and persuade them to devote large sums to the group.

The aggressive pitch to Republican contributors comes as the number of independent money operations connected to Trump — some directly associated with the former president, others that have his tacit blessing — has been rapidly expanding since he left office.

The groups, which include both nonprofits and big-money super PACs, are seeking to capitalize on Trump’s fundraising firepower, which drove a record $2.2 billion into the three Republican Party campaign committees during his time in office, campaign finance records show.

GOP officials are now trying to keep that pipeline going, a prospect complicated by Trump’s ambivalence about letting the party continue to fundraise off his name — and the separate fundraising efforts springing up around him, some of which could take aim at Republicans who have crossed the former president.

The rapidly shifting assortment of pro-Trump groups were described by more than a dozen people familiar with the plans, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.

[‘It’s Donald Trump’s party’: How the former president is building a political operation to cement his hold on the GOP]

Trump himself has encouraged supporters to donate to Save America, a leadership PAC he launched at the end of 2020. Corey Lewandowski, his 2016 campaign manager, is setting up a Trump-blessed super PAC to solicit unlimited contributions, according to people familiar with the efforts. And a number of his other allies are dabbling in fundraising efforts of their own — including what appears to be an effort to create a version of Democracy Alliance, the liberal donor network.

The competing endeavors have left some donors confused and stoked worries inside the party about whether the former president is committed to the GOP’s interests.

In a statement, Jason Miller, a senior Trump adviser, said Trump plans to use his influence to help the party.

“President Trump commands the most powerful brand and greatest fundraising apparatus in political history, and he looks forward to using that capital to elect America First conservatives and win back the House and Senate for Republicans in 2022,” Miller said.

The Republican National Committee declined to comment. CPI officials declined to comment on the donor retreat.

Since leaving office, Trump has vacillated between anger at Republicans who either supported his impeachment or did not do enough, in his mind, to argue there was voter fraud, and excitement at the notion of helping the party win back control of the House and Senate in two years, according to people close to him.

In recent weeks, Trump has both publicly and privately railed against the party committees, and has told advisers he wants to raise as much money as he can to remain a formidable candidate for a White House bid in 2024 — and to have leverage against political foes, according to people familiar with his views.

Some in the GOP are bracing for a nasty fight. “There is going to be a war,” said a senior Republican involved in discussions about the future of the party, “It is inevitable.”

On Wednesday night, Trump attended a fundraiser at his golf club in Florida for Max Miller, a former aide, who is running against Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, an Ohio Republican who supported Trump’s impeachment, according to people who were briefed on the event.

In recent weeks, a range of Republican officials — from RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), head of the Republican senatorial committee — have tried to paper over any rift, shuttling down to Mar-a-Lago and posing for photos with Trump in his gilded foyer.

Donald Trump, Ronna Romney are posing for a picture: McDaniel with Trump in November 2018. © Jeff Roberson/AP McDaniel with Trump in November 2018.

In exchange for his continued support, party leaders have suggested to Trump and his team, he will be well-positioned for another run in 2024, especially if they are able to take back Congress for the second half of President Biden’s term.

The RNC even moved part of its donor retreat next month in Palm Beach to Trump’s club, paying Mar-a-Lago a six-figure fee to host a Saturday night dinner headlined by the former president.

Meanwhile, McDaniel recently traveled the country to meet with the party’s donors to urge them to keep giving to the party, according to people familiar with the appeals

In one meeting in Dallas, McDaniel argued that the RNC was not responsible for the losses in the courts after the election and that Republicans overall performed well in 2020, according to Doug Deason, a donor who attended the event.

“She took responsibility for some of it, and took credit for some of it,” said Deason, adding: “Trump did everything wrong — he couldn't have done a better job of losing than he did. He’s the best president in history, but he beat himself.”

“People will continue to contribute to the RNC,” he added.

But a passel of Trump aides and allies have created new political committees this year, which have the potential to further splinter donations made in his name.

Among those in the president’s orbit looking to raise money: Stephen Miller, a former White House immigration adviser who is running an organization called America First Legal that plans to file lawsuits against the Biden administration in conjunction with Republican attorneys general; Vought, a former Office of Management and Budget director who is backing a conservative policy group called the Center for American Restoration; and Brad Parscale, who ran Trump’s 2020 campaign and has started his own super PAC to support Republican candidates.

Vought said in a statement that his group “is dedicated to providing a home for President Trump’s many supporters across the country and carrying on the fight for an America First agenda.”

Another effort to start a Trump-aligned donor network called the Save America Alliance — which has cast itself as a conservative version of Democracy Alliance, a network of wealthy contributors who give to liberal causes — has also caused some confusion among donors.

Fundraiser Caroline Wren, who will be in Palm Beach during the RNC gathering next month to help network with CPI donors, is the founder of the group, which is envisioned as a membership organization with annual dues and a staff that helps coordinate giving to various conservative causes and candidates. A fundraising prospectus for the network obtained by The Post encouraged spending commitments of as much as $1 million a year for conservative organizations and candidates. The prospectus described the April weekend as the group’s spring investors meeting.

Some people familiar with the effort said it may be sputtering before it has officially started. Another said the group is merely in its early planning stages but still moving ahead — although its name could change.

One person familiar with Wren’s appeal said donors were uncertain if her group had received the blessing of the former president.

“They’re confused,” the person said. “Donors are asking, ‘Oh, is the president doing this?’ Because it looks official and it’s happening during RNC weekend.”

Wren declined to comment.

During his time in the White House, Trump was the most prominent fundraising figure for the Republican Party, which enjoyed a financial bonanza.

The RNC took in more than $890 million in the 2020 cycle, up from $343 million in 2016. The National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $338 million in 2020 compared with $138 million in 2016. And the National Republican Congressional Committee raised $280 million, compared with $170 million four years ago.

Many of the party committee appeals continue to feature Trump, even after he has left office.

The NRSC placed ads on Facebook this month selling $10 stickers and $35 T-shirts with “Miss Me Yet” superimposed on Trump’s image, a 2021 “Trump Defender” membership card that requires a donation and a series of spots that declare “President Trump is calling on YOU to step up and help us win back the Senate.”

“There’s an old axiom in life: Follow the money,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). “If you look at all these people raising money, they’re using Donald Trump. It’s where the action is. They aren’t doing it for their health. They are doing it because the biggest force for the Republican Party for fundraising is President Trump. He has the most loyal following and the most financial capability that no other Republican can come close to.”

Graham said that Trump wanted to help Republicans but also wants to keep control of his image and brand. “I can understand that,” he said.

[Trump faces an onslaught of legal problems, as investigations and dozens of lawsuits trail him from Washington to Florida]

Trump’s legal team recently sent a cease-and-desist letter to the RNC and the two GOP congressional committees, demanding they not use his name or likeness in fundraising appeals without his explicit consent, according to a copy of the letter viewed by The Post.

Party officials scrambled to quell his anger, making a flurry of calls to urge him to hold his fire and support Republicans.

Days later, the national party sent out a fundraising pitch to members after they received tacit approval to do so from Trump.

“Do you want to meet President Trump?” it read in bold, telling supporters if they contributed any money by midnight, they would be entered into a sweepstakes for an all-expenses paid trip to Palm Beach for the Republican donor retreat, where they could take a photo with the former president.

Still, Trump remains skeptical of the committees, especially after some advisers recently showed him an informal review of how much money they made under his presidency, according to three advisers.

Around the time of his showdown with the party committees, Trump was in his Manhattan skyscraper office yelling at allies and advisers about Republicans taking his money, according to people with knowledge of the calls. He argued that they were “ripping” him off, in the words of a Trump adviser.

The former president drafted a stemwinder of a statement that lambasted the party he has led, the people said. He ultimately released a milder statement the next day that explicitly said he supported Republicans but still attacked “RINOs” because he said “they do nothing but hurt the Republican Party and our great voting base.”

Relieved, the three party committees took the unusual step of putting out a joint statement praising the former president.

Trump has told aides that he does not want money raised using his name to benefit incumbents who voted for his impeachment, such as Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, allies said.

a man standing in front of a crowd: Brad Parscale throws hats to the crowd before President Trump arrives to speak at Southern New Hampshire University Arena on Aug 15, 2019 in Manchester, NH. © Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post Brad Parscale throws hats to the crowd before President Trump arrives to speak at Southern New Hampshire University Arena on Aug 15, 2019 in Manchester, NH.

In Mar-a-Lago dinners and phone calls with allies, the former president has also expressed concern that some associates around him are using him to make money off endorsements and clients, according to three people who have spoken to him. Some of his advisers are also seeking other clients for the 2022 cycle.

He has complained repeatedly about how much it costs to fundraise online, advisers said, and was resistant for weeks to sign off on a PAC budget, leaving some of his advisers to worry they would not be paid.

Among those in discussions to get compensated through his PAC: Parscale, Jason Miller, former campaign manager Bill Stepien, lawyer Alex Cannon and former deputy campaign manager Justin Clark, according to three people familiar with the financial discussions. Many could receive retainers of more than $10,000 a month, an official said.

Trump’s leadership PAC now has about $80 million, according to people familiar with the finances. But there is growing concern in his orbit that his email list is going to get “cold,” in the words of one adviser, because he is not regularly using it. One Republican official noted that his PAC has only sent out one fundraising solicitation email since the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando earlier this year.

“He’s doing just enough to keep the lights on,” one person with direct knowledge of the operation said.

A Trump adviser disputed that, saying that the former president is excited to raise money for candidates he is backing and will begin sending solicitations soon.

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