Top GOP Senate Campaigns Aren't Using WinRed

Top GOP Senate Campaigns Aren't Using WinRed
AP Photo/Matt York
Top GOP Senate Campaigns Aren't Using WinRed
AP Photo/Matt York
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One week after national Republican Party leaders used strong-arm tactics, threats and legal action to try to force all GOP campaigns onto their preferred online fundraising platform, three of the party’s top Senate incumbent campaigns are still using rival companies.

Republicans are facing a tough re-election map as they work to keep their upper-chamber majority, and the Senate GOP political apparatus is laser-focused on protecting a core group of incumbents, including Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Martha McSally of Arizona.

As of late Tuesday, these campaigns’ main website donor pages had yet to transition to WinRed, the Trump-endorsed online fundraising platform. National Republican officials are engaged in an aggressive campaign to convince all Republicans that WinRed is the key to the party’s very survival when it comes to competing with Democrats’ small-dollar fundraising advantage.

Butn fact, as of Tuesday, Tillis and McSally were still using Anedot, a sister company to Give.GOP, the donor-oriented website that Republican leaders shut down last week. Last Wednesday, the Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington-based group devoted to electing state-level officials, pulled the plug on the .GOP domain it controlled, despite previously encouraging all Republicans and conservative organizations and other entities to use it.

While it’s unclear why the top GOP battleground campaigns are still using other platforms weeks after WinRed’s official launch, the McSally campaign said it’s in the process of making the switch. A source for the first-term senator said Wednesday that the campaign is “actively onboarding with WinRed and hopes to be operational with them in the immediate future.”

The Give.GOP fundraising portal re-launched as Right.us this week amid a fierce backlash against Republican leaders’ efforts to consolidate behind WinRed. Many state party officials and campaign operatives are incensed over the effort to give WinRed an online fundraising monopoly, and they view it as a money and data grab that, counter to conservative philosophy, violates basic free-market principles.

National party leaders have billed WinRed as the preferred GOP response to ActBlue, the Democrats’ small-dollar juggernaut that has dominated that party’s grassroots giving over the last decade.

WinRed’s backers want to compete with ActBlue by convincing their party members to consolidate around a single fundraising platform and marry the technology to the GOP’s superior voter data repository known as the Data Trust. When combined with President Trump’s massive small-dollar donor list, they believe it will elicit a torrent of giving that will help all down-ticket Republicans.

To create such a donation pool, as many GOP candidates as possible need to jump in and get behind the effort, the Republican National Committee and others argue.

But others question exactly how down-ticket campaigns will benefit and say they have yet to be fully briefed on the process and what it entails. Both sides are focused on an upcoming RNC meeting at the end of the month in Charlotte, N.C., where they hope to hash out their differences and find a way forward.

WinRed has several prominent national Republican operatives backing it. Aside from Trump himself, there’s Brad Parscale, who served as the digital media director for the president’s 2016 campaign and now is the campaign manager for his 2020 re-election. A tight-knit group of former national party officials, including former RNC Digital Director Gerrit Lansing, who has a 60% stake in WinRed, are also behind the push.

In addition, Joshua Kushner, the brother of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a top White House official, is an investor in Stripe, the liberal-leaning Silicon Valley credit-card processing company that WinRed uses. Joshua Kushner’s company, Thrive Capital, reportedly made a $30 million investment in Stripe in 2014.

If the vast majority of GOP candidates and committees signed up for WinRed and permanently ditched other fundraising platforms, the billions of dollars in campaign donations directed to them could amount to tens of millions in profits for Stripe – not to mention a windfall for Lansing, as well as at least a marginally higher investment return for Kushner.

Critics of the WinRed push also point to the possibility of others benefiting from “affiliate” side deals common in the political fundraising industry that don’t show up in Federal Election Commission reports.

Last week, top party officials laid down the law and told candidates and committees that they would not have the RNC’s financial or other support if they did not use WinRed, labeling as a “scheme” rivals’ “misuse” the party’s logos.

After the officials sent cease-and-desist letters, Give.GOP -- now Right.us -- removed the logos but defended its product as a platform that would only help the party by raising more donations and charging candidates and committees nothing for the service. (Donors, not GOP campaigns or committees, pay a small extra fee to cover the cost of processing their donations.)

“@Give.GOP is a scheme that preys on the good intentions of activists,” Austin Chambers, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, which shut down Give.GOP last week, tweeted last week. “…We stand w/@realdonaldtrump + @GOP as a partner to make @winred successful. It’s vital to winning!” 

To say some Republicans are skeptical about the motives behind the WinRed push is putting it mildly. More than a dozen state party officials, Republican operatives and fundraising experts describe the effort to shut down Give.GOP as a top-down, mob-style intimidation.

One nationally known fundraiser argued that party leaders didn’t have to make .GOP a publicly useable domain suffix, but they chose to do so a few years ago and now there’s a chilling effect after the hammer dropped on Give.GOP. State parties and other conservative organizations have spent years and thousands of dollars developing their websites and email lists, and now have to worry that national Republicans can shut their operations down.

“For them to now look at these people who have spent time and money creating a website, and for them to say, ‘Oh, you’re on the wrong side of our mood on this this week,’ it’s not fair to those people and it sends a real chilling effect to those who might use [.GOP],” the fundraiser told RealClearPolitics, requesting anonymity out of fear of reprisal.

“It feels like a political enforcer, a mob enforcer is saying, ‘What a nice shop you have around here; wouldn’t it be a shame if something happened to it?’” the fundraiser added.

Moreover, other Republican sources argue, the WinRed website isn’t working properly. Even though the Trump campaign is using it as the main donation page on its website, it’s continuing to send out other fundraising solicitations utilizing platforms such as Lansing’s company, Revv, but not WinRed. The National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee also appear to be using other platforms for at least some of their solicitations.

“They are threatening to break your kneecaps for failing to use the thing they are not using themselves,” a GOP source remarked.

“Are we now seeing that the emperor has no clothes? WinRed is supposed to be pulling in small-dollar donations in record sums but nobody is using it. Why?” asked another Republican operative.

Meanwhile, Democrats are ridiculing the GOP over their internal fundraising war. While WinRed and Right.us are private companies that stand to make a killing in profits, they point out that ActBlue is a nonprofit that is already raking in hundreds of millions to support candidates this cycle.

“ActBlue emerged organically. Republicans are trying to force WinRed’s success by interfering with the market (LOL),” Carolyn Fiddler, the communications director for the liberal Daily Kos, tweeted last week.

“I love it when they eat their own,” she added in a separate tweet.

Meanwhile, Fiddler noted that ActBlue is “kind of extremely killing it.” She cited fundraising stats showing that ActBlue raised $246 million in the second quarter of this year while 3.3 million unique donors have contributed in 2019.

Madeline Conway, a self-identified Democrat who previously worked at the party’s House election arm, pointed out that Scherie Murray, the Jamaican immigrant and GOP small business owner running against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, launched her campaign last week while still using the Anedot platform.

With the help of a Fox News’ interview with Sean Hannity and Twitter boosts from Laura Ingraham, the Murray campaign launch stood to benefit from hundreds of thousands of small-dollar donations last week – all of which appear to have gone through Anedot, not WinRed.

“LMAO she’s not even using WinRed this is amazing,” Conway tweeted Monday with a link to a Murray fundraising webpage clearly showing that it’s run by Anedot.

As of Tuesday, however, Murray had made the switch and was using WinRed on her main donation page.

Commenting on the slow transition onto WinRed, Lansing said the campaigns will be shifting over time and the process is going as planned.

“Big oil tankers don’t turn on a dime,” he told RCP. “They’re slowly phasing over, which is what we’ve been saying since we launched.”
Others believe that WinRed got caught flat-footed because it had planned a later launch, but Give.GOP -- now Right.us -- created a donor-oriented platform that was up and running in early July. Top GOP officials and their allies then viewed Give.GOP as interfering with its consolidation plans.

Lansing has pushed back at that characterization. Instead, he says that he has worked for months with party officials and a team of lawyers to ensure that WinRed is set up to truly compete with ActBlue while complying with complicated federal elections laws.

In recent days, Lansing has repeatedly questioned Right.us’ legality, arguing that the only way to truly compete with ActBlue is by setting up a conduit PAC, as ActBlue has done, to receive the donations that then are sent along to individual candidate campaigns.

Paul Dietzel, who created and runs Anedot and Right.us, says he’s confident the online platforms are operating legally, with a proven record to show for it. Right.us supporters point to numerous FEC advisory opinions allowing platforms to service donors and legally send the donations on to individual campaigns.

Lansing counters that Right.us has no way of dealing with refunds if a donor wanted to cancel a recurring donation.

The Right.us side explains that refunds are allowed for duplicate donations or extraneous circumstances and that donors can request one directly through Right.us, Anedot or the recipient campaign.

“Anedot leads the charge against fraud and also works to mitigate refunds and charge-backs,” said a source familiar with Right.us’s policies. For example, so far in 2019, Anedot’s platform-wide refunds as a percentage of total volume amount to 0.6%, and charge-backs are 0.13%, the source said.

“Anedot has built a tremendous depth of expertise in mitigating refunds and charge-backs over a decade.”

After the profit motive, the most deep-seated suspicions regarding WinRed focus on how donors’ personal data will be used by each company. Donor lists and voter data are the lifeblood of political operations and candidates, and the highly paid consultants who run their campaigns ferociously guard their territory.

Each side is scrutinizing the other’s privacy policies and worry that the data could easily be handed over to the highest bidder, political or commercial.

According to a Right.us source, the campaign committee that receives the donation through its platform owns the donor data, including emails and cellphone numbers.

“The donor made the contribution directly to the recipient via Right.us, and the recipient is responsible for that relationship,” the source said.

WinRed’s privacy policy also says it does not control how political campaigns and political committees use or share donor information. It also notes that donor information can be shared with its business partners for myriad purposes, spurring criticism that it could be used by Stripe and other partners for uses that donors did not intend.

Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics' White House/national political correspondent.



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