Republican megadonors are financing a major campaign against potential rioters in the House of Representatives

By | March 5, 2024

A group of the Republican Party’s most prominent megadonors is pouring millions of dollars into a handful of primaries in deep-red congressional districts — part of an effort to influence the makeup of the House GOP conference after a difficult and conflict-ridden year.

As the political world’s attention turned to the presidential election, two super PACs funded by a small group of donors quietly spent more than $6 million on five Republicans running for House seats in the primaries of Super Tuesday, according to data from the Federal Election Commission.

The super PACs, Conservatives for American Excellence and America Leads Action, have targeted candidates who are either supported by the political arm of the far-right House Freedom Caucus or would join the caucus, which has become a thorn in the side of the Republican leadership has been in place since this came into being. launched in 2015. The groups have also targeted one candidate endorsed by former President Donald Trump: Brandon Gill, who is running in Texas’ open 26th District.

The Freedom Caucus has been in conflict with Republican leadership in the House of Representatives since its founding, including forcing the resignation of then-Speaker John Boehner in 2015 — but those conflicts have been particularly acute over the past year, with Republican majority had only a majority. few seats.

Most of the eight Republicans who sought to oust then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy last year were members of the Freedom Caucus, and members of the group have opposed deals made by new Speaker Mike Johnson in efforts to control the administration this year to keep open.

If Republicans retain control of the House of Representatives in the November elections, it is possible that the next majority will be just as small. And the new super PACs appear to be trying to ensure that the Freedom Caucus’ ability to thwart legislation or threaten speakers does not grow in the next Congress.

“These races really define the heart and soul of the caucus,” said David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth, whose PAC has endorsed Gill and the North Carolina Republican Party. Bo Hinesanother target of the new super PACs ahead of Tuesday’s primaries.

“It’s unfortunate that the establishment is pressuring moderates who support reckless spending instead of focusing their money on maintaining and expanding the Republican majority, and we believe Republican primary voters agree with us,” McIntosh added to.

The funders who back the new super PACs also typically donate to leadership-oriented super PACs and party committees. Some have also backed Trump’s main rivals. But while most of these donors have given to groups linked to McCarthy, a source close to the former speaker said he is not involved in the effort.

Conservatives for American Excellence, for example, received $3 million from Citadel CEO Ken Griffin in January, according to FEC filings. The hedge fund director was a major backer of Nikki Haley’s super PAC in the presidential race and gave $5 million to that group. Griffin has also been a major donor in recent years to the Congressional Leadership Fund, the House of Representatives’ main super PAC, which donated $27 million during the last election cycle.

“My political participation has always been driven by my patriotism and my love for America,” Griffin said in a statement to NBC News. “I support solutions-oriented candidates who share my commitment to individual rights and freedom, economic policies that encourage prosperity and upward mobility, access to quality education for all children, security in our communities, and strong national defense.

“We face serious problems as a country and we need effective leaders in Washington,” he continued.

Warren Stephens, the CEO of Stephens Inc., donated $1 million to Conservatives for American Excellence in January and has previously given more than $2 million to the pro-Haley PAC, according to FEC data.

Stephens did not return a request for comment.

America Leads Action is largely funded by two mega-donors: SnapAV founder Jay Faison and Rob Walton, heir to the Walmart fortune, who also donated to super PACs supporting a handful of former Trump presidential rivals in 2023.

A representative for Walton did not return a request for comment. Faison could not be reached for comment.

Both groups have targeted Gill, spending a combined $2.1 million on him in the 26th District race in North Texas to replace retiring GOP Rep. Michael Burgess. Gill’s father-in-law, Dinesh D’Souza, directed the election conspiracy theory documentary “2000 Mules” about the 2020 election.

In addition to Trump’s support, Gill also has the backing of the Freedom Caucus’s political arm, the House Freedom Fund, and Club for Growth Action, which has launched ads to boost his campaign.

Both groups also spent $1.3 million against Republican Mark Harris, who is running in North Carolina’s open 8th District. Harris is also supported by the House Freedom Fund. He previously ran for Congress in 2018, but the results of that race were thrown out due to an investigation into illegal absentee ballot harvesting allegedly organized by a Harris consultant, who was charged by the state but died before came before the judge.

Conservatives for American Excellence has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on three other Republicans: Hines in North Carolina’s open 6th District, Rep. Barry Moore in Alabama’s 1st District and John O’Shea in Texas’ open 12th District.

Hines has been endorsed by Club for Growth Action, while Trump has endorsed another candidate in the race: Addison McDowell. Hines, who won Trump’s endorsement during his failed 2022 run in a more competitive district, is still pitching himself as a Trump-like candidate, saying in one ad that he would be “Trump’s most important ally” in Congress.

But Conservatives for American Excellence has tried to portray Hines as insufficiently conservative, launching an ad that cites a 2017 interview in which Hines said he is “not a social conservative” and in which a narrator says, “President Trump has strong conservatives necessary to fight the swamp. That’s why we can’t trust Bo Hines.”

In Alabama, Moore has the support of the House Freedom Fund in his race against fellow Republican Rep. Jerry Carl after they were included in the same district as part of court-ordered redistricting in the state.

Conservatives for American Excellence has spent $642,000 on Moore so far, according to FEC filings. The group has also tried to appeal to pro-Trump voters, with one ad showing a Trump supporter saying Moore “voted against finishing Trump’s wall,” citing Moore’s vote against a major government financing measure last year.

And in Texas’ 12th District, the group has spent nearly $600,000 to field Texas state Rep. Craig Goldman against businessman John O’Shea in the race to replace retiring Republican Rep. Kay Granger. O’Shea told the Texas Tribune that he would consider joining the Freedom Caucus if elected.

Although Trump has not intervened in the race, Trump-backed Attorney General Ken Paxton has endorsed O’Shea.

It’s possible these battles could extend beyond Tuesday: Texas, North Carolina and Alabama all have a runoff provision if the leading primary candidates don’t win a certain percentage of the vote.

And there could be more fights like this over the next six months of congressional primaries across the country.

Conservatives for American Excellence was among a group of PACs pitched to donors who are part of the American Opportunity Alliance at a private retreat in January in Florida, according to an attendee who declined to be named to speak freely.

AOA is a group of GOP donors led in part by longtime GOP financier Paul Singer. While Griffin was reportedly at the retreat, his donation to the super PAC arrived before the group made its presentation to donors at the meeting, according to FEC records.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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