Pence group rakes in corporate PAC money

 In Politics

Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Wylam Center of Flagship East, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Anderson, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

By launching his own leadership PAC, Vice President Mike Pence has sidestepped the more traditional vice presidential role of fundraising for the Republican National Committee. | Darron Cummings/AP Photo

As President Donald Trump pushed away CEOs this summer, Mike Pence quietly pulled big business closer.

The vice president’s new political group raised money from at least three dozen corporate PACs in June, July and August. Some, like General Motors and Merck, gave to Pence’s Great America Committee just days or weeks before their CEOs moved to dissolve Trump’s business advisory councils after his controversial remarks on the violence in Charlottesville, Va.

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The companies — including giants like AT&T, Boeing, FedEx and General Electric — are eager for access to the vice president and have embraced his leadership PAC as a way to win favor with the White House, according to interviews with a dozen Republican fundraisers and lobbyists with ties to the business community.

Donating to Pence’s PAC ensures the door to the executive branch stays open, one donor said. And having trusted Pence aides decide how to dole out the money to Republican candidates — as opposed to an unpredictable president who has threatened on Twitter to challenge sitting Republican senators — is an added bonus.

“There’s certainly a lot of people interested in connecting with Pence. He’s familiar, a Washington face, a steady hand,” said the donor, who has given to both Pence’s Great America Committee and to Trump.

That was clear in July, when more than 50 lobbyists and corporate clients huddled in the downtown offices of the lobbying firm BGR Group with Marty Obst, one of Pence’s top advisers, to discuss plans for the PAC. The meeting took place just before the unofficial launch of Great America Committee, which Pence hosted on a rooftop steps from the Capitol. BGR clients Eli Lilly and the American Beverage Association are among the corporations whose PACs have since cut $5,000 checks to Pence’s group, the maximum allowed under federal campaign finance laws.

Dan Murphy, the general counsel at BGR, said that he sees the PAC as “an opportunity to support the president and the vice president, [with] a vision that appeals to many of us who share the goal of growing the Republican majorities in the House, Senate and governor’s mansions.”

But to companies seeking sway in Washington, leadership PACs are more than just ways to help fund campaigns.

“Regardless of the different way leadership PACs use contributions, to big donor PACs it’s just paying for more access — to be in the room, to have friendly conversations outside the office, to build relationships amongst allies, to convey your message, and to gather information and intelligence,” said Dan Backer, a Republican campaign finance lawyer.

The giving from corporation, trade group and lobbying and law firm PACs to Great America Committee this summer totals at least $175,000, according to expenditures listed in those groups’ federal campaign finance disclosures. The corporate PACs account for at least one-quarter of known fundraising by Pence’s PAC so far. Great America Committee disclosed raising $540,071 in May and June, less than $36,000 of which came from other PACs, and it doesn’t have to file another financial disclosure until early 2018; any donations from corporate executives and other individuals will be unknown until then.

One lobbyist with corporate clients that have given to the Pence leadership PAC said the vice president has “done a good job meeting with people, and being that savior in the administration.”

No donors or lobbyists interviewed for this story cited direct favors or access granted by Pence after a donation to Great America Committee, aside from getting to mix with lawmakers at the late-July fundraiser.

And Pence himself has not made any personal solicitations for the PAC, according to someone with knowledge of the group’s activities. That role has largely fallen to Obst, who serves as chair and executive director of the group. A longtime Pence loyalist, he also spearheaded Pence’s fundraising during the 2016 campaign.

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