Pence unlikely to open donor floodgates to Trump

Story highlights

  • Trump officially announced Pence as his pick on Friday
  • The Indiana governor has strong fundraising ties

Washington (CNN)Mike Pence brings connections and appeal to a cross-section of the Republican Party's wealthiest financiers to the ticket with Donald Trump, but he nevertheless is unlikely going to convert those into big dollars for the fall campaign, according to interviews with donors and operatives deeply tied to big-money networks.

The Indiana governor is unique in the breadth of his donor connections. He has long held ties to Charles and David Koch, whose associates have saluted him as one of the best governors in the country. And Pence also pleases less ideological donors allied with groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable -- two organizations that have publicly opposed Trump's trade policies.
    Even if Pence offers Trump something of an entrée to the GOP elite, there is a worry that he would be tarnished by his connection to a Republican presidential candidate who is unpopular in his on party, some supportive Republicans said.
    But the battery of Republican organizations and conservative donors that have chosen to snub Trump and spend their money elsewhere -- particularly to help the GOP hold the Senate -- signaled that they had no plans to change course, even while maintaining that their admiration for the Indiana governor remains strong.
    "Our efforts will remain focused on the Senate," said a Koch spokesman, James Davis.
    The Ricketts family, which financed much of the anti-Trump advertising barrage during the primary, includes a fellow Midwestern governor -- Nebraska's Pete Ricketts -- who has praised Pence's "steady, strategic leadership."
    Pence, however, has not inspired them to change their position and donate to the Republican ticket, according to a source close to the Ricketts family. The same is true for Paul Singer, a New York hedge-funder worth $2 billion who had been supporting Pence, according to a Republican source.
    Pence does have strong allies who could decide to help the Trump-Pence ticket.
    Associates of Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who were working behind the scenes to convince Trump to choose former House Speaker Newt Gingrich instead, said Thursday they could live with the choice. "We like Pence," one said.
    The Adelson-backed Republican Jewish Coalition is expected to rally to Pence, who authored a bill in Congress to construct a security fence in Israel. Pence was well-received when he addressed RJC members in Las Vegas two years ago, and those ties could help him win over Trump-skeptical Jewish donors.
    Signs emerged Thursday from two particular constellations of donors were bullish on Trump-Pence: The anti-tax Club for Growth, which is helmed by David McIntosh, a close Pence ally from Indiana, said that after spending millions of dollars against Trump in the GOP primary that he had picked a "great VP." Spokesman Doug Sachtleben predicted their donors may now be more likely to back the ticket.
    Another network weighing how much trust to put in Pence: Crossroads, a constellation of super PACs and nonprofits founded by Karl Rove and today allied with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
    Crossroads, after spending tens of millions to back Mitt Romney in 2012, has assiduously stayed on the sidelines in 2016, directing its donors and dollars toward Senate races but -- unlike the Koch network -- always leaving the door open to spending in the presidential race should the dynamics change.
    Crossroads will once again consider spending in the presidential if the Pence pick ends up exciting its donors, according to a group official. But at least one major supporter, Jay Bergman of Illinois, said he believed Pence would change the equation of the Senate-aligned leadership.
    Praising Pence as someone who "could probably pass for an accountant somewhere," Bergman said Crossroads donors would be drawn to his low-key style in contrast to Trump's "outrageous" comments.
    "At this point, I'm supporting Donald Trump to an extent, but if Mike Pence is his running mate, I will probably support him a lot more," said Bergman, who met with Trump in a small group at a Chicago fundraiser this week. "I would contribute more than I otherwise would."
    And despite early indications from the Kochs that their rock-solid opposition to Trump had not budged an inch, some Republicans are putting faith in Pence's ability to comb his Rolodex in Koch world, which gathers later this month for a highly anticipated summit.
    "He actually has an opening and credibility to slowly work them to consider supporting the ticket," said Austin Barbour, a Republican fundraiser. "If he chose someone who doesn't have that relationship, that would be awfully hard to convince them to jump in."
    Pence's political and financial ties to Koch world are extensive. A close outside adviser, Marc Short, until this spring oversaw all Koch spending. Pence's deputy chief of staff, Matt Lloyd, is a former executive at Koch Industries. And several of his top donors in his governor's races are reportedly aligned with the sprawling financial network, including Fred Klipsch, Pence's campaign treasurer.
    Yet Pence does form a contrast with the party's other leading fundraisers in one major way: He's a social conservative courting a donor class that largely is not too concerned with culture wars. That's left donors and operatives who are more aligned with the GOP's Wall Street wing unenthused, predicting that Pence will do more to win rock-ribbed anti-abortion activists than the buttoned-up business set.
    "I'm not enamored with him," said one top fundraiser, who bundled checks for Marco Rubio during the primary campaign. "I liked the previous governor a hell of a lot more."