House Speaker Paul Ryan snubbed his Wisconsin constituents during the President’s Day congressional recess, refusing to hold even a single town hall. Local activists appeared at his office in Racine to demand a meeting. Others placed a tongue-in-cheek missing person advertisement on Craigslist, asking for the whereabouts of their elected representative. Ryan “fled sometime in and around January 20, 2017, and hasn’t been seen since,” the ad stated.
Newly filed campaign filings show what Ryan was doing instead: jetting around the country, raking in a whopping $657,400 in contributions in just nine days.
We already reported, based on fundraising brochures we obtained, that Ryan had scheduled a whirlwind of stops for his Team Ryan PAC — in Miami, Corpus Christi, Fort Worth, Dallas, Houston, and Menlo Park — rather than meet with constituents.
The massive fundraising haul during a relatively short period was enabled by the structure of Ryan’s joint-fundraising committee.
The Supreme Court’s 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC ruling eliminated the cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to federal candidates established after the Watergate scandal. Then Congress moved to increase party contribution limits, allowing joint fundraising accounts — which allow candidates to share their fundraising with their respective political party accounts — to take in even more money. The Team Ryan committee distributes part of the money it raises to the National Republican Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans.
As a result, these joint committees can receive up to $244,200 per person. Several donors made five- and six-figure contributions during the recess to Team Ryan, including Paul Foster, the chairman of Western Refining, who gave $100,000. Jerome Falic, an executive who runs Duty Free Americas, and six members of his family each gave between $10,000 and $15,000.
In the first three months of the year, Ryan’s joint fundraising committee brought in an astounding $17,272,248 in contributions. Ryan’s affiliated Super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, also raised $4,496,473 during that same period. The CLF account, which can accept unlimited contributions from virtually any source, was buoyed by large checks from major corporations. The Geo Group, the Florida-based private prison company, gave $100,000 and Chevron gave $250,000.
Ryan’s pedigree as a fundraiser often goes overlooked given his carefully crafted image as a “policy wonk.”
During the Kansas special election that was held last Tuesday, nearly all of the independent expenditures came from the Ryan-backed NRCC and CLF, which collectively spent $180,000 to boost Ron Estes, the GOP candidate. The Democratic candidate, James Thompson, a local civil rights attorney, did not receive any significant financial support from his party. Despite an unprecedented surge in voter support for the Democratic nominee in a traditionally Republican district, Thompson was defeated.