WASHINGTON — Republicans are struggling to make the $1.5 trillion Trump tax cuts a winning issue with voters in the midterm congressional elections, but the cuts are helping the party in another crucial way: unlocking tens of millions of dollars in campaign donations.
The money is coming from wealthy conservatives and corporate interests that benefited handsomely from the tax rollback.
Billionaires and corporations are pumping some of their windfall into the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC closely aligned with Speaker Paul D. Ryan. The group is flooding swing congressional districts with attacks on the Democratic candidates vying to wrest control of the House.
The fund’s donors include casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has given $30 million and whose company, Las Vegas Sands, reported a nearly $700 million windfall from the tax law earlier this year; and Timothy Mellon, chairman and majority owner of Pan Am Systems, a privately held collection of companies that includes rail, aviation and marketing services, who has contributed $24 million.
They also include Valero Services, a Texas oil refining company that reported a $1.9 billion benefit from tax cuts in the first quarter and which has given $1.5 million; and a collection of other corporations, executives and financial fund managers.
Well over a quarter of the group’s donations have come through the American Action Network, a separate legal entity that focuses on issues and does not reveal donors, but that spent heavily to promote the tax cuts before and after President Trump signed them into law late last year.
Republicans have struggled to sell voters on the benefits of the tax cuts despite strong economic growth and the lowest unemployment numbers in 20 years.
Instead, candidates and the Congressional Leadership Fund have focused their campaign advertisements on more visceral issues such as crime and immigration.
But party leaders say the passage of the law appeased wealthy donors, who had been frustrated by Republicans’ failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act and had threatened to sit out the 2018 campaign.
Now, flush with big checks from a handful of deep-pocketed donors, the Congressional Leadership Fund is serving as the party’s best hope of a defense against an electoral defeat in November.
The fund’s executive director, Corry Bliss, who runs both that group and the American Action Network, said some of his donors did not favor all the provisions of the tax law, but all of them hailed its passage as the rich fruits of total Republican control of Washington.
Had the tax bill failed, Bliss said, “I think they would have been very disappointed and very deflated.”
A super PAC like the Congressional Leadership Fund is allowed to raise unlimited donations, including from corporations and unions, but is not allowed to coordinate its efforts with candidates.
Democrats have their own super PAC dedicated to House campaigns, the House Majority PAC, which Friday started a harshly negative digital attack ad on the Republican House leadership and those who aspire to be in it. The group has raised more than $32 million this year.
The arms-length distance between such organizations and the politicians they back can be very short. In May, Politico reported that Ryan flew to Las Vegas with Bliss and Norm Coleman, a former senator and chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition, to meet with Adelson.
After the speaker laid out his case for help defending the Republican House majority, he stepped out of the room while Coleman made the request and secured the $30 million.
“The American people know that the Republicans who control Washington sold them out with a disastrous tax giveaway to the rich and big business that the rest of the country is being forced to pay for,” said Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the liberal campaign group American Bridge.
“The fact that those same corporations and wealthy individuals have turned around to bankroll Republican campaign efforts is further proof of what this travesty was all about,” he said.