RICHMOND — A Virginia Republican activist who helped unseat former House majority leader Eric Cantor is urging the party’s most conservative organizers to dig deep to keep the party’s lights on through the end of the month.
Russ Moulton sent an e-mail Sunday to members of the Conservative Fellowship, the tea party-influenced wing of the party that dominates its governing board, sounding the alarm about the party’s financial hole.
“We must urgently raise $30k by end of March to keep our new, leaner RPV running,” Moulton wrote of the party, which recently shed four staffers. “If we want a truly financially-independent, grass roots, principled RPV — free from the usual consultant-style bullying, threats, manipulation and control by elected officials — we MUST step up and raise this bare minimum cash flow.”
John Whitbeck, the new GOP chairman, downplayed the urgency of the party’s financial trouble, but said he is remaking the organization to make it financially stable and less dependent on a few big donors.
The goal of raising $30,000 is “not associated with” the Republican Party of Virginia, Whitbeck said. “That’s an aspirational goal to get to that number by the end of the month, but that’s not a magic number that we need to get to keep operating.”
The plea for cash comes as the party struggles to rebound from internal strife that was illustrated by Cantor’s ouster in last year’s Republican primary. Strategists say it could threaten the party’s ability to maintain its majority in the state Senate this year and to deliver Virginia — a crucial swing state — for a Republican presidential candidate in 2016.
The state party, which was carrying more than $200,000 in debt and just $252 in cash at the end of January, is also relying on a promise of financial help from former lieutenant governor candidate Pete Snyder, a venture capitalist. If the party can raise $50,000 in donations of less than $1,000 by June, Snyder has promised to match that amount.
Snyder, who is serving as the party’s finance chairman through the end of the year, said the rise in prominence of outside political groups as a result of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance also has steered donations away from the party.
“Lack of unity has certainly contributed to financial woes,” he said. “But one issue across the country is we’re just in a very different world than we were a couple years back with Citizens United.”
Business-centric Republicans loyal to Cantor say the real trouble started when the Conservative Fellowship took over the party apparatus a few years ago.
The governing board chose a 2013 party-run convention. State-run primary elections are open to all voters, while conventions are only open to Republicans and typically attract only the most committed activists. Participants at the convention nominated a slate of candidates for statewide office that Democrats successfully painted as too conservative for the state’s changing demographic.
“The state party has moved well to the right of where most Republicans are,” said Linwood Cobb, a former chairman of the GOP’s 7th Congressional District Committee, whose loss foreshadowed Cantor’s. “A lot of Republicans still donate to individual candidates, but they’re certainly not going to support a party that’s going in a direction they don’t agree with.”
In his e-mail, Moulton said one way to pump money into the state party would be for Virginia Republicans to nominate a 2016 presidential candidate through caucuses and a state convention, as opposed to a state-run primary. The party, he wrote, “could very well bring in $800k.”
“We could charge mandatory fees to the presidential campaigns and filing fees to the delegates,” he said in an interview Monday.
Moulton, in the interview, blamed the state GOP’s financial woes on establishment consultants “telling traditional donors the party is a mess.”
“The big donors aren’t giving as much because they don’t like the grass roots running the party,” he said. “They want a party run by consultants.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described party-run conventions as “open to only the most committed activists.” Conventions typically attract the most committed activists, but this is not always the case.