Ryan Calms Restless Republicans: The Big Donors Are Still Giving

Though he's now a lame duck, House Speaker Paul Ryan put down the mini-rebellion among his fellow Republicans with a simple message: the constituents who really matter to the party’s elected leaders – the big dollar donors – are still with him and still writing checks.

House Speaker Paul Ryan had barely finished his surprise retirement announcement last week when some of his fellow Republicans began grousing about his plan to serve until January, when his term ends. Better for Ryan to depart now, so Republicans can choose a new leader before the November midterm election, they suggested.

But The Washington Post  reports today that Ryan put down the mini-rebellion with a simple message, delivered during a closed-door meeting with some of his critics: the constituents who really matter to the party’s elected leaders – the big dollar donors – are still with him and still writing checks, the speaker declared.

The episode underscores the continued dominance of big money interests in Congress. The House is brimming with ambitious people, Democrats as well as Republicans, and when opportunities to advance present themselves there’s always a rush to take advantage. That Ryan was able to solidify his position by reminding colleagues of his popularity, not with his constituents back in Wisconsin or the public at large but with major donors, speaks volumes.

Through two-plus years as speaker, Ryan has been a human cash machine for House Republicans. With the midterm election still more than six months away, he has raised just over $16 million for his campaign committee and a political action committee he formed to funnel money to other Republicans; he brought in nearly $24 million in advance of the 2016 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

And that doesn’t count the millions more that donors acting at Ryan’s behest have sent directly to GOP House candidates and/or “social welfare” organizations that have spent the money to help Republicans. The social welfare groups are a particularly popular outlet for big givers because tax and campaign finance laws allow the groups to conceal the identity of their donors.

In times past, a House Speaker or other lawmaker who declared him/herself a lame duck would expect to see donors put away their checkbooks and disappear. Out of office, once-powerful people like Paul Ryan are no longer able to deliver the favors big donors crave, so the donors have no incentive to keep the money coming.

Ryan is insistent that he can break that pattern, that the personal loyalty he has built among his contributors will be enough to persuade them to continue contributing. “One of the reasons why I need to stay and run through the tape is I can help keep our majority,” Ryan told a Milwaukee radio station this week. “I can help our grass roots. I can help make sure that we have the resources to run our campaigns.”