GOP, Dems worry about rogue donors

Texarkana Gazette - - NATION / WORLD - By Adam Woll­ner

WASH­ING­TON— Repub­li­can Richard Uih­lein and Demo­crat Tom Steyer have poured tens of mil­lions of dol­lars into the 2018 cam­paign. And their po­lit­i­cal par­ties are ir­ri­tated about it.

The two bil­lion­aires have backed can­di­dates and causes that Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic lead­ers be­lieve are detri­men­tal to their chances in Novem­ber. Uih­lein, the founder of a Wis­con­sin-based ship­ping sup­plies com­pany, has boosted in­sur­gent con­ser­va­tive can­di­dates over the GOP’s choices in sev­eral races. Steyer, a San Fran­cisco hedge fund man­ager, has poured cash into a cam­paign to im­peach Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, an ef­fort many Democrats view as coun­ter­pro­duc­tive at best.

“Both par­ties have never been weaker than they are at this point in time,” said Jim Manley, a long­time Demo­cratic op­er­a­tive. “It al­lows van­ity projects to dom­i­nate the process. Th­ese wealthy donors are tak­ing over func­tions that have usu­ally been left to the par­ties in years past.”

While Uih­lein and Steyer have ranked among the most gen­er­ous donors in re­cent elec­tions, they are step­ping up their ac­tiv­ity in 2018 as they try to pull their par­ties fur­ther from the po­lit­i­cal cen­ter.

Both have con­trib­uted nearly $30 mil­lion each to out­side groups so far this cy­cle, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics, which tracks po­lit­i­cal spend­ing.

It’s un­clear how much more Uih­lein plans to give, but he’s al­ready spent more than he did in the last two elec­tion cy­cles com­bined—$24 mil­lion. And Steyer, af­ter spend­ing $74 mil­lion in 2014 and $90 mil­lion in 2016, has pledged to spend a to­tal of $120 mil­lion in 2018.

Only Las Ve­gas casino mag­nate Shel­don Adel­son and his wife, Miriam, have out­paced them to this point, shelling out $55 mil­lion so far to two su­per PACs aligned with Repub­li­can con­gres­sional lead­er­ship.

Fol­low­ing mul­ti­ple ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct against Roy Moore last year, most Repub­li­cans in Wash­ing­ton aban­doned their nom­i­nee in his Al­abama Se­nate race. Not Uih­lein, who gave $100,000 to a proMoore su­per PAC.

In Illi­nois, where Uih­lein re­sides, he backed state Rep. Jeanne Ives to the tune of $2.5 mil­lion as she chal­lenged GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner in the pri­mary. Rauner sur­vived, but is con­sid­ered to be one the most vul­ner­a­ble gov­er­nors run­ning for re-elec­tion this fall.

Most re­cently, Uih­lein spent nearly $11 mil­lion in the Wis­con­sin GOP pri­mary to sup­port Kevin Nicholson, a Ma­rine vet­eran who had never run for of­fice be­fore, and attack state Sen. Leah Vuk­mir, who was en­dorsed by the state party. Af­ter the bruis­ing con­test, Vuk­mir now faces a tough bat­tle against the well-funded Sen. Tammy Bald­win.

Char­lie Sykes, a for­mer long­time con­ser­va­tive ra­dio host in Wis­con­sin, said the pri­mary forced Vuk­mir to tack to the right and con­stantly re­in­force her sup­port for Trump, which could now weaken her in the gen­eral elec­tion.

“The en­tire race ba­si­cally oc­curred be­cause Uih­lein was will­ing to dump in eight fig­ures be­hind Nicholson,” Sykes. “He would not have been a le­git­i­mate can­di­date with­out that one donor be­hind him.”

“If we lose in Novem­ber, a lot of peo­ple are go­ing to look at Uih­lein and say, it’s your fault,” added one Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can strate­gist in­volved in the race, who re­quested anonymity to speak can­didly.

The next test for Uih­lein comes in Mis­sis­sippi where a spe­cial elec­tion to re­place Sen. Thad Cochran takes place in Novem­ber. Uih­lein sup­ports con­ser­va­tive state Sen. Chris McDaniel over GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who is serv­ing out the rest of Cochran’s term. Repub­li­cans fear that if McDaniel emerges from pri­mary, Democrats would have an op­por­tu­nity to win the seat.

“That is a gen­uine risk. In a small state like Mis­sis­sippi, if he pumped an­other $2 mil­lion in be­fore the elec­tion, he could have a big im­pact,” said one Repub­li­can op­er­a­tive in­volved in the race.

Josh Holmes, a lead­ing GOP strate­gist, said he thinks Uih­lein has been a vic­tim of bad ad­vice, and is hold­ing out hope he will be as ac­tive in the gen­eral elec­tion as he was in the pri­maries.

“If your ad­vice is to throw $30 mil­lion be­hind Roy Moore, Kevin Nicholson and Chris McDaniel, you’re go­ing to lose all that money. That’s an in­vest­ment that’s akin to set­ting a pile of money on fire,” Holmes said.

While Uih­lein stays out of the spot­light, Steyer em­braces it.

Through his “Need to Im­peach” cam­paign, he has starred in his own ads, held town halls across the coun­try, and fre­quently ap­peared on TV for in­ter­views. In to­tal, he plans to spend $40 mil­lion to en­cour­age vot­ers who want to kick the pres­i­dent out of of­fice to ac­tu­ally vote on Elec­tion Day.

Many Democrats, in­clud­ing the party’s lead­er­ship in Wash­ing­ton, be­lieve push­ing for Trump’s im­peach­ment ahead of the midterms will back­fire.

“The mes­sage of im­peach­ment revs up the Repub­li­can base,” said Sheila Nielsen, a Demo­cratic donor from Illi­nois.

“I’d rather have those peo­ple sleep­ing on the couch than com­ing out to vote.“

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