The Trump campaign’s newly resolved mission to court big donors has gotten off to a rocky start, according to Politico, and a personality conflict could be at the center of it. Ken Vogel and Ben Schreckinger report that a rivalry between the top two campaign officials and a major Republican operative has donors wondering where to send their super-PAC cash. They also worry that it’s getting late in the day for a resolution, considering the war chest Hillary Clinton’s allies have already amassed:
Top Trump adviser Paul Manafort has privately expressed support for a yet-to-be-launched super PAC that would be affiliated with a close friend of the billionaire. Multiple sources familiar with the matter said Manafort’s allies hope the PAC will become the favored vehicle for huge checks from mega-donors like Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who is believed to be considering spending as much as $100 million boosting Trump.
But the sources said that Manafort’s chief internal rival, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who is close to Adelson’s advisers, is not on board with the plan for the new PAC. And they suggest that if Lewandowski doesn’t like the set-up, he may signal his support for a totally different outside spending vehicle — possibly one that hasn’t even been created yet. …
Trump allies fear that continued confusion could cripple their slow-starting big-money fundraising effort, which has been plagued by infighting. It’s an especially acute problem for Trump, since he eschewed fundraising and openly antagonized the GOP donor class during his mostly self-funded primary campaign, allowing Clinton and her allies to build a massive cash advantage using a quartet of super PACs working closely together to fill well-defined roles.
The four main super PACs devoted to Clinton have combined to raise $89 million from the beginning of last year through the end of March, the period covered by the most recent FEC filings. And the leading pro-Clinton super PAC, Priorities USA Action, has already reserved $90 million in television ad time in key swing states for tough general election ads against Trump.
The assumption had been that the main super-PAC in the new fundraising effort would be Great America PAC, which has recently added some significant figures to its advisory board — including deep-pocketed Stanley Hubbard. Former Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry has lined up with GAPAC for its efforts, along with billionaire T. Boone Pickens. GAPAC has been associated with the Lewandowski wing of the campaign, however, and some of Trump’s allies have allegedly been calling it a “scam” — a term that might not sit well with the donors who have already gotten on board there.
Hubbard went on the record with Vogel and Schreckinger to rebuke Team Trump for its mixed messages. He wants one point of contact for big donors, and that’s the one for which Hubbard now works and funds. “I think ego creeps into too many things,” Hubbard told Politico, perhaps unaware of any irony in reference to the candidate himself.
Part of the problem, though, is that the campaign and its officers can’t explicitly do much about the confusion. Federal law prohibits campaigns from coordinating with PACs, which includes outright endorsements. Most candidates deal with this by having close friends or associates break out from the campaign to start the PAC, which carries with it an unspoken imprimatur from the candidate him/herself. That also usually takes place much earlier in the cycle than this, which Trump prevented by declaring that he wanted no outside money in the primaries. GAPAC turned out to be the most effective of the small PACs that formed in the vacuum, which is why many just assumed that it had the implicit blessing of Team Trump.
A better question might be why any of this is really an issue. Hillary’s team has multiple outside groups working on her behalf, so why worry about which super-PAC gets to be top dog on Trump’s side? “Three to five super PACs in support of the same candidacy is not a bad thing,” says Doug Watts at the competing Committee to Restore American Sovereignty.
However, it might present more of a problem with the Republican candidate, as Trump has not developed its own ground game or opposition research arms within his campaign. GAPAC’s Ed Rollins — one of the personalities in conflict with others, including Roger Stone — pledged that his PAC would take on those tasks. If they don’t get the funding necessary for it, though, those tasks might fall through the cracks or get handled piecemeal among several committees. That could lead to disastrous failures in the final GOTV efforts in October and November, and could leave the RNC without a clear partner for its Republican Leadership Initiative.
Still, it’s just been a fortnight since Trump decided to opt for a large-scale fundraising effort. Perhaps the candidate himself could send out a couple of subtle signals to straighten this out quickly and get those efforts under way. With the convention looming and the opposition already armed for battle, though, time is not a luxury.