President Donald Trump won’t accept the GOP nomination in a packed stadium in front of a roaring crowd next week. Instead, his keynote speech will come from the White House lawn, and his supporters will watch the event from their homes.
The 2020 Republican National Convention, like its Democratic counterpart, will be a virtual affair, with a mix of live speeches and pre-recorded videos. That’s a problem for lobbyists and top donors who normally enjoy access to top officials at in-person conventions.
The RNC was supposed to take place in Charlotte, N.C. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, only the delegates will meet in Charlotte to formally nominate Trump. The Charlotte Host Committee raised $37 million and spent almost all of it preparing for a standard four-day event before plans changed, leaving nothing left to return to donors who may feel they wasted their money. Trump initially suggested moving the convention to Jacksonville, Fla. — Republicans deployed two powerful Trump-tied lobbyists to raise money for the event — but cash-strapped organizers saw that effort as difficult to pull off amid continued coronavirus outbreaks.
Fundraising for the convention was initially led by Louis DeJoy, a Trump donor and campaign fundraiser who now controversially leads the U.S. Postal Service. The Charlotte Host Committee, organized as a nonprofit, won’t disclose its donors until some time this fall. But donors to the Republican National Committee convention account are disclosed before the event takes place.
Republicans’ convention account — meant to pay for expenses related to the nominating convention — raised $12.4 million through June from just 250 donors. Sixty donors gave at least $106,500, the maximum allowed each year. Those donors are familiar faces in GOP politics including Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman, former Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon, Marvel chairman Isaac Perlmutter, and Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus.
Four donors gave $213,000, meaning they gave the maximum donation in 2019 and 2020. They are New Balance chairman Jim Davis, a former diplomat, and lobbyist C. Boyden Gray, real estate executive Nancy Hiles and billionaire investor Charles Schwab.
Congress created new party accounts to pay for conventions, physical infrastructure, and legal battles over recounts in a 2014 omnibus bill. Donors may give six figures to each of these accounts each year, substantially increasing the amount of money they can give to political parties. These “cromnibus” accounts were criticized for giving wealthy donors more influence over parties and for providing little transparency about what they’re spending money on.
Most wealthy donors fund these accounts by giving big money to joint fundraising committees. Trump’s big-dollar joint fundraising committee, Trump Victory, allows donors to give $580,600. That money is distributed to the Trump campaign, state parties, and RNC accounts. Donors to Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s committee may give $620,600. Donors may give this much thanks to the 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC Supreme Court ruling that struck down limits on how much money an individual may give in each election.
Some speakers at the virtual convention include members of Trump’s family, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Calif.), South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, former U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). Former Republican President George W. Bush and 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, now an outspoken critic of Trump in the Senate, will be notably absent.
This article originally appeared on OpenSecrets.org, The Center for Responsive Politics on August 20, 2020, and is republished with permission under Creative Commons License 3.0.