Worried About Trump, GOP Donors Back Paul Ryan and His Congressional ‘Firewall’
Policy + Politics

Worried About Trump, GOP Donors Back Paul Ryan and His Congressional ‘Firewall’

© Ben Brewer / Reuters

Worried about losing the House in the wake of Donald Trump’s divisive presidential campaign, GOP donors are turning to House Speaker Paul Ryan and his Congressional super PAC.

Mike Shields, the president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC associated with Ryan that focuses on the House, said Tuesday that his organization has now invested $20.7 million in 15 congressional races, and that more money was on the way.

The PAC’s 2016 general election spending is now nearly twice the $11.6 million it spent in 2014, reflecting a big surge in donations. The total includes $10.7 million spent this month on television and internet ads in roughly a dozen House races.

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“CLF is spending more than it ever has in a general election – and we plan to spend more,” Shields said in a statement. “This record level of spending reflects CLF’s growing support to ensure that Speaker Ryan and House Republicans have the strongest governing majority possible next Congress.”

It was once unthinkable that the Republicans’ 246-to-186 majority in the House might be in jeopardy, but many House Republican candidates have struggled since Trump claimed the GOP presidential nomination in July.

In an interview with CNN, Shields voiced concern that Trump’s highly controversial positions on immigration, trade and other issues are hurting down-ballot GOP candidates and putting control of the House in play this November.

In the event that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton defeats Trump and the Democrats take back control of the Senate, a GOP controlled House would be the Republicans only check on Democratic policies, Shields suggested.

"There is uncertainty at the top of the ticket and we have a significant group of donors who want to make sure that the House is a firewall," he said.

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Despite Republican worries, most analysts agree that it’s unlikely that Democrats will win back control of the House, even with a strong showing by Clinton in the presidential contest. University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato currently forecasts that the Democrats could pick up 10 to 15 seats, but that is far short of the 30 net seats needed.

Still, a loss of 10 to 15 seats would greatly weaken the Republicans’ hand in controlling legislation and spending measures coming out of the House.

Citing multiple GOP sources, CNN reported that the Congressional Leadership Fund was attracting more money this year because Republican donors are far more comfortable with the policy-oriented House speaker than the unpredictable billionaire businessman atop the ticket.

With Trump at the helm, the Republican Party has lagged behind the Democrats in overall campaign fundraising and media spending, from the Republican National Committee on down to the GOP congressional campaign committee and state parties. Overall, the Democrats have outraised the Republicans $556 million to $523 million, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee outraised the National Republican Congressional Committee in July by nearly three to one, raking in $12 million to the NRCC’s $4.6 million. However, the DCCC’s lead throughout the entire election cycle is far less impressive, with Democrats reporting $133 million to $121 million for the Republicans. Moreover, the Republicans are reporting more cash on hand than the Democrats.

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Since it was created in 2011 by former House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, the Congressional Leadership Fund has trailed its Democratic counterpart, the House Majority PAC, in overall fundraising. Ryan has proved to be less effective than Boehner in raising money for the super PAC, although he appears to be picking up the pace as the race intensifies.

Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said Tuesday that the Congressional Leadership Fund offers Ryan the opportunity to raise money quickly for House GOP candidates thanks to the lack of restrictions on donors.

“So if there is a sense of panic, if there is a sense of anxiety among GOP donors … this is a way for him to go back to donors who have already maxed out to the party or already maxed out to joint fundraising committees ... and dig deeper into their pockets to help shore up congressional campaigns,” she said in an interview.

“For GOP donors who didn’t side with Trump, I think Paul Ryan offers a logical option alternative for their support,” she said.