House speaker race injects chaos into high-dollar Republican fundraising

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., conducts a news conference in the U.S. Capitol on border security, government funding, and other issues, on Friday, September 29, 2023. 

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The messy race to elect the next Republican speaker of the House of Representatives is injecting chaos into the typically genteel world of high-dollar GOP fundraising, threatening to disrupt a vital element of the Republican strategy to maintain its House majority.

One faction of wealthy donors is intent on exacting revenge on the eight Republicans who voted with Democrats to oust former speaker Kevin McCarthy, according to people familiar with the matter.

“They are total pieces of s—,” said Andy Sabin, a longtime Republican donor and metalworks executive. Sabin told CNBC he’s encouraging fellow donors not to give or raise money for members like Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who led the anti-McCarthy drive and Nancy Mace of South Carolina, a moderate who sided with hardliners against the California leader.

Another group of financiers want to take on Republicans who opposed the top candidate to replace McCarthy, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana, these people explained.

“They’re angry. They’re all saying, ‘don’t give, don’t raise any money,'” a Republican fundraiser said.

Scalise withdrew his name from contention late Thursday after it became clear he would not be able to cobble together enough support in his conference to win a simple majority of the full House.

“If you have scheduled a fundraiser for any Republican House member who refuses to vote for Scalise, cancel it. If you are thinking of donating, don’t,” wrote attorney and GOP donor Eric Levine Thursday to his email list of approximately 1,500 people before Scalise dropped out.

The head of the litigation and bankruptcy department at Eiseman Levine, a New York firm, Levine told CNBC those who responded agreed to hold off on raising money for lawmakers who had opposed Scalise.

Other influential donors, including New York GOP fundraiser and McCarthy backer Joanne Zervos, want to try to convince Republicans to rally around their former speaker again, and resurrect McCarthy’s failed bid. They note that McCarthy has long been a prolific fundraiser for the party, according to a person briefed on the matter.

Several people declined to be named in order to speak freely about private matters. Zervos did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Still more major donors want to press pause on House GOP campaign donations altogether, at least while there is a speaker’s battle underway, one of the people explained.

“Who is going to want to give to these people based on what’s going on? Team McCarthy was a fundraising juggernaut. Losing Kevin McCarthy will be damaging for fundraising,” a longtime Wall Street Republican fundraiser said.

McCarthy has said he does not plan to run for speaker a second time. But he is prepared to hold back campaign funds from his political action committee to at least four House Republicans who voted to remove him as speaker, according to another person familiar with the matter.

In 2022, a joint fundraising committee led by McCarthy, now called Protect the House, donated to four out of the eight House Republicans who later voted to oust him as speaker, according to OpenSecrets.

Reps. Mace, Eli Crane of Arizona, Virginia’s Bob Good and Matt Rosendale of Montana all received funds from the committee ahead of the last election.

So far this cycle, Mace has received over $180,000 from Protect the House, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Just days before Mace voted to remove McCarthy as speaker, the PAC gave just over $20,000 to her reelection effort, according to a person familiar with the donation.

It’s highly unlikely that lawmakers who voted to remove McCarthy will see any more money from the former speaker’s allied committee this cycle, they added. “He’s nice. He’s not that nice.”

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