Republican operatives fear putting fundraising data in Trump's hands

(Yahoo News photo Illustration; photos: AP, Getty)
(Yahoo News photo Illustration; photos: AP, Getty)

WASHINGTON — The Republican Party’s efforts to build a small-dollar donation machine to keep up with the Democrats has hit a wall: a deep mistrust of President Trump and his campaign among Republican operatives.

Republican brass are crafting a new online fundraising tool to match the Democrats’ small-dollar fundraising juggernaut that helped carry them to victory in the 2018 midterm elections. But some GOP operatives who would be the ones to purchase the tool don’t want Trump and his family raiding their campaign lists for their own benefit, said campaign consultants reached by Yahoo News.

“They’re scared of adopting it. Imagine Trump owning our data — handing everything over to that guy, the guy who f****s with everybody, who has destroyed our party,” said a senior consultant for a conservative political group with national clients.

Republicans involved with the effort say there are no delays and everything is moving smoothly, and dismissed concerns about Trump stealing data as sour grapes from consultants who will lose money because they didn’t win the work on the project, now known as WINRED.

"We are very optimistic about how things are rolling along in forming this joint venture,” said a Republican with direct knowledge of the project’s development. “Things are really coming together operationally, and we're very encouraged from the donor community — they understand this is something the party needs."

Architects of the new project guaranteed that vendors’ data would be safe against intrusion or poaching by Trump and his campaign. “We’re an open book on what The Data Trust can and can’t do,” said Gerrit Lansing, one of the main architects of the new WINRED. “No one can get any donor data from Data Trust at anytime.”

The project recently changed its name from “Patriot Pass” to “WINRED,” after New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft called President Donald Trump and complained the project sounded like it was affiliated with his football team, according to a Republican familiar with the call from Kraft.

The fight over WINRED and online fundraising marks one of the last holdouts of the Republican establishment against Trump.

At the center of the problem is the very lifeblood of political operations — donor lists and voter data. Campaign consultants, many of them former staff for the party’s major political committees and veterans of presidential bids, sell their services to candidates based on their success — and their success is built on helping the candidates raise money and reach voters.

The Republican political ecosphere is filled with veterans of the Bush, McCain and Romney campaigns — many of them still deeply distrusting of Trump. But the concerns extend to converts to Trump, including staunch conservatives, afraid that Trump’s main operatives will steal their business, because they would have backdoor access to their clients and donors via the new operation.

On the other side is a loose political collaboration formed by the Trump campaign, the RNC and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s top political aide, racing to plug a glaring hole in the Republicans’ operations heading into the 2020 elections.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Democrats raised an astounding amount of money through the online fundraising operation ActBlue in 2018, helping them win back control of the House and cut into Republicans’ dominance in the governorships and statehouses, heading into a critical round of redistricting after the 2020 census. And ActBlue is the same engine that has fueled rocket-paced starts in the Democratic primary by upstarts like former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and first-term Sen. Kamala Harris.

WINRED was crafted to bring the GOP back up to speed in fundraising by merging the party’s voter data vault, the Data Trust, with an online payment system, Revv. WINRED is set to be the official online fundraising tool for the Trump reelection campaign, the RNC, the official campaign arms for House and Senate Republicans, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Campaign Committee.

But that doesn’t guarantee the vast ecosphere of Republican operatives and campaign consultants outside the official party committees will adopt the new tool for their candidates.

“It’s basically letting Trump sabotage our lists, and we know we can’t trust [Trump campaign manager] Brad Parscale. ... It would be stored in Data Trust — which Brad has complete access to. ... He has every incentive to not protect our data,” said a senior campaign consultant.

In short, the problem is Trump. “If this was [conservative mega-donor] Sheldon Adelson starting this, I would have no problem with it,” said the consultant.

The RNC’s Data Trust forms the base of the WINRED system, a massive vault of information on voters and donors built in the wake of the 2012 loss by Mitt Romney. Revv would connect with the information in the Data Trust to form the payment processor for WINRED.

But the Republican political ecosphere is filled with large consulting firms who have built and maintained their own vaults of information about donors and voters. The consultants who raised concerns said they worried that they would have to provide access to those vaults to the Data Trust, thereby creating backdoor access to their information by Trump and his campaign.

A Republican familiar with the effort said that rumors Trump and his team will steal clients are false and amount to sour grapes from the professional political consultant class trying to protect its profits. The Trump campaign and Parscale will have “zero access” to the consultants’ data, said a Republican familiar with the effort.

The term “small-dollar” is a bit of a misnomer because the fundraising from small donations has become massive in recent years. And it is also a lucrative business for the consultants who run the online payment processing systems.

ActBlue reaped $18.9 million in fees in the 2016 campaign cycle, according to FEC records. But that number catapulted in 2018, as ActBlue collected roughly $50 million in fees, according to the FEC.

Revv, founded by former RNC digital director Gerrit Lansing, did booming business with the Trump campaign in 2016. In just under six months running Trump’s online fundraising, Revv was paid close to $3 million by the Trump campaign, according to FEC reports.

The scrap over small-dollar fundraising is just one of many that the GOP has had to contend with as they gear up for the 2020 elections.

In the wake of the 2018 losses, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former Trump adviser David Bossie launched a whisper campaign to try to oust Trump campaign manager Parscale, according to Republicans familiar with the effort.

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign has been trying to snuff out the sparks of an insurgency before they can catch fire. Bossie met with Maryland Republicans earlier this month to try to quash a possible challenge by Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. And party officials in South Carolina and Kansas have begun trying to axe their Republican primary contests altogether, an effort to protect Trump that critics have decried as frighteningly anti-democratic.


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