Many top conservative donors are skipping the RNC convention because they oppose Donald Trump
Companies like Apple are also cutting back their previous sponsorship of the event
Jay Bergman isn’t sure why he doesn’t want to be here.
A major donor to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads network and a fixture in Chicago fundraising circles, Bergman had planned to attend this week’s Republican convention. He had given generously to the super PAC behind Jeb Bush, and he had landed a spot on his Illinois delegate slate anticipating the moment when Bush would roll to the Republican nomination.
Now it’s a different story.
“I just lost interest, I guess,” Bergman said. “I don’t know why. I couldn’t put my finger on it.”
Maybe it has something to do with Donald Trump.
Nominating conventions are typically a booze-filled, luxury-class experience for their wealthiest supporters, a reward for bothering their friends for money and digging deep to finance an expensive White House bid. They can hobnob nightly with their party’s stars, or maybe pitch their pet project to the possible next occupant of the Oval Office.
But this year is different, and a conspicuous number of Republican financiers are skipping this year’s four-day gala, in no small part due to Trump, who has lambasted the GOPs donor class with unprecedented zeal.
Paul Singer, perhaps the party’s most prolific financier, is staying away. So are Charles and David Koch, who have unparalleled influence in Republican fundraising circles.
And a number of corporate patrons, from Apple to Wells Fargo, have abandoned their traditional sponsorship of the Republican convention, expressing little tolerance for Trump’s incendiary brand of politics. Some lobbyists have advised clients to be wary of attending a convention where the chance of protests – and reputational damage – is unusually high.
All told, that’s left the party’s convention committee with a $6 million fundraising shortfall, even though the group claims more than 100 donors who kicked in a total of $58.5 million
“While some companies have chosen not to support our efforts, overall, our fundraising efforts have been highly successful,” said Emily Lauer, a spokesman for the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee.
And indeed, for movers and shakers hoping to press the flesh, a jaunt to Cleveland is still a worthwhile investment, donors note. They can go to patio parties or visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, or skip that scene to head 40 minutes out of the city to fire a few rounds at a “Stars and Stripes Shoot-Out” on Tuesday hosted by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.
“It’s like all conventions. If it aligns with your advocacy agenda, it makes sense,” said Dave Tamasi, a member of Trump’s national finance team and a Republican lobbyist who is attending, but said a donor drop-off from the 2012 convention is possible. “Trump’s running as an outsider. That invites itself to fewer perceived insiders being part of the event.”
So Pete Ricketts, the governor of Nebraska, and brother Todd Ricketts, a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, will roam the halls as part of their state’s delegations to the convention – even though their family spent a fortune to beat Trump in the primary. And even though the Kochs’ network is still firmly resisting lining up behind Trump, a key Koch emissary, Tim Phillips, the head of Americans for Prosperity, will be making the rounds.
For the wealthy Republicans unabashedly backing Trump, it isn’t a tough call: Sheldon Adelson, the highest-profile donor backing Trump, will be sitting down with various PACs on Tuesday.
A small number of donors have even more of a reason to come in: Tom Barrack, Harold Hamm and Phil Ruffin, three Trump business associates, are speaking from the dais.
And for those seeking checks? There’s no better place to be in Cleveland.
Convention donors will be feted at receptions each night before the evening sessions at the Quicken Loans Arena, showing off downtown venues that highlight the best of the city. David Bossie, a conservative activist who is fundraising for a super PAC funded by Bob and Rebekah Mercer, will make appearances. And a rival super PAC to the Mercers, Great America PAC, is hoping to impress donors at a private reception on Monday evening with a prominent Trump surrogate: former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Weeks like these are some of the best chances for Trump super PACs to earn the new commitments that they badly need. The Trump independent groups revealed this week that they had underperformed their initial projections by tens of millions of dollars, raising the question of whether a well-funded pro-Trump group will ever get off in time for Trump to have television ads run in the fall.
Trump’s campaign is faring no better – his campaign, low on cash, is heavily reliant on the Republican National Committee, and a reassuring performance this week could ease concerns and open wallets. He’s expected to attend two to four finance events a week through September.
And so even after the curtain falls on Cleveland on Thursday night, the fervent money chase won’t stall. Trump heads to Miami and Tampa alongside Gov. Rick Scott for another round of fundraising next Tuesday – when it will be Hillary Clinton’s convention that is in full steam.
CNN’s John King contributed to this report.