What kind of people head up fundraising for the major political parties? They tend to be successful business types like Phil Murphy, the Democratic National Committee’s Finance Chair in the early 2000s. The former Goldman Sachs banker became Ambassador to Germany and is the current governor of New Jersey. There’s Lew Eisenberg, the former Republican Finance Chair, also a Goldman Sachs alumnus with a long career in private equity and management. Finance chairs love the hustle. They’re aggressive, but they try to stay clean, although their work can put them in dicey situations. Richard Sullivan, the DNC Finance Chair in the mid-1990s, got pulled into the contretemps over whether Chinese national money made its way into Bill Clinton’s reelection campaign. Sullivan did nothing wrong, but his having to appear before Congress to testify about the matter shows that the top fundraising job comes with risk. That’s to be expected.
Then there’s the Republican National Committee Finance team under Donald Trump. It shouldn’t be terribly surprising that this might be a corner of the universe—the crossroads of money and elections—where the Trump-selected leaders of the party might have some problems.
Let’s start shortly after Inauguration Day in 2017. Las Vegas-based gaming mogul Steve Wynn was announced as the new RNC finance chairman. Wynn’s appointment was treated as a bit of surprise since he’d been a long-time and often bitter rival of Trump. “The news suggests even billionaires can bury the hatchet,” The Las Vegas Review-Journal wrote.
In April 2017, Wynn and the new RNC chair, Ronna McDaniel, issued a press release (since deleted but still available through the Wayback Machine) announcing that Elliott Broidy, Michael Cohen, and Louis DeJoy would serve as National Deputy Finance Chairmen under Wynn. It was an ill-fated coalition: Broidy would wind up pleading guilty to violating lobbying laws on behalf of Chinese and Malaysian clients, Cohen would do time for lying to Congress among other crimes, and DeJoy is postmaster general and accused of deliberately slowing the mail to delay mail-in ballots which, this year, are primarily Democratic owing to the president calling such ballots a “fraud.”
Let’s go back to the winter of 2018. Broidy, who had served as the vice-chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee, was soon embroiled in a controversy over his work with George Nader—an adviser to the United Arab Emirates and a once and soon-to-be again convicted consumer of child pornography.
On January 27, 2018, The Wall Street Journal published a major investigation based on dozens of sources detailing a pattern of sexual misconduct by Wynn. He resigned as RNC finance chair the same day. On February 7, as the stock of Wynn Resorts, Limited tumbled more than 18 percent, Wynn lost control of the business empire he’d spent four decades building as shareholders forced him out as CEO.
The next blow to the RNC finance team came two months later on April 9, 2018, when the FBI exercised search warrants at Michael Cohen’s office at the law firm Squire Patton Boggs, as well as his home, and a Manhattan hotel room where he’d been staying.
Among other things, the Feds were looking for evidence that Cohen, while serving as an employee of the Trump organization and as Trump’s personal attorney, had made hush-money payments to Playboy model Karen McDougal and pornographic actress Stormy Daniels. Cohen paid McDougal $150,000 to remain silent about a ten-month affair she conducted with Trump in 2005 and 2006 while future First Lady Melania Trump was pregnant. Cohen paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about a tryst she had with Trump shortly after Melania’s pregnancy resulted in the birth of Trump’s third son, Barron.
It’s bad enough that Cohen was a hush-money fixer for Trump before he joined the RNC, but the New York lawyer also did it for Elliot Broidy, too. Cohen had set up a corporation in Delaware to try to conceal the source of hush-money payments to Trump’s paramours. Cohen also used this corporation to help his future colleague on the RNC finance team, Broidy, conceal his own affair.
Former Playboy Bunny Shera Bechard was paid $1.6 million by Cohen in 2017 and 2018 to stay mum about her extramarital affair with Broidy, which she later claimed in court had resulted in physical abuse, pregnancy, and–most inconveniently for the anti-choice Republican Party–pressure from Broidy for her to get an abortion.
But the story wasn’t over. In August 2018, Cohen was indicted on eight felonies involving fraud, tax evasion, and the hush money payments deemed illegal campaign contributions. He later pleaded guilty to perjuring himself before Congress and, as the sentencing judge put it, “a veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct.”
After Cohen and Broidy’s mid-2018 resignations from the RNC finance team, only Louis DeJoy, a former logistics company executive, remained from the original group. He departed in May 2019 to serve as the national finance chairman for CLT Host 2020, a supposedly non-profit, non-partisan organization responsible for raising money for the 2020 Republican National Convention, which was then planned for Charlotte, North Carolina.
The New York Times would later report that DeJoy’s businesses “have been the subject of complaints of sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions,” been cited by the National Labor Relations Board for acting with “anti-union animus,” and found guilty in federal court of violating labor laws.
Nonetheless, in May 2020, he was chosen by the Trump-appointed U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors to serve as the United States Postmaster General. In that role, he soon caused national controversy, as it became clear that he was using his position to assist Trump’s reelection campaign. As the Monthly’s Eric Cortellessa put it in August, by “removing sorting machines from postal facilities and eliminating mailboxes,” DeJoy was attempting to interfere with the proper delivery and counting of absentee and vote-by-mail ballots in the middle of a global pandemic.
In August 2020, he was hauled before Congress, subjected to withering criticism, and compelled to promise the timely delivery of mail ballots.
Trump was intimately familiar with Cohen’s record and knew full-well that Cohen had committed felonies at his direction. Wynn had expanded his casino operations into Macau, a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea, and unsuccessfully fought a 2017 slander case against accusations he’d violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Broidy, as ProPublica reported at the time, had been convicted in 2009 for “paying nearly $1 million in bribes to officials at New York State’s pension system, in exchange for a $250 million placement in his investment fund.” And, of course, DeJoy had a sketchy business history involving sexual harassment and labor law violations.
There are many other examples of Trump’s failed effort to hire “the best and most serious people” and “drain the swamp,” including convicted felons Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates recently indicted Steve Bannon. But the guilty plea of Elliott Broidy this week will close the chapter on the “top of the line professionals” Trump chose to head the RNC’s fundraising arm.