Trump’s California fundraisers are drenched in cash — and secrecy – POLITICO
SAN FRANCISCO — Donald Trump remains unpopular in the state where he lost to Hillary Clinton by a landslide: His job approval ratings in California are among his worst in the country.
But among state Republicans here, it’s a different story. And they’ve snapped up tickets to four sold-out, high-dollar fundraisers for the president.
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The events are shrouded in secrecy to a large extent, necessitated by the deep hostility many in the state feel toward the president.
Still, the tickets have sold “faster than Mick Jagger,’’ laughs former state party chair Shawn Steel, a Republican National Committee member and a Trump bundler.
“There’s a lot of love here for him,” says Steel, pointing to more than 1,000 Republicans, “donors at every level,” who have clamored for tickets to four events within the next 24 hours including a lunch Tuesday in Silicon Valley, two events in the Los Angeles/Beverly Hills area — a dinner Tuesday and a breakfast Wednesday — and another lunch in San Diego on Wednesday.
Already, state donors have given generously to his reelection campaign and the joint fundraising committee with the RNC, ponying up $6.5 million in checks from January to June of this year alone. At the Sept. 17 luncheon stop in the Bay Area, ticket prices range from $1,000 to $100,000.
This week, Trump’s California fundraisers have attracted a new set of Republican donors and bundlers eager to be in the room with him in Northern and Southern California events, which will raise upwards of $15 million, party insiders say.
“My husband and I have maxed out — and I’ve never maxed out for anybody, ever,’’ said San Francisco attorney Harmeet Dhillon, a former vice chair of the party, who is hosting two tables at the Silicon Valley event. She says she has been deluged by requests for tickets from Republicans — big and small donors — who are desperate to be part of the scene.
“I’ve had to say no to at least 50 people in the last few hours,’’ said Dhillon, as she made the rounds at last week’s state GOP convention in Indian Wells. “I sold out four tables very easily, and a lot of them are big donors,’’ she said. “I could have sold another $100,000 worth of tickets.”
“There are many more people who wanted to attend than we have capacity,’’ noted Dhillon, who was recently introduced by Trump at the White House during an event for social media insiders. “They’re excited because we’ve had surrogates like Don Jr. come out — but this is the real thing.’’
Attendees at Tuesday’s event are not being provided with the address of the actual lunch — they are being told to meet at a shuttle location, sources said.
The concern comes after news of the Hollywood-area fundraiser sparked controversy when actors Debra Messing and Eric McCormack called for outing attendees. Demonstrators have been trying to ferret out locations of the fundraisers, promising to stage protests and appearances by the giant “baby Trump” balloon. The president’s last campaign foray to the Bay Area, at an April 2016 GOP convention in Burlingame, didn’t go so well — it featured the sight of Trump climbing a highway median to avoid protesters who blocked his hotel entry.
Dhillon said the Trump team is “taking no chances after the San Jose situation,’’ a reference to a different 2016 incident when Trump supporters were attacked outside of his rally at the San Jose Convention Center prior to the election. Tuesday’s Bay Area lunch, originally scheduled for tony Atherton, apparently changed venues.
“We originally got word he was coming [to Atherton], and the last update I got was that he was not coming,” Dan Larsen, a sergeant with the Atherton Police Department, told the Mercury News Friday.
The White House and Trump reelection campaign declined to confirm the actual location but Silicon Valley’s affluent communities like Woodside and Atherton have been favorite fundraising locales for presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle.
The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department would not confirm locations and referred calls on the matter to the White House press office, which declined comment.
After his Bay Area stop, the president will fly to Southern California for an evening event in the Beverly Hills-Bel Air 90210 area code. The fundraiser, held during Emmy week — when awards celebrating the television industry, a favorite target of Trump’s commentary, are handed out — is hosted by a longtime supporter, billionaire real estate mogul Geoffrey Palmer.
Palmer, who donated more than $4 million to GOP causes in the 2018 cycle, is one of the early donors to Rebuilding America Now, the pro-Trump super PAC founded by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort — now serving time for fraud — and Trump business ally Tom Barrack.
Tickets go from $1,000 to $10,000 per couple for a photo op at the event which, according to an invite, is also hosted RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, RNC co-chairman Tommy Hicks Jr., campaign manager Brad Parscale and Trump Victory finance chairman Todd Ricketts.
Lanhee Chen, a former adviser to presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio, says California Republicans of all stripes are eager to get in on the president’s first big fundraising foray here. One reason is their support for his contentious relationship with the state’s Democratic leaders, who have filed more than 50 lawsuits against his administration.
”They’re energized by these fights between him and the left-leaning Democrats,”’ Chen said, “and they think he’s taking it to them.”
Among those eager Republicans ready to write checks to Trump’s campaign are Celeste Greig, a former head of the California Republican Assembly — one of the most conservative grassroots groups in the GOP — who will be at his event in Bel Air.
“I’m going because he’s done a great job, maybe not perfect — but a great job,’’ said Greig. “Yes, he’s pissed some people off, but that’s what he is … people have to get over that.’’
Greig says attendees have been promised appearances by Clint Eastwood — a movie icon who also served as the former mayor of Carmel, Calif. — and Mel Gibson, another conservative Hollywood voice. And that, she says, is a welcome counter to high-profile Democratic Hollywood voices like Messing.
The next day, the president hits the San Diego area for another sold-out fundraiser that insiders say is slated to raise $4 million for the Trump reelection campaign.
California GOP Chair Jessica Millan Patterson says that Trump’s successful fundraising here underscores how Republicans in solidly blue California are clearly uniting behind the president as 2020 approaches — and how Trump’s popularity has translated into more money for the state party as well.
According to the most recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, Trump’s approval rating among Republican likely voters is 89 percent. Among all likely voters, his approvals are just 38 percent.
“We certainly are on the right track. We were obviously outspent in 2018 by $100 million,’’ she said in regards to fundraising. “[But] so far, there’s 6,400 new donors on the smaller level, and 72 large scale major donors … so we’re on the right track. And “we’re $1.3 million ahead in commitments than we were in 2017,’’ she says.
Bill Whalen, a Hoover Institution fellow who advised former GOP Gov. Pete Wilson, says that despite California’s solidly blue status and the state GOP’s collapse here, “people tend to forget that nearly 4 million voted for him in California in 2016 … so it’s not like he’s without friends here.’’
“No sane political consultant thinks that Trump has a chance to win in California in 2020,’’ Whalen says. But the sold-out fundraisers reveal GOP appreciation of the president’s engagement on California issues that matter to them such as homelessness, energy or auto emissions standards.
The question coming out of these event for Trump, he said, will be: “Is this a one-off, or will there be any lingering presence in California?”
Steele predicts that the demand for tickets, and the size of Trump reelection multimillion dollar campaign haul from California this week is “going to be enough to encourage him to keep coming back.”