Trump super PAC's new political guru must wait to do work

AP News
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Posted: May 31, 2016 3:12 PM
Trump super PAC's new political guru must wait to do work

WASHINGTON (AP) — A super PAC's decision to hire a former Donald Trump campaign operative comes with a caveat: He can't immediately do all that much, in a period when there is so much to be done.

Stuart Jolly served as the now-presumptive Republican presidential nominee's national field director until April 18. On Tuesday, the group Great America PAC announced he was coming aboard as its national adviser for "general political and fundraising activities."

Jolly's hiring may boost the credibility of a group that has so far struggled to land major donations. But Federal Election Commission rules require Jolly to wait 120 days to begin helping the super PAC with political advertising strategy.

That "cooling off" period for Jolly ends in mid-August.

Great America's statement about his hiring hints that the group is going to keep Jolly from political work at first, as required by federal regulators.

"Stuart will give us valuable counsel in the coming months and then help lead our political team in the final critical weeks of the campaign," said Eric Beach, a California-based fundraiser who in February started Great America with Bill Doddridge, the chief executive officer of the Jewelry Exchange.

Jolly acknowledged in an interview that he has "a lot of limitations as to what I can do at first." But he said he will focus on reaching out to donors and pitching Great America as the go-to big money group for Trump.

That could be a tough assignment. Wealthy donors who want to help Trump in his race against likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton are getting mixed signals — starting with the candidate himself — as to where to send their checks. Trump has repeatedly said super PACs are "corrupt."

Still, Great America and several other pro-Trump groups persist. Doug Watts, who was communications director for Trump rival-turned-advocate Ben Carson, recently started another super PAC, called the Committee for American Sovereignty.

Adding to the confusion, Carson — a high-profile Trump ally — recently spoke on a Great America conference call, and Trump has praised Ed Rollins, its lead strategist. However, as recently as April 27, the Trump campaign sent a "disavowal notice" to the FEC about Great America, and Trump's friend and informal political adviser Roger Stone continually disparages the group on social media.

Great America had raised about $1 million through the end of April. That's not enough to cover all of its planned expenses, leaving it more than $200,000 in the hole.

The group has taken an unusual approach to raising money.

Traditionally, super political action committees go after big money because they face no contribution limits. By contrast, the candidates' campaigns are limited to $2,700 per donor, per election.

Yet Great America has raised a majority of its money from people giving $200 or less. Just 6.3 percent of its contributions are coming from donors giving more than $200, according to campaign finance documents through April 30.

In television ads meant to generate fundraising, Great America asks Trump supporters to dial a telephone number. Those callers are told a pledge of $50 to $75 would be used for "building the financial and grassroots organization needed to win the White House."

Likewise, in emailed fundraising solicitations last week, Great America asks for a "generous contribution of $25, $50, $75, or even $100 or more" to the super PAC.

That means Great America is potentially cannibalizing from the same pool of donors who could be giving to the Trump campaign directly.

The campaign is specifically going after small contributors via a fundraising account called the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, which will split those gifts 80 percent to 20 percent with the Republican National Committee. An email seeks donations of $35.

Jolly said he sees one of his first tasks as to land bigger donors — which would help make Great America more of a traditional super PAC.

"These guys are way ahead of everyone else," Jolly said. "To me it was a no-brainer to join them."

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