The RNC pitches donors on its convention: It’s not about Trump

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The Republican National Committee is turning to donors — including some Democrats — to fund its convention, even if they don’t like former President Donald Trump.

Reince Priebus, chair of the Milwaukee 2024 Host Committee, acknowledged in an exclusive interview with POLITICO that the pitch requires some finesse.

“In a political pitch, you say this person’s great and we’re trying to run against that person, who would be bad. I’d explain why you need to give right now in a political sense,” said Priebus, who worked on Trump’s first campaign before joining him in the White House.

It’s a message that seems to be working. Priebus said the nonprofit run by the host committee is on track to raise the $70 million for the convention that will take place July 15-18, 2024. It is ahead of its quarterly goals, but Priebus declined to get more specific about how far along the fundraising is or who’s writing checks.

Priebus said the host committee tells donors that “the convention is about economic development and not who the nominee will be. As a nonprofit, you have to separate the two.”

Two Milwaukee-based companies have already put forth support for the convention: Northwestern Mutual and the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, a Native American casino.

Northwestern Mutual’s chairman, president and CEO John Schlifske told the Milwaukee Business Journal that he’s focused on the influx of spending the convention will bring and doesn’t think Trump’s presence “will have an impact on who’s involved in terms of financial support or other support.”

Priebus echoes the point, saying that for every donor who would like to see someone other than Trump get the nomination, “there are very well-known donors to President Trump that are also already supportive.”

Ted Kellner, the Republican convention host committee’s CEO, said he still comes across potential donors who have a “hard time distinguishing” between the Republican National Committee and the host committee.

“We line up the hotels. We line up the transportation and the credentials and maybe organize some parties,” he said of the host committee’s organizing duties. That’s all separate from the politics of the convention, Kellner said during a recent media walk-through event in Milwaukee. “And for the most part, the vast majority of people understand that.”

Kellner, a longtime friend and donor to President Joe Biden, was also the honorary host committee chair for the 2020 Democratic National Convention that was supposed to be in Milwaukee before it went virtual because of the pandemic.

And it helps that Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson is cheerleading for the convention’s success even though he’s a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat of a city that voted overwhelmingly for Biden in 2020.

Priebus and Kellner spend most of their days talking to potential donors who can write big checks to the nonprofit host committee and corporate donors interested in the TV exposure that comes with a four-day televised convention.

The Democratic National Convention’s host committee is also fundraising for its four-day event in Chicago in August 2024. Democrats have a goal to raise between $80 million and $100 million for their nominating event.

Democrats are “encouraged,” they said, by the donation rate so far. “We feel good about the progress,” said a Democratic National Convention spokesperson.

Priebus thinks it’s an advantage that the two conventions are being held in close proximity and said some donors may be more willing to give to both.

The host committees for both conventions operate as nonprofits that aren’t subject to donation limits or reporting requirements to which political committees must adhere.

With the Republican convention expected to generate as much as $200 million for the broader Milwaukee area, Priebus said “more than half of the money” raised so far has “come from the local community, so they understand that this is about economic development.”

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