Political Money Fan Relishes Role as Trump Supporter

Posted March 4, 2016 at 8:00am

Shaun McCutcheon, whose 2014 Supreme Court case opened the door to more money in politics, has a new political cause in Donald Trump.

McCutcheon, an Alabama engineer, was elected this week as a delegate to the Republican National Convention, and he’s pledged his support to the billionaire real estate mogul. Alabama was one of seven states Trump won during Super Tuesday, the biggest night so far in the 2016 presidential primaries. 

“I like his bluntness, his celebrity, his media skills,” McCutcheon told CQ during an interview Thursday at The Palm restaurant in downtown Washington. “The guy’s loaded with skills and accomplishments.”

McCutcheon said Trump first won him over at the 2014 Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, where Trump was a speaker. 

“Trump wanted to see me in his back room,” McCutcheon said. “He was very cordial. We took a couple of pictures.”

If Trump claims the 1,237 delegates needed to win the party’s nomination, McCutcheon said the GOP would hurt itself by trying to pick someone else at a brokered convention. 

“I just don’t think it makes sense for the party to select a less popular candidate, especially the way Trump’s driving the turnout,” said McCutcheon, who is in D.C. for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. 

But the one-time plaintiff said he’ll be up for a fight at the convention scheduled July 18-21 in Cleveland.

“If it gets complicated, I’ve talked to some of those brilliant lawyers, then it’s deal-making time,” McCutcheon said, noting that Team Trump would first look to pick off delegates to candidates who have dropped out or are no longer viable such as retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.


Free Speech Rights?

McCutcheon sued the Federal Election Commission, arguing that the aggregate limits an individual can give during a two-year election cycle to federal candidates and national party committees violated his free speech rights. The high court sided with McCutcheon in 2014 and the 5-4 ruling did away with overall donation limits that had been in place since 1976. 

Despite his high-profile status as an opponent of campaign contribution limits, McCutcheon has not given any cash to Trump. In January 2015, McCutcheon donated to a leadership PAC and a fundraising committee for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is also seeking the GOP nomination, FEC reports show.

“I was encouraging him to run,” McCutcheon said of his donation to Rubio, which came before Trump announced last June that he was running for president.

McCutcheon said he helped organize a “direct conduit” contribution drive for Trump from the Conservative Action Fund, but said Trump really doesn’t want donations.

“If he wins the nomination, I’ll probably max out to him, especially since I’m a delegate, I think it sets a good example,” he said.

McCutcheon hasn’t contributed to any members of Congress or their challengers so far in the 2016 campaign, FEC records show, even though his lawsuit made it legal for individuals to give to as many candidates as they’d like. 

“Well, you can give to them all if you’re Trump,” McCutcheon said. “Business hasn’t been that great, so I don’t have a ton of money to put out there this cycle.”

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, which opposed the Supreme Court’s decision, said it’s odd that McCutcheon hasn’t used the benefit of his own lawsuit.

“The fact that he is not giving much money at all simply makes clear that this was not about his ability to exercise quote his free speech closed quote rights but rather was a personal exercise — the impact of which is to greatly increase the ability of a minute handful of Americans to buy influence with our elected officials,” Wertheimer said.


Lifting Limits

McCutcheon’s alliance with Trump is somewhat unusual given the White House hopeful’s own comments about money in politics. Trump has touted himself as a self-funding candidate, though he is expected to use other people’s money in the general election if he’s the GOP nominee.

“I’m spending my own money,” Trump said in late February at a campaign event. “I don’t need these people.” By contrast, other candidates are “taken care of by their donors, their special interests and their lobbyists 100 percent,” Trump said. 

The only problems McCutcheon sees with the campaign finance system are the limits placed on individuals giving to candidates — currently $2,700 per election. The reason for the limits is to curb corruption. He’d like to see them go much higher, maybe $25,000 or $50,000.

“We can’t all be billionaires, so some of these guys gotta raise money,” McCutcheon said.

He believes Trump, who has loaned his campaign at least $17.5 million, makes a good case for increasing those limits. Any candidate can loan his or her campaign an unlimited amount of their own money.

“If they’re not going to limit the candidates themselves, then they shouldn’t limit any other citizen,” McCutcheon said.

“Do you believe that?” McCutcheon said. “Personally I believe you can corrupt yourself, at least you can with food.”