The Hill

By Jonathan Swan
04/24/16 – 10:30 AM EDT

Republican mega-donors, increasingly fed up with their party’s circus-like presidential primary, are sitting on their checkbooks until the nominee is decided.

GOP campaigns and super-PACs saw dismal fundraising figures in March. John Kasich’s campaign took in $4.5 million and his supporting super-PAC $2.8 million for the month — numbers Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders’s campaign can beat on a good day.

And Ted Cruz isn’t doing much better. After a strong start, the pro-Cruz super-PAC’s income has slowed to a trickle, and his campaign took in just $12.5 million in March — less than half of Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s campaign haul and about a quarter of Sanders’s total.

Interviews with major Republican donors and fundraisers reveal that many are fed up after early enthusiasm for unsuccessful candidates. Many of these donors spent millions on the super-PACs supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former favorites who dropped out of the race after getting throttled by Donald Trump.

Now, with Trump and Cruz the two likeliest nominees, a number of donors say they would rather sit it out and wait to see how the next two months play out in the lead up to the Republican National Convention before they open their checkbooks again.

“I have been called and asked for money, and I said, ‘Once we pick a nominee, then I will give money again,’ ” said Minnesota billionaire Stanley Hubbard, who gave an early $50,000 donation to a pro-Scott Walker super-PAC but has made no significant investment since.

“The problem is that nobody prefers either of those two candidates [Trump or Cruz], and the third candidate [Kasich] no one thinks he has a chance, so why waste your money?” Hubbard told The Hill.

Doug Deason, a multimillionaire Texas businessman whose family spent $5 million supporting Rick Perry and has now thrown $200,000 behind a Cruz super-PAC, said the feeling among his donor friends goes beyond exhaustion.

He said many establishment donors believe their money has been wasted this cycle, with the only winners being the high-priced consultants who have gotten rich by charging commissions on ad buys.

Donors “are upset about how their money was spent and the bang they got for their buck. … They are suspicious, and rightfully so,” Deason told The Hill.

“Somebody should be indicted over Right to Rise,” he added, referring to the super-PAC that spent more than $100 million in a failed attempt to make Bush the Republican nominee.

“I would sue them for fraud.

“The Bush donors coming across to support Cruz in Dallas, and there are a lot of them, they are not stepping up with the money because they already shot their wad,” Deason added. “They got totally screwed.”

Deason said his family is considering investing more heavily in a pro-Cruz super-PAC, but he needs to be persuaded that the cash would be put to intelligent use — either in the primaries of California and Indiana or to persuade delegates to vote for Cruz in the second or third ballot at a contested convention.

The money slowdown on the Republican side could cause problems in the general election.

Priorities USA, a pro-Clinton super-PAC, has already reserved more than $120 million in advertising for the general election — securing bargain ad rates by booking so early. But given the uncertain status of the Republican race, no GOP super-PAC has been able to lay down a penny.

And both Clinton and Sanders have built campaign fundraising operations and donor lists that dwarf anything on the GOP side. Trump is mostly self-funding on the cheap and has made no effort to build a fundraising apparatus that could compete in a general election against the Clinton machine. The finance operations of both Cruz and Kasich are a bit better off but still trail the two Democrats.

Cruz’s super-PACs began the campaign with aggressive early investments — including $10 million from New York hedge fund manager Robert Mercer and another $10 million from the Wilks brothers, Texas billionaires who made their fortunes in fracking. But recent Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports have shown a slowdown in Cruz’s super-PAC fundraising.

The Hill’s analysis of the latest FEC data shows that Cruz’s seven main super-PACs finished March with a combined $21.4 million on hand — less than either Clinton or Sanders raised over the course of that month.

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