Pence tries to unlock GOP dollars
Mike Pence wins big at a game Donald Trump has scorned — the one in which politicians beg business executives for campaign contributions — and his selection as vice presidential nominee was seen by some as a way to shake a GOP money tree that has not yet been very fruitful for Mr. Trump.
According to internal documents and donor lists from Mr. Pence’s successful 2012 campaign for governor of Indiana, obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, fundraisers steered him to many of conservatism’s top national donors — the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Foster Friess and the Club for Growth, among others. He set fundraising records in his state.
Mr. Pence’s connections may not, however, be enough to open all of those channels to his running mate.
“Yes, I like Mike Pence,” said James A. “Art” Pope, CEO of North Carolinabased Variety Wholesalers Inc., who has participated in Koch network events and gave $25,000 to Mr. Pence’s 2012 campaign. “I think he helps unite the Republican Party and the country.
“That by itself has not caused me to support Donald Trump as the top of the ticket,” he added. He said he won’t support Mr. Trump — objecting to his trade protectionism and “strongman” manner — or Democrat Hillary Clinton.
On the other hand, Mr. Friess in 2012 backed Mr. Pence to the tune of $25,000, and has said that he will be “enthusiastically supporting” Mr. Trump this year.
The Wyoming investor describes himself as an evangelical Christian who supports free enterprise and limited government. A multimillion-dollar supporter of Rick Santorum in 2012, Mr. Friess said in an interview with Fox Business on Monday that he believes that Mr. Pence and Mr. Trump “have enormous potential to grow.”
He said Mr. Trump “has enormous capacity with Mike Pence’s influence to become a little more measured.”
How the game is played
When Mike Pence sought money to run for Indiana governor, one of his early calls was to one of the ultimate Washington insiders, who then lassoed some largesse from Texas.
In September 2011, a Republican Governors Association fundraiser instructed Mr. Pence to ring up Phil Musser, then a member of the D.C. lobbying firm BGR Group, to ask for “Phil’s help in coordinating a visit” with Texas homebuilder Bob Perry.
Mr. Perry then donated $120,000 to Mr. Pence’s gubernatorial campaign.
Mr. Musser now heads New Frontier Strategy, and boasts connections to the patrician Republican families of Bush and Romney. He could not be reached for comment.
A few days after reaching out to Mr. Musser in 2011, Mr. Pence was instructed by a Republican fundraiser to call John W. Childs, who leads a Boston-based private equity firm. Mr. Childs is a seven-figure donor to the conservative Club for Growth and to a pro-Romney Super PAC, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
Three weeks after the fundraiser recommended the call, Mr. Childs donated $50,000 to Mr. Pence’s campaign. The fundraiser instructed Mr. Pence to call Mr. Childs, thank him for a $50,000 donation, and invite him to dinner at the home of yet another contributor.
It’s unclear whether Mr. Pence can open those wallets in his new campaign. BGR’s most vocal lobbyist has mocked Mr. Trump in the Washington Post.
The Club for Growth spent millions of dollars on anti-Trump ads during the Republican primaries. Last week it lauded the selection of Mr. Pence — calling him “a strong supporter of free trade agreements” who “stood up to his own party’s leadership against the expansion of the entitlement state” — in a statement that didn’t even name Mr. Trump.
Some time before February 2012, according to a fundraiser’s notes, Mr. Pence, while at a “Koch event in Palm Springs,” visited with Andy Abboud, a government relations executive with Nevadan Sheldon Adelson’s casino empire.
The courtship of Mr. Abboud and Mr. Adelson continued into the spring. The fundraiser in April reminded Mr. Pence that he “visited with both Sheldon and [wife] Miriam [Adelson] at the Saturday dinner in Palm Springs during the Koch retreat” and should ask for $100,000 from the billionaire.
Mr. Adelson does not appear to have donated to Mr. Pence’s campaign, but in 2012 wrote a check for $1,000,000 to the Republican Governors Association. In Cleveland this week, Mr. Adelson declined to say whether he would donate to Mr. Trump.
Kochs not bubbly
Mr. Pence’s gubernatorial bid heavily tapped people associated with brothers David and Charles Koch, billionaire Kansans who inherited their father’s fuels and manufacturing business. David Koch donated $200,000 to Mr. Pence’s 2012 campaign, and other businesses controlled by the brothers made additional contributions.
The Kochs lead a conservative policy-making network, and were marshaling hundreds of millions of dollars for use in this campaign.
The Kochs can also bring a vast get-out-the-vote apparatus to campaigns, said Heath Brown, an assistant professor at the City University of New York’s John Jay College, and author of The Tea Party Divided: The Hidden Diversity of a Maturing Movement. If it was available, it could fill one of the “significant gaps in the Trump campaign, which is an organized, effective, established ground game,” he said.
But even with Mr. Pence on board, the Koch apparatus isn’t swinging behind Mr. Trump.
“We are not engaging in the presidential [race],” wrote James Davis, spokesman for Freedom Partners, a Koch-affiliated, nonprofit chamber of commerce. “Our efforts will remain focused on the Senate.”
Freedom Partners chairman Mark Holden said that neither Mr. Trump nor Ms. Clinton align with the Koch network’s values, perspectives and policy. “We do not intend to attack Mr. Trump,” he added, and by contrast will tie the “policies of Hillary Clinton” to Democratic candidates for Senate in the four to six states in which they will be supporting Republicans.
Cliff Forrest, president of Rosebud Mining Company, is associated with the Koch network, according to the Pence campaign documents.
Mr. Forrest told the Post-Gazette that he had dinner with Mr. Trump about 10 days ago in Lexington, Ky., and told him he believed Mr. Pence would be an excellent choice for VP. The fundraising event was attended by about a dozen people, and Mr. Trump was easy to talk to and engaging, he said.
Mr. Forrest said he has been active in both Republican and Democratic campaigns, but is strongly supporting Mr. Trump this year, calling him “aggressive” and a “street fighter.”
Mr. Pence will help Mr. Trump, Mr. Forrest said, because he has experience in politics and campaigning and the inside network in Washington. “He kind of polishes Donald, in my opinion,” he said.
Mr. Forrest, who said he has donated to the Trump Victory Campaign, believes that Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence understand the importance of America’s industrial jobs, and that many of them, especially the coal industry, are under siege. Rosebud currently has 750 employees laid off.
“He’s an egomaniac,” said Mr. Forrest, “but at the end of the day, he’s the type of guy who can pull this off.”