Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), who is already raising record sums to preserve the GOP’s House majority in the fall elections, is making a renewed push for large donations from wealthy benefactors and offering bonuses like special access to the Republican National Convention and face time with party leaders.
In a fundraising appeal circulated to major donors and fundraisers in the last week and obtained by The Washington Post, the Team Ryan joint committee asked for donations or bundled contributions ranging from $75,000 to $250,000. As political committees in both parties have long done, Team Ryan sought to entice them by offering some perks.
Those in the top bracket — people who donate or bundle $250,000 — will get a VIP package for this summer’s Republican National Convention, access to quarterly conference calls with key GOP leaders, two complimentary tickets to Ryan’s holiday reception, invitations to retreats, and monthly policy briefings, among other things, according to the document.
Thanks to changes in campaign finance laws ushered in by a landmark Supreme Court ruling and a 2014 government spending bill, vehicles like Ryan’s joint fundraising committee can collect massive checks from elite donors that were not available to his predecessors in recent years. In an effort to secure their largess, Ryan’s political organization has devised a handsome reward system.
Since becoming speaker in October, Ryan has sought to maximize the amount of money he can raise in conjunction with the National Republican Congressional Committee thanks to the changed legal landscape. Individual donors can now give up to $241,500 a year to the Team Ryan joint fundraising committee, with much of the money flowing to new party accounts to cover legal and building expenses. That helped Ryan bring in more than $23 million in his first five months, thanks to major donors like billionaire industrialist Charles Koch and his wife, Elizabeth, and billionaire hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin, who have already given the maximum.
By comparison, a joint fundraising committee between the party and Ryan’s predecessor, John A. Boehner, raised $35 million in the entire 2014 election cycle. At the time, donors could only give the committee up to $50,000 a year. Boehner was a prolific fundraiser with deep ties to the donor community.
The cash surge shows how quickly the parties and its top leaders have rushed to take advantage of their new freedom to raise large donations, a partial return to the so-called soft money era of the 1990s.
Team Ryan’s joint fundraising committee hauls in cash for Ryan’s reelection campaign, his leadership PAC and the NRCC. Those who bring in at least $150,000 can also look forward to policy briefings and quarterly conference calls, as well as an annual reception with Ryan and other top Republicans that is also offered to the top givers. At the $75,000 level, similar rewards will be provided.
Ryan's political team didn't comment on the record.
The party’s ability to take in larger donations is due in part to the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which did away with an annual cap on how many federal candidates and party committees an individual could support in one year. But a measure tucked into a spending bill later that year has proven even more fruitful, by giving the national parties the ability to raise money into new accounts to cover legal, headquarters and convention expenses at triple the amount donors can give their general funds.
For example, Team Ryan is seeking five and six-figure donations for the NRCC’s Building Fund and Legal Proceedings Fund, which were created by the 2014 bill. While technically designed for narrow purposes, in practice, the funds could be spent more broadly.
Donors can bring in much more than the personal maximums by bundling contributions from other individuals. Experienced fundraisers regularly seek out industry associates and friends who want to participate in the political process for such donations.
Democrats also benefit from joint fundraising committees and the recent changes in the law. Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton set up a joint fundraising committee with the the Democratic National Committee and 32 state parties last year.
With Donald Trump likely to be at the top of the ticket, some top Republican donors who are not Trump fans are looking to focus their energy on down-ballot Senate and House contests through organizations like Team Ryan.
House Republicans have a 246 to 188 advantage over Democrats at the moment.