Tensions over the future of the GOP’s grassroots fundraising are reaching a breaking point, with the national party turning to strong-arm tactics to get Republicans behind its new, Donald Trump-endorsed platform for small donors.
The Republican National Committee is threatening to withhold support from party candidates who refuse to use WinRed, the party’s newly established online fundraising tool. And the RNC, along with the party’s Senate and gubernatorial campaign arms, are threatening legal action against a rival donation vehicle.
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The moves illustrate how Republican leaders are waging a determined campaign to make WinRed the sole provider of its small donor infrastructure — and to torpedo any competitors.
On Monday, the RNC sent an eight-page cease-and-desist letter to Paul Dietzel, a Republican digital strategist who earlier this month launched Give.GOP, a fundraising platform that includes a directory through which donors can give to party candidates and organizations. In the letter, RNC chief counsel Justin Riemer writes that while Give.GOP has a page inviting donors to give to the RNC, the committee hasn’t yet received any funds from the platform or received any outreach from it. Riemer also accuses Dietzel of using the committee’s trademark and logo without its permission.
Riemer asks Give.GOP to cease using its trademark and to detail how it will process donations to the committee, adding that failure “to comply with the demands and requests described above in a timely fashion may force the RNC to consider a legal remedy.”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee and Republican Governors Association, who are also included in Give.GOP’s directory, have separately sent Dietzel similar cease-and-desist letters, according to four party officials familiar with the matter.
Dietzel struck back at the RNC in a statement, claiming his platform was superior to WinRed.
“We will review the letter from the RNC in a timely manner and respond as appropriate,” Dietzel said. “Give.GOP empowers grassroots donors and has no competition in the market. Nothing like it exists. Why are people who are supposed to be helping the president fighting so hard to prevent him from saving millions of dollars through innovation?”
On Tuesday evening, the RNC’s elephant logo appeared to be erased from the Give.GOP website.
As the RNC puts pressure on Give.GOP, it is also telling Republican candidates that they will be cut off from valuable party resources if they don’t use WinRed.
“Over the past several years, the RNC has spent millions of dollars building a top-notch data apparatus for state parties and candidates to utilize for free,” said RNC chief of staff Richard Walters. “Consistent with RNC policy of using technology to support the Republican Party as a whole, we will only invest in federal candidates and state parties that use RNC data and the WinRed platform.”
The offensive comes at a pivotal moment for the GOP, which last month unveiled the long-awaited and much-delayed WinRed. The new platform has been billed as the party’s answer to ActBlue, the Democratic fundraising behemoth that helped candidates and groups rake in over $1.6 billion during the midterm election. Republicans made the creation of a small donor machine a post-election priority, with Trump, congressional leaders and a host of senior GOP officials taking part in a series of behind-the-scenes deliberations.
The WinRed launch represented a major moment for the party. GOP strategists had for years hoped to consolidate around a singular fundraising platform that could rival ActBlue, but a factionalized system of vendors who warred over contracts, dollars, and attention prevented any single service from gaining traction or overwhelming market share.
The day WinRed went live, Trump took to Twitter to give it his endorsement — a move aimed at rallying Republicans around the system and heading off any rivals who could derail it.
“This new platform will allow my campaign and other Republicans to compete with the Democrats money machine,” Trump wrote. “This has been a priority of mine and I’m pleased to share that it is up and running!”
But last week Dietzel announced the founding of Give.GOP, a site that promises to give donors the “ability to contribute directly to the conservative candidates and political committees of their choosing.”
Dietzel has derided the party’s efforts to consolidate around a single platform as tantamount to socialism. And he has directly emailed rank-and-file RNC members to try to get them on board with his platform — a move that has rankled party officials.
Within GOP circles, Dietzel’s decision to launch Give.GOP was regarded as a survival tactic. The arrival of WinRed has posed a mortal threat to Anedot, a payment processor Dietzel founded in 2010 that has been widely used by Republican candidates and political groups.
Yet senior Republicans are deeply bothered by the creation of Give.GOP, arguing that the party needs to fully unify around WinRed for it to be successful — much as Democrats have almost universally embraced ActBlue. Republican officials contend that party givers will be confused about which platform to use now that Give.GOP is on the scene.
Republicans have launched an aggressive effort to ensure that party candidates and organizations are signing up to use WinRed. While the RNC has adopted a hardball approach, the House GOP campaign arm has offered incentives for lawmakers to use the new platform, giving them credit toward meeting their party dues payments — the amounts they are supposed to raise or donate to help fund the campaign committee.