Two Republican senators said Thursday they would decline to spend political contributions from billionaire financier John Childs and would instead direct the money to charity, now that Childs has been charged with soliciting prostitution in Florida.
The decision could pressure other GOP candidates and groups who have benefited from Childs’ largesse in recent years, including some who have urged Democrats to return their own money from donors accused of sexual misconduct.
Childs, 77, has donated about $17 million since 2007 to support conservative politicians and causes, federal records show. For decades, he has ranked as one of the most generous GOP donors in the country, giving six-figure sums to the national party, the Senate and House campaign operations, and super PACs working to elect Republicans.
He was one of 165 people charged on Feb. 21 with solicitation of prostitution as part of a six-month sex trafficking investigation of massage parlors in Florida. A clerk at the Indian River County Court said Thursday Childs had not yet answered the warrant.
Childs could not be located for comment, but he has previously denied the allegations.
“The accusation of solicitation of prostitution is totally false. I have retained a lawyer,” Childs told Bloomberg News in a Feb. 22 interview. His eponymous private equity firm, J.W. Childs Associates, announced his retirement three days later. The firm said Childs had not been actively involved with the firm on a day-to-day basis “for some time.”
Political operatives from both parties are increasingly highlighting donations their rivals have received from individuals facing ethical questions or criminal charges. The charges against Childs have raised particular questions because he has been such a large donor.
Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who has made combating sex trafficking a top focus, on Thursday made a donation of $8,100 — the same amount she’d received from Childs — to a veterans’ charity, Freedom Alliance, after her office was contacted by The Washington Post.
She had previously transferred to charity contributions from former Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who asked two female employees to bear his child as a surrogate. A McSally spokeswoman, Katie Waldman, said she also returned money from casino magnate Steve Wynn, a former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, who has been accused of sexual misconduct and coercion by multiple women. Wynn has denied wrongdoing.
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) also announced he would be donating the $5,400 he received from Childs.
“Senator Braun is in the process of returning this donation to the Julian Center in Indianapolis, which empowers survivors of domestic and sexual violence,” spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement to The Post.
Most candidates and political groups lack clear policies on whether and when to return political donations from people accused or convicted of wrongdoing, even as political attacks for keeping such donations have become more common and sensitivity to mistreatment of women and others has grown.
The issue is not limited to one party. Republicans have sought to draw attention to those who have received political donations from groups associated with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who is embroiled in a crisis after disclosures that he wore blackface, for example.
For their part, Democrats hope to put Republicans on the defensive with the Childs matter. The Florida Democratic Party has called on the state’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, another recipient of Childs’s donations, to redirect the money.
The Democratic National Committee on Thursday called on the Republican National Committee to return its donations from both Wynn and Childs. The DNC, however, has only partially redirected donations from longtime donor and Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein after his sex scandal broke.
“The RNC refuses to return donations from former RNC Finance Chair Steve Wynn, and now they refuse to return donations from Republican donor John Childs even after a federal indictment that he solicited prostitution as part of a human trafficking ring,” said spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa, in a statement to The Post. “This is disgusting and unacceptable, and does not reflect the values of voters across the country.”
A spokesman for the RNC, which has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Childs, including about $175,000 in the last cycle, declined to comment for this article.
Several Republican groups — who by law can receive larger contributions than individual candidates — have declined to comment, or did not respond to requests for comment, on what they plan to do with their donations from Childs.
America First Action, a super PAC that supports President Trump, received $250,000 from Childs in the 2018 election cycle.
“The contribution was spent in 2018,” said America First Action President Brian Walsh when contacted by email. “No further comment.”
Club for Growth Action, a conservative group that received $100,000 from Childs in the 2018 cycle, declined to answer questions about the fate of his contributions. “We have a policy that we don’t discuss our donors,” spokeswoman Rachael Slobodien said.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, which coordinates GOP campaigns for the U.S. House, did not respond to questions on what it would do with the $123,900 the committee received from Childs in the last cycle.
The NRCC, however, has demanded that Virginia Democrats return donations from Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who has denied charges of rape and assault by two women.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee also declined to comment about the nearly $250,000 Childs gave to the committee in the last cycle.
The NRSC joined McSally’s 2018 campaign in attacking Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) for not immediately returning campaign donations from the founders of Backpage, a classified advertising website that was seized by federal agents as part of a child sex-trafficking investigation.
Anu Narayanswamy contributed to this report.