May 09, 2019
Trump political machine sets massive fundraising target
President Donald Trump’s outside political machine is setting a $300 million fundraising goal and is pitching major GOP donors on a plan to target six swing states that are likely to decide the 2020 election, according to people familiar with the group’s blueprint.
The news comes after weeks of questions — some voiced by Republicans close to the president — about whether the organization is prepared for the presidential campaign. And it follows the appointment of a prominent new chairwoman, ex-Trump cabinet member and former WWE executive Linda McMahon.
The pressure is high: America First Action super PAC and its allied non-profit, America First Policies, are part of a broader Trump political apparatus that Republican officials say will need to raise roughly $1 billion. Trump successfully raised money from small donors in 2016 but some major GOP givers remain wary of him.
America First Action President Brian Walsh said in an interview Wednesday that he's secured more than $40 million in pledges and that an array of major GOP givers have expressed interest. Many of them are deeply turned off by the Democratic field, he said.
“Folks who wouldn’t even take a meeting with us last cycle are meeting with us,” said Walsh, whose groups raised about $75 million during the 2018 midterm cycle.
Among those expected to cut a check is McMahon, a longtime Republican benefactor and onetime Connecticut Senate candidate who last month left her job as head of the Small Business Administration to take on the new post. The 70-year-old McMahon, who announced her departure during a joint appearance with the president at his Mar-a-Lago resort, has held initial meetings with donors in New York City and is soon expected to travel to Texas.
McMahon’s selection was designed to provide the super PAC with a sorely-needed liaison to the world of GOP givers, some of whom have been cool to the anti-establishment president. It was also aimed at addressing longstanding concerns that America First Action, which had high turnover during its first two years, hasn’t gotten the attention it needs, people close to the president say.
At the same time, McMahon’s appointment was meant to clarify and reinforce that America First Action has the blessing of the administration, unlike an array of other groups billing themselves as pro-Trump. On Tuesday, the reelection campaign reiterated its support for the super PAC while distancing itself from a supposedly pro-Trump outfit run by 2016 aide David Bossie that had been accused of scamming elderly donors.
With Democrats embroiled in a crowded primary, the Trump 2020 financial network is beginning to take shape. On Tuesday, around 250 Republican bundlersfrom across the country met in Washington for a retreat sponsored by the Trump campaign. Senior party figures including Vice President Mike Pence and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel attended.
Republican officials briefed attendees on plans to build a traditional fundraising program that would include establishment-aligned bundlers who snubbed Trump in 2016. The super PAC, meanwhile, is seeking out donors to write six- and seven-figure checks. Walsh, a 42-year-old party operative, has visited Florida a handful of times since the beginning of the year; in March, he and about a dozen of the group’s givers went to Mar-a-Lago for an event with the president. Another Trump-hosted event for the super PAC’s donors is slated for later this month.
Walsh has been selling donors on a plan to carefully tailor the super PAC’s spending around six key states — Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia. Winning all six would virtually guarantee the president a second term, he's told them. He has said that his focus this year is on registering voters, examining data, and conducting polling in the half-dozen states.
The group is taking other steps to gin up donor interest. America First Policies is expected to hold a series of events around the country hosted by Pence focused on the USMCA trade deal.
One unresolved question is the role of former Pence chief of staff Nick Ayers. He departed the White House in December and had been widely expected to take a senior advisory role with the super PAC. Ayers, who has deep connections to the universe of Republican givers, has yet to sign on. But he's remained in touch with super PAC officials about possibly taking a spot on its board and has been reaching out to donors informally on behalf of the group.
Ayers has sought clarity on how his ability to communicate with Trump, Pence and other administration figures would be affected if he joined America First Action. Federal rules limit the ability of outside groups and party officials to coordinate.
Among those expected to bankroll the super PAC is Cherna Moskowitz, a longtime GOP benefactor whose family members are outspoken supporters of Israel. Moskowitz contributed $2 million to the group ahead of the midterms.
“We really feel a tremendous amount of appreciation for everything he’s done for the Jewish community and fighting anti-Semitism,” said Yechezkel Moskowitz, a New York City-based entrepreneur and Cherna Moskowitz’s grandson. “It’s a very simple equation.”