By MAGGIE HABERMAN and ANNA PALMER, POLITICO
Republican donors were horrified in November after pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into losing campaigns for president and Congress with nothing to show for it. A year later they’re appalled by how little has changed, angered by the behavior of Republican lawmakers during a string of legislative battles this year capped by the shutdown, and searching for answers.
In conversation after conversation, donors express growing frustration with the party and the constellation of outside groups they’ve been bankrolling. After getting squeezed last year by an array of campaign committees, party committees and disparate super PACs, many of them are still sitting on their checkbooks — a worrisome sign for the party with the 2014 midterm elections fast approaching.
Some donors are looking to take matters into their own hands
New York City GOP mega-bundler Paul Singer has held a series of informal, and a few very formal, discussions in recent months with other extremely wealthy donors about how best to spend their cash in 2014, including debating the idea of forming a new entity to play a serious role in the midterm races. Its focus would be on improving the quality of Republican candidates in the hopes of avoiding more Todd Akin-like candidates who blow eminently winnable races.
“He wants to win,” one donor who attended a session said of Singer. The donor stressed that the hedge fund billionaire’s meetings, like other informal gatherings among the monied class this year, were taking place well prior to the government shutdown.
Still, some donors think the reluctance about giving among their ranks may have reached an inflection point over the way a number of Republicans in Washington acquitted themselves the past few weeks.
Donors and business leaders, whose words used to carry great weight with candidates ever worried that the money spigot might be turned off, now face a new reality. It’s a Frankenstein syndrome of sorts, in which the candidates they’ve helped fund, directly or indirectly, don’t fear them, and don’t think they need them.
Many business leaders are exasperated by their diminished influence among congressional Republicans since the 2012 election, and by the rising clout of groups like the Senate Conservative Fund, which have run ads against incumbent Republican senators for not taking enough of a hard line on the shutdown.
Where there is agreement — as is the case with donors who believe the Republican National Committee should be shored up — there is also dissatisfaction with the slow pace of progress
Some expressed frustration that the national party has not taken a strong stand. That sentiment extends to the RNC, whose chairman, Reince Priebus, wrote shortly before the shutdown that he would “stand with Ted Cruz any day” against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Fred Zeidman, a Texas-based bundler who supported Mitt Romney and George W. Bush, is among those who don’t want to give to party committees right now.
“Why do I want to fuel a fire that’s going to consume us?“ he asked.
Singer, meanwhile, is considering a do-it-yourself approach.
At a meeting convened by the executive of 30 to 40 donors over dinner in New York City late last month, major donors discussed how to prevent a repeat next year of the devastating 2012 cycle. One idea broached is to form a new entity — probably not a super PAC — that could be a driving force in midterm races, according to sources familiar with the discussions.
Harold Hamm, a onetime energy adviser to Romney, was among the meeting’s participants, who were strongly encouraged to keep the discussions confidential, according to two sources. People familiar with the meetings stressed that no decisions have been made, and that these were among a number of discussions various groups of donors have held over the past 10 months.
Despite his business background, Singer’s issue is not with the tea party per se — he has been a major donor to the Club for Growth, which has backed Cruz, a progenitor of the movement to defund Obamacare — but with the GOP at large losing race after race.
Singer is also still a major supporter of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, hosting events for it recently. But the committee has been struggling mightily since 2012, outraised by its Democratic counterpart and hit even harder amid the shutdown.
The fundraising woes for the GOP have been especially pronounced with New York-area donors, according to a number of Republican sources. At an event hosted by the NRSC a few weeks ago, donors vented about the inability of leadership to control Cruz and other vocal senators affiliated with the tea party.
An Oct. 30 National Republican Congressional Committee event in New York City, which is expected to feature attendees from the financial services sector, is still proceeding apace, according to a committee spokeswoman. But a senior Republican familiar with an event planned in New York on Nov. 4, also with Wall Street donors, said the response has been tepid.