Republicans are set to launch a long-awaited, much-delayed online fundraising platform on Monday, a move aimed at closing Democrats’ massive small-donor money advantage ahead of the 2020 election.
WinRed is being billed as the GOP’s answer to the Democratic Party’s ActBlue, which has already amassed over $174 million this year. The new tool is intended to reshape the GOP’s fundraising apparatus by creating a centralized, one-stop shop for online Republican giving, which the party has lacked to this point.
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The launch caps months of behind-the-scenes discussions involving top Republicans. President Donald Trump and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner were involved, as were GOP congressional leaders and mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. The end product, Republican leaders hope, will fill a gaping void in the party’s machinery.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen either political party come together to do something genuinely good for campaigns instead of consultants,” said Josh Holmes, a top lieutenant to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who was involved in the negotiations. “It’s unquestionably the most significant realignment of political infrastructure in my career.”
Reeling after a midterm election in which they were badly outraised by Democrats, Republicans reached a landmark agreement early this year to consolidate behind a single online platform that could serve the entirety of the party. Republicans until now have had a factionalized ecosystem of vendors that stymied efforts to unify behind a single fundraising vehicle.
But ironing out the legal details of the deal, with so many players involved who’d been operating previously on separate tracks, proved a heavy lift. The launch had been initially planned for February.
The delay caused considerable angst within some corners of the party, particularly among House Republicans who worry they will once again be financially outgunned in the coming election. While Trump’s political machine and Senate Republicans have been outpacing their Democratic rivals this year, the House GOP campaign arm has trailed its Democratic counterpart.
Republican officials say Trump’s reelection campaign and national party committees have begun moving their online fundraising operations onto the new platform and that down-ballot campaigns will be able to sign up starting Monday. Every GOP candidate will have access to the system, though party officials stress that no one will be required to use it. Other payment processors, such as Anedot, remain on the market.
Gerrit Lansing, WinRed’s president, and Mike Shields, a former Republican National Committee chief of staff who is involved in the also project, were expected to brief House GOP leaders on the launch Sunday evening. Lansing, a veteran GOP digital strategist, is slated to address several other party gatherings in the coming months.
Republicans acknowledged the delays but note the launch comes in time for the start of the third fundraising quarter, when many 2020 House GOP candidates are expected to announce.
“If we had wanted to go alone we could have created this in five minutes. But in order to bring this large a group of foundational stakeholders together it takes time to get the legal language right,” said Shields, a senior adviser at Data Trust, the RNC’s designated clearinghouse of voter information that will form part of WinRed’s nucleus.
Party officials also had to sell skeptical lawmakers on the new product. During a spring meeting with Lansing and Shields at the National Republican Congressional Committee’s headquarters, a group of House Republicans complained that primary challengers would be able to use WinRed.
The most unexpected stumbling block surrounded the initial decision to dub the new product “Patriot Pass.” The name was abruptly dropped after New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft told the president that the processor sounded too much like his football team. By that point, Holmes had already delivered separate presentations to Senate Republicans and major GOP donors in which he introduced the new platform as “Patriot Pass.”
Trump, ever the branding expert, took particular interest in the naming. He phoned top allies including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to bounce ideas off them. During a meeting with political aides in the White House earlier this year, the president proposed “ActRed.” He also came up with another suggestion: “WinRed.”
That one stuck. While Democrats act, Trump told his team, Republicans win.
The president has periodically asked 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale and RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel for updates on the project. Trump had been expected to plug WinRed during his Orlando campaign launch last week, though the idea was ultimately shelved.
Party officials say Trump has come to see the new product as a key part of his political legacy and expect him to help promote it.
The contours of the agreement started to take shape in the weeks after the party’s 2018 drubbing. Senior Republicans including McConnell, McCarthy and McDaniel began pressing for a rival to ActBlue, which raked in around $1.6 billion during the midterms. Adelson, the GOP’s most prominent and influential donor, also pushed for change.
With encouragement from Trump’s political team, Republicans eventually settled on a plan to unify behind a platform that would fuse Revv, a payment processor used by the president’s campaign, with Data Trust.
The vehicle will closely mimic ActBlue’s capabilities, giving users an easy-to-use hub that will allow them to enter their credit card information and contribute to their candidate of choice with a click. Once a donation is complete, the screen will refresh with suggestions of other candidates to contribute to.
WinRed has been designed with an eye toward enabling down-ballot Republicans to capitalize on Trump’s massive small donor base. The product will allow the president to send fundraising appeals asking supporters to split their donations between his reelection campaign and Republican congressional candidates.
With his endorsement of the platform, McDaniel said, Trump is “offering a tremendous hand to other Republican candidates.”
Trump is also expected to benefit. Down-ballot candidates will be able to send appeals asking for donors to divide their contributions between them and the president.
By making Data Trust a key component of the product, Republicans hope to improve their 2020 turnout efforts. After each donation is completed, the giver’s information will be added to their file stored at Data Trust. With each donation, a contributor’s profile will be further refined.
The total of each transaction will include a fee of 3.8 percent plus an additional 30 cents. Data Trust will use those revenues to make improvements to the WinRed platform. Party officials say they’re aiming to create a level of transparency that has often been lacking in the Wild West nature of small-dollar fundraising.
Some Republicans want to lower expectations for the product. While Democrats have long been unified behind ActBlue, which was founded in 2004, the GOP has never lined up behind a single entity. Getting candidates and small donors to move to WinRed, party strategists stress, isn’t likely to happen instantaneously.
“ActBlue has had 15 years to grow,” said Lansing, “and today’s launch is the first step in a long journey to unify the party behind a central platform.”