When Republican National Committee members met in Milwaukee last week, many of them had one persistent question on their minds: Why has fundraising slumped?
At the start of the 2022 midterm cycle, the RNC had twice as much cash on hand as the Democratic National Committee—$80.5 million versus $38.8 million. Now, the RNC has less than half as much on hand as the DNC—$11.8 million to the DNC’s $25.4 million.
The reversal comes after longtime RNC chair Ronna McDaniel fought off a contentious challenge to her leadership earlier this year, a victory secured partly through her pledge to prioritize the party’s fundraising efforts.
But the current state of affairs has left many RNC members concerned about the group’s financial status just as the 2024 cycle begins to pick up steam—with some of them pining for the not-so-distant past.
“They were raising record dollars when Donald Trump was president,” one RNC committeeman said, handing the credit for that accomplishment to Trump, not McDaniel.
While Trump is still the top Republican cash draw, that doesn’t do the RNC itself as much good as it once did. He’s no longer the incumbent, and with a multitude of Republican primary challengers the RNC can’t play favorites or hitch its wagon to his star. Beyond that, the Trump campaign has long taken issue with anyone who uses Trump to make a buck—the RNC included.
But without the ability to dangle Trump in front of donors, the RNC’s fundraising has slowed dramatically. (At this same point in 2019—a comparable year, before the last general election—the RNC had four times as much in the bank, $46.6 million, according to Federal Election Commission records.) And members have taken note.
“The fundraising has gone in the toilet,” this RNC member said. “They’re not raising money.”
While fundraising might not be abysmal—$50.8 million raised this year, compared to the DNC’s $59.5 million—the bottom line is far from ideal. And those lackluster totals appear to reflect McDaniel’s previous budgetary decisions, which have left the party still nursing a fiscal hangover from a withering 2022 cycle that hit the GOP harder than the Democrats.
“They are way behind,” the previously mentioned RNC member said. “They don’t have money in the bank.”
An RNC spokesperson didn’t dispute that the party was behind the eight-ball, and in fact provided a statement that highlighted the costs of what promises to be an expensive year ahead.
“The RNC is investing in party infrastructure and our data-driven ground game that will bolster the eventual nominee to victory come next Fall,” spokesperson Emma Vaughn said.
“Under Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel’s leadership, the RNC is on pace to be in a stronger position financially going into 2024, then the last time we were campaigning to take back the White House,” Vaughn continued, referring to Trump’s first stab at the presidency in 2016. She added that much of the “supposed criticism” from RNC sources in this article echoes “the same gossip and innuendo” from McDaniel’s re-election battle in January—a battle that her critics lost handily.
As for the limited cash on hand, one RNC source projected that number would increase to over $20 million by the end of the calendar year.
“The committee is not tracking any debts at the end of 2023,” the source said.
RNC committeeman Oscar Brock, a member of the budget committee, told The Daily Beast it was true there was disappointment, but he also touted the RNC’s frugality.
“While we are certainly disappointed and wish fundraising numbers would have been higher, the staffers at the RNC have kept expenses down and managed to stay in the black,” Brock said.
But that’s not quite the case.
Over the midterms, the RNC actually outraised the DNC—by about $30 million, according to FEC data. But it also sprung a much larger hole, spending $401.4 million to the DNC’s $315 million, a difference of more than $85 million, while coming up short in the election.
The RNC’s spending was one of the main fronts in GOP lawyer Harmeet Dhillon’s challenge to McDaniel’s leadership last year and was heavily litigated in the media, including conservative press. While the RNC has caught flack for agreeing to cover some of Trump’s legal costs in the first two years after he left the White House, those expenses are comparatively pocket change, with a reported ceiling of $1.6 million. And now with a contested primary, the RNC no longer faces that obligation.
But the RNC still has its own legal costs, which have run to over $21.6 million since Trump’s departure in 2021. This year, the committee has shelled out $4.5 million for legal and compliance services. About $1.3 million of that amount went to Consovoy McCarthy PLLC, the firm the RNC retained to handle two recent costly legal efforts—a successful bid to shut down the wayward Virgin Islands Republican Party and the unsuccessful attempt to sue Google over what the GOP alleged was a biased “spam” filter. Over the last 18 months, Consovoy received about $4 million from the RNC.
But while $21.6 million may seem steep, it’s actually about half as much as the DNC paid its own lawyers during the midterms—yet the RNC still significantly outspent its counterpart overall.
Some of the largest expenses include $14.8 million to software giant Salesforce to help host and manage the RNC’s massive online fundraising operation—which landed Salesforce in the middle of the Jan. 6 congressional select committee investigation—and $9 million to “GOP Data Trust LLC” for data services. The RNC also reported a $925,000 payment to the Ritz Carlton Amelia Island in Florida on Feb. 3, 2021, as the Senate debated whether to impeach Trump for inciting an insurrection.
But politics might explain more. The RNC sent $31.7 million in air support to the official Republican political arms for the House and Senate, both of which found themselves strapped for cash as they had to pick up where campaign fundraising faltered. In all, the RNC transferred $72.3 million to various affiliated state parties and national committees in the 2022 cycle. (McDaniel’s detractors in the party had also cited those state transfers as “buying” support from members, an argument that ultimately proved unconvincing.)
That said, in the 2021-2022 midterm cycle, the RNC raised more than $335 million; but after the first seven months of 2023, it has only raised about $50.8 million.
According to FEC records, the RNC’s spending has topped $53.3 million this year, leaving the national party with less than $12 million in the bank as it gears up for a 2024 battle to reclaim the White House and Senate. For an idea of how high that hill might be, the RNC’s total expenses for the 2020 election came out to more than $830 million. And as mentioned earlier in this article, at this point in that election cycle, the RNC had four times as much money in the bank.
In Milwaukee this past week, with fundraising top of mind, members that spoke to The Daily Beast were concerned over McDaniel not taking questions on the light fundraising haul so far this cycle.
One RNC member said McDaniel “just left” and didn’t take any questions, while two other members also expressed frustration that there wasn’t a Q&A.
“She walked out and said her schedule didn’t allow her to finish it,” this RNC member said. “So she never took questions and answers. I know a lot of people had concerns they wanted to bring up and she just left.”
Another frustration is the large sums of money being paid to consultants.
“You know, we’re having trouble raising money, and yet, they give it away to just a few consultants,” a previously mentioned RNC member said.
While allegations that RNC consultants have gotten rich off their organization aren’t new, those payments remain a concern for a number of members.
“I think going forward in 2025, were I the chairman of the RNC, I would say every contract that we have, I want to review, and I would start from the beginning,” Florida RNC national committeeman Peter Feaman said.
The growing concern over the RNC’s finances follows a heated battle this past year for the chair position. McDaniel challengers Harmeet Dhillon and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell set out to upend much of the traditional spending at the party.
But RNC members showed a clear preference for McDaniel. She won re-election to the RNC chair position with 111 votes, compared to Dhillon’s 51 and Lindell’s paltry four votes.