GOP Funders Tighten the Purse Strings over Shutdown
Policy + Politics

GOP Funders Tighten the Purse Strings over Shutdown


House Speaker John Boehner has trusted the Tea Partiers in Congress enough to shut down the government … but GOP congressional leaders haven’t trusted them with campaign donations.

One of the big questions about how long the government shutdown can last depends in part on the campaign money spigot. Boehner has little financial leverage over roughly 20 conservative hardliners in Congress, since the Ohio congressman and his leadership team has given almost no money to these lawmakers, according to a new analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

At the same time, the big time givers who have previously bankrolled Republicans are grumbling about the shutdown that began last Tuesday. Many are grumbling that this small segment of the House majority forced the shutdown by demanding that Obamacare be stopped as a pre-condition for temporarily funding the government.


“I am not writing a check to anyone,” Fred Zeidman, a Houston-based businessman who was a major donor to both of George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns, told The Daily Beast. “That is not working for the American people.”

President Obama and Senate Democrats refused to abandon or delay the health insurance mandate from the 2010 Affordable Care Act. This has left the parties agreeing on symbolic measures such as pay for the military and back pay for furloughed federal workers.

 At a time when the GOP could be fundraising on the launch of the Obamacare exchanges, they’re stuck defending the strategic choices that led to the shutdown.

This has set up a natural level of tension between the business class and Wall Street investors that paid for GOP candidacies and the aggressively conservative congressmen with grassroots support. The donor class frets about the shutdown and the possibility of a default if the debt ceiling is not raised by Oct. 17. 

But no matter how many times Boehner assures voters that the government will not default, he remains under the sway of Tea Party types whose energy helped propel Republicans into the House majority in 2010. A pushback by moderates has yet to take hold.

In a cynical town with an entangled relationship between money and politics, the question is whether donors can convince GOP congressional leaders to ditch far-right conservatives such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and his acolytes in the House. 

“It appears that we’ve got a bunch of crazies running around — one from Texas and some from other places,” Al Hoffman Jr., a former Republican National Committee finance chairman, told The Washington Post. “I love the idea of defunding Obamacare. However, I don’t think it’s going to happen until we have a majority in the Senate and in the House.”


According to The Daily Beast, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) recently explained the dilemma to fundraisers at the Manhattan restaurant Le Cirque. He reportedly said that congressmen who are willing to compromise would face primary challenges. Walden noted that few of the donors have gone door-to-door for candidates, the kind of efforts at which Tea Party groups excel.

Conservative groups such as Club for Growth are now helping to fund primary campaigns for Cruz and other candidates who embrace the Tea Party mantle. The Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity claims to have 2.3 million activists in all 50 states.

These groups insist that all of the blame for the shutdown rests with Obama, a claim that might resonate with the faithful but has gained almost no traction in the polls.

“Instead of playing games and insisting on a shutdown over funding for his horrendous health care law, President Obama should pass the Republican bills to keep the government open and put Obamacare on a path to destruction,” Club for Growth president Chris Chocola said last week.

The congressmen supported by these groups have emerged with almost no help from Republican congressional leaders. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has given $875,000 to 122 candidates through his PAC in the first half of this year, but only eight of the 20 Tea Party congressmen received cash. Boehner’s PAC has handed out $213,000, but of the 20 only his fellow Ohioan Rep. Jim Jordan received any cash.

Half of the 20 Tea Partiers have yet to get a dime from the National Republican Congressional Conference and top party leaders, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Boehner and his team might not be funding these congressmen, but they appear to be following the cues of the Tea Party. That has only complicated their efforts to resolve the shutdown.

The House has pursued a strategy of approving piecemeal measures such as spending for the National Institutes of Health, while Boehner has blocked any effort to bring a “clean” continuing resolution to the floor. This has enabled Obama to pin the blame on the GOP—which only infuriates Republican donors.

 “We can vote to open the government today,” the president told the Associated Press in an interview. “We know that there are enough members in the House of Representatives -- Democrats and Republicans -- who are prepared to vote to reopen the government today. The only thing that is keeping that from happening is Speaker Boehner has made a decision that he is going to hold out to see if he can get additional concessions from us.”