If Vice President Mike Pence is leading a palace coup by launching his own fundraising PAC, President Donald Trump is in on the plot. Twin Drudge Report headlines Thursday announced that “Conservatives begin to whisper: President Pence,” while “VP Builds War Chest.”
But a senior adviser to Pence tells The Daily Beast that President Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and other senior administration officials knew about and signed off on Pence’s new fundraising committee, down to the logo the group will use.
“The Vice President wanted to ensure that the president and senior administration officials agreed that this was wise and necessary,” said Nick Ayers, Pence’s adviser. Ayers described the new PAC, the Great America Committee (PDF), as a recommendation from campaign finance lawyers as the best way for Pence to move the extensive political assets he accumulated during his previous political campaigns for Congress and governor of Indiana from his existing gubernatorial campaign committee to a federal account.
Campaign finance laws prohibit federal officials from using any assets owned by a state campaign committee financed by soft money, like Pence’s state-level fundraising arm, Mike Pence for Indiana.
That has meant that decades worth of information that Pence’s previous campaigns collected, including voter files, election data, and a donor email list with more than 100,000 names on it, is off limits to federal officials, including Pence and Trump. Those assets will now be appraised by an outside group and sold to the new federal Pence leadership PAC, which Ayers said can then legally “loan it, coordinate it, or sell it to other entities in the Trump-Pence family.”
Pence is also expected to use the PAC to raise money to offset entertainment costs at the vice president’s residence or for travel aboard Air Force Two, when the events are neither official business nor specific campaign expenses covered by the Republican National Committee. As the 2018 mid-term elections approach, the Pence PAC is also expected to support Republican campaigns for the House and Senate. It will also expand the options where GOP donors can give limited donations.
Although the Pence political action committee has been in the works for months, the headline-grabbing timing of its launch, on the same day that the Department of Justice appointed a special prosecutor to investigate possible collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government, struck many in Washington as something between a happy accident for Pence, or a knife in the back for Trump.
“The short answer is, it’s smart politics,” said Scott Mulhauser, a former aide to Vice President Joe Biden. Mulhauser noted that as vice president, Biden entertained often at the Naval Observatory and raised money aggressively for fellow Democrats while in office, but he did not have his own leadership PAC. Neither did former Vice President Dick Cheney. But unlike Pence, Biden and Cheney did not have state committees to retire.
Mulhauser said that for donors, giving money to Pence directly could be seen as a better long-term investment as chaos reigns in Trump world.
“This a smart way for Pence to attempt to stay viable politically, even as Rome burns,” said Mulhauser. “It’s a logical step to attempt to preserve his own future.”
A Republican campaign strategist added that supporting a Pence PAC is could also prove to be a much less dicey way for donors to support the “team” while the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign plays out.
“The FBI, really?” the strategist said. “Give me Pence every day.”