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Donations to GOP drop as worries mount about the party’s finances

The Republican Party’s finances are increasingly worrisome to party members, advisers to former president Donald Trump, and other operatives involved in the 2024 election effort, according to 10 people familiar with the matter.

The Republican National Committee disclosed that it had $9.1 million in cash on hand as of Oct. 30, the lowest amount for the RNC in any Federal Election Commission report since February 2015. That compares with about $20 million at the same point in the 2016 election cycle and about $61 million four years ago, when Trump was in the White House.

The Democratic National Committee reported having $17.7 million as of Oct. 30, almost twice as much as the Republican Party, with one year before the election.

“It’s a revenue problem,” Tennessee RNC member Oscar Brock said. “We’re going through the same efforts we always go through to raise money: the same donor meetings, retreats, digital advertising, direct mail. But the return is much lower this year. If you know the answer, I’d love to know it. The staff has managed to tighten down on expenses to keep the party from going into the red.”

Donors have not cut as many large checks to the RNC in recent years, and the party’s small-dollar program has also suffered, according to people familiar with the party’s finances, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal party details. Some donors aren’t giving to the RNC because they think that will help Trump, which they don’t want to do, these people said, while others have said they prefer to wait until 2024 to give. Some have grown frustrated with the party’s leadership, people close to major donors said.

The party cut certain expenditures this year after projected money did not come in, according to people familiar with the decisions.

An RNC spokeswoman said the party has nonetheless deployed staff in 15 swing states to start working on get-out-the-vote efforts and election monitoring. The party is also pursuing 70 lawsuits in 19 states challenging voting rules and is encouraging Republicans to use early voting and mail ballots — methods Trump and his allies have disparaged, even as McDaniel repeatedly touts the importance of the “Bank Your Vote” initiative.

All federal party committees — Democratic and Republican — have seen downturns in revenue since 2021, a trend that operatives usually attribute to inflation and donor fatigue. And occasionally during the Trump presidency, the DNC had about as much money on hand as the GOP has now, records show.

In an interview, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said that donors are currently more focused on giving to individual candidates during the presidential primary and that the party’s fortunes will improve once there’s a nominee.

“I think there’s more donors just fully committed to their candidate right now, saying I am all in, and once the nominee is set, I’ll be there. That’s what I hear more than anything. And they’re really solidly in the camps of their candidate, which is normal,” McDaniel said. “There’s nothing unusual about this, because they know that once their candidate gets in that we will merge and that we’ll be working together to win the White House.”

The party’s spending buttresses the Republican presidential nominee’s campaign along with down-ballot races in the Senate and the House of Representatives. In 2020, the party was flush with cash, while the Trump campaign pulled advertisements because of a cash crunch. RNC officials say the party currently has no debt.

Still, the RNC’s dwindling cash position — combined with Republican losses in this month’s off-year elections, frustrations over the 2022 midterms and grousing over the chaotic presidential primary debates — has caused renewed questions about the committee’s effectiveness and McDaniel’s leadership.

“The RNC’s electoral record since 2017 speaks for itself,” said Virginia RNC member Patti Lyman, who opposed McDaniel when she was reelected to another term in January. “The damage from that chair election goes far beyond the drop in donations. Our base was demoralized.”

McDaniel, who took over as RNC chairwoman in 2017, is the party’s second female leader and has been reelected three times. Outside her office, portraits of the 61 men and one woman who led the party before her adorn the walls. She has tried to walk a tightrope, sticking close to Trump while also keeping anti-Trump members close, her allies say, earning majority support among the committee’s 168 members.

The Wisconsin and Iowa GOP chairs sent unsolicited statements to The Washington Post praising McDaniel’s leadership of the party.

“She has strong support within the RNC. She won 110-plus votes during the election in January, and I think she has stronger support now than in January,” said Michael Whatley, the North Carolina state chairman. “I think her and the RNC team are focused on what they need to be focused on right now.”

Whatley said that the party needs “to raise more money” but that he believes that will be remedied next year.

Maybe most important for McDaniel, Trump continues to back her — although more tentatively than in the past — and associates her with his 2016 win, advisers said. In an Oct. 28 speech, Trump said that McDaniel has “done a fantastic job” and called her “a real good friend.”

Still, he has publicly and privately expressed disappointment with the RNC holding presidential debates over his objections. His team believed that McDaniel would not continue with debates after his statements, and he expressed surprise when she announced new ones.

“RNC must save money on lowest ever ratings debates. Use it against the Democrats to STOP THE STEAL! If not, REVAMP THE RNC, NOW!!!” Trump wrote on Truth Social last week.

And Trump has also voiced doubts about the RNC’s readiness for the 2024 campaign and commitment to fighting what he insists, without evidence, is voter fraud.

Some of his senior advisers have continued to complain to him about McDaniel, though she has a defender in Susie Wiles, Trump’s chief adviser. “He doesn’t like [that] she says she is ‘neutral,’” a Trump adviser said of McDaniel.

Donors sometimes complain to Trump about McDaniel, and Trump has been asking people what they think of her, which is often an ominous sign that someone is losing their standing with him, according to three people close to the former president, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal discussions. People close to both McDaniel and Trump say they have frequent and friendly conversations.

A Trump spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Republican frustrations burst into the open this month after GOP losses in races for the Virginia legislature, the Kentucky governorship, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and on an Ohio ballot initiative on abortion rights.

In October, the RNC rejected a request for additional funding for the Virginia GOP this fall, said the state party chairman, Rich Anderson. RNC officials said they had budgeted based on a meeting earlier in the summer with Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s team in which they didn’t ask for money.

Other state party officials have grown frustrated when they’ve asked the RNC for money to pay legal bills and been turned down, according to people familiar with the discussions.

In TV and podcast interviews after the elections, McDaniel repeatedly defended the RNC’s refusal to pay, arguing that federal campaign finance laws limit the national committee’s involvement in state elections. In fact, there are no limits on RNC transfers to state parties.

McDaniel has also faulted Republican campaigns for avoiding the subject of abortion instead of adopting a message she has encouraged, to prevent abortion after 15 weeks and allow for a range of exceptions. And her allies say that many of the election losses she has been blamed for were elections in which Trump was widely viewed as the main issue on the ballot.

Numerous conservative organizations have ginned up online attacks on McDaniel, questioning the party’s spending and preparedness — and her loyalty to Trump.

During the third GOP debate, candidate Vivek Ramaswamy went so far as to call on McDaniel to resign. An online video showed Ramaswamy talking before the debate with right-wing influencer Benny Johnson, workshopping an attack on McDaniel and deciding to use it as his opening salvo in the debate.

The chairwoman said she believes other groups and critics have a financial interest in attacking her.

“When you have the RNC and when you’re in this position, there’s always going to be outside groups criticizing because it helps them raise money. They have to have a foil, right? So you’re going to go against the RNC because it helps your organization raise money and do things,” she said.

While Trump has been demanding that the RNC cancel future debates, Ramaswamy and other trailing candidates have complained about the qualifications, format, scheduling and moderators. Trump has grown agitated that the RNC is having them at all. The RNC took over organizing the debates in 2015 because of campaigns’ dissatisfaction with the media-run free-for-all forums in the 2012 primary.

“I think we’ve taken it a step further by having a small-dollar donor component and also reasonable polling thresholds that I think are very, very reasonable, but also eliminating that double debate stage,” McDaniel said, referring to the situation in 2015 when lower-ranking candidates in the large field debated separately. “The RNC is always going to be a bit of a punching bag.”

But that approach this year has made the RNC the target of criticism, and some top Republican Party officials have privately conceded that the debates have often gone off the rails.

“Who in the world would schedule a debate on the same night as the Country Music [Association] Awards unless you were actually trying not to reach Republican primary voters?” said former RNC executive director Scott Reed, referring to the Nov. 8 debate. “I don’t believe the party should be in the debate business. Let the conservative marketplace decide, and let the campaigns decide where they want to show up. It’s been a colossal failure.”

The attacks have take a personal toll on McDaniel. People close to her said she has not been enjoying the job this year. They said she assiduously monitors criticism online and has frequently complained about the difficulties of her job.

“Republicans have the infinite capacity to eat our own and participate in circular firing squads as opposed to attacking the real culprits for America’s decline,” said Steve Hantler, an adviser to megadonor Bernie Marcus, who supported McDaniel’s opponent in January’s election for party chair.

McDaniel appeared unfazed during her visit to a meeting of the South’s RNC members this month, according to Jonathan Barnett, an RNC member from Arkansas who supported McDaniel’s challenger in January.

“Ronna is going to take the punches, no problem at all,” he said. “It doesn’t do any good for anyone on the RNC to do anything to remove her. We all just have to focus on our states and the presidential primaries and move on.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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