Amid donor blowback, Josh Hawley's fundraising problems get even more complicated

Hawley gets FEC warning as "horrified" Disney resort cancels "fun-filled" fundraiser Salon reported on last week

By Roger Sollenberger
January 20, 2021 10:00AM (UTC)
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Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) asks questions during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to discuss election security and the 2020 election process on December 16, 2020 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Donald Trump continues to push baseless claims of voter fraud during the presidential election, which Chris Krebs called the most secure in American history. (Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)

The campaign for Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., received a notice from the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday for failing to disclose its affiliation with two joint fundraising committees. The notice comes as a Disney World-area resort cancels a Hawley fundraiser, citing the Republican's role in the Capitol riots as well as safety concerns for guests and staff.

The Hawley campaign responded to the FEC promptly by updating its statement of organization with the two committees, the Indiana/Missouri Victory Committee and the Hawley Win Fund. Indiana/Missouri Victory is a joint vehicle between Hawley, Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., and former Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, as well as the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and Vice President Mike Pence's Great America Committee. The Hawley Win Fund pairs Hawley's campaign with the NRSC and Republican National Committee.

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In 2018, when Hawley ran for Senate, FEC records show that his campaign received more than $70,000 from Indiana/Missouri and around $180,000 from Hawley Win Fund. Both committees were largely dormant this year, except for a number of small-dollar transfers executed in late September, mostly with the RNC. The Hawley campaign did not immediately respond to Salon's emailed questions about the nature of those transfers.

Last week, Salon was first to report that Hawley's leadership PAC, Fighting for Missouri, had announced in an awkwardly-designed email (including a number of fonts chosen seemingly at random) that it would hold a three-day "fun-filled-family-friendly" fundraiser at an Orlando-area hotel in February. The next day the resort, Loews Portofino Bay, pronounced itself "horrified" and announced in a statement, without mentioning Hawley's name, that his campaign event was no longer welcome.

"We are horrified and opposed to the events at the Capitol and all who supported and incited the actions," the statement said. "In light of those events and for the safety of our guests and team members, we have informed the host of the Feb. fundraiser that it will no longer be held at Loews Hotels."

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In response, Hawley fired off a statement framing the decision made by a private company as a knock on free speech.

"If these corporations don't want conservatives to speak, they should just be honest about it. But to equate leading a debate on the floor of the Senate with inciting violence is a lie, and it's dangerous," he said. "I will not be deterred from representing my constituents and I will not bow to left wing corporate pressure."

Indeed, Hawley has seen fierce and sustained blowback for inciting insurrectionist violence by amplifying President Trump's baseless claims of election fraud and voicing support for the mob that laid siege to the Capitol on Jan. 6. The Republican who launched the objection movement was photographed raising a fist in a gesture of solidarity with groups gathered at the Capitol hours before the deadly riots, and was attacked later that afternoon in an editorial from his home-state Kansas City Star saying that he "deserves an impressive share of the blame for the blood that's been shed." But when Congress reconvened later that night, the Yale Law graduate held fast to his objections and meritless, long-debunked claims about fraud, which had sparked the violence in the first place.

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In the wake of the attack, a number of Hawley's colleagues and constituents called for him to resign or be expelled from the Senate. He took the criticism as an affront to his civil rights, framing it as a struggle against "cancel culture" and attacks on the general principle of free speech. That week, Hawley was widely mocked for complaining about publisher Simon & Schuster's decision to yank his book deal amid the insurrection fallout, claiming that the "Orwellian" move was a "direct assault on the First Amendment," even though that amendment applies only to government restrictions and not market-driven decisions of private companies. He quickly signed a new deal with the conservative publishing house Regnery.

In the aftermath of the violence, a wave of corporate entities suspended campaign contributions, and many have pulled the plug on donations to Republicans like Hawley who objected to the vote counting. (Hallmark's PAC specifically asked Hawley to refund its donations.) However, while many companies have cut off campaign giving broadly, none are known to have specifically ended donations to national committees such as the NRSC and RNC — both of which have agreements that allow them to transfer funds to the Hawley campaign, including through the two joint fundraising committees that he failed to register until now. (Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who also objected to the votes on Jan. 6, chairs the NRSC.)

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Salon has asked more than a dozen major financial institutions and trade associations whether they will specifically target national GOP committees, including Wells Fargo, Visa, Travelers, American Express and Bank of America. So far, none have said they will.


Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger is a staff writer at Salon. Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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