WASHINGTON ― Republican consultants with links to the Donald Trump-endorsed WinRed fundraising platform have sparked an angry dispute within the Minnesota GOP, which saw fully half of its online donations flow to the suburban Virginia firm.
Of the $202,126 raised by the Minnesota Republican Party online, $103,607 went to WinRed, with most or all of it passed on to IMGE LLC, based in Alexandria, Virginia, even though that company had little to do with much of the money raised, according to an email from Max Rymer, a Republican National Committee member from Minnesota.
“Since October of 2019, the Republican Party of Minnesota has given over 50% of their online donations to something marked as ‘WinRed Credit Card Processing Fees’ ― even if the vendors did not earn that commission through fundraising efforts,” Rymer wrote in a note to state GOP officials, which was posted to Facebook on March 23 by a party activist. “This included large dollar online givers, who in some cases had 100% of their donations taken.”
He described how state party chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan, after listening to his questions on Feb. 15 about the contract with IMGE, then went to RNC chair Ronna McDaniel to accuse Rymer of trying to “destroy” WinRed. Rymer wrote that he was startled to get a call two days later from McDaniel and RNC lawyer Richard Walters. “I received this call while getting my children out of the bath and, to be honest, these were the last two people I ever expected to hear from,” he wrote.
Rymer declined to discuss his 6,300-word missive with HuffPost. Neither Carnahan nor officials at RNC headquarters responded to HuffPost’s questions on the matter.
Minnesota GOP Executive Director Christine Snell defended the party’s arrangements. “The allegations insinuating any wrongdoing on the part of MN GOP, IMGE, and WinRed are categorically false,” she wrote. “Our vendor agreement was in line with industry standards. We had great digital fundraising success in 2020 which helped elect Republicans up and down the ballot in Minnesota.”
In his note, Rymer states several times that he is not blaming WinRed, the platform created by consultants with close ties to the RNC and pushed by Trump as a Republican answer to ActBlue, the successful fundraising platform used by Democratic and progressive groups since 2004.
But Rymer does not point out ― or perhaps did not realize ― the close relationship between WinRed and IMGE. Indeed, one of WinRed’s founders, former RNC staffer Gerrit Lansing, was in 2017 touted as a “senior partner” in an IMGE news release.
And unlike the not-for-profit ActBlue, WinRed from its inception in 2019 has been a for-profit entity, with the recipients of those profits shrouded from public view. Corporate records in Virginia list Lansing as president. The New York Times reported last year that 60% of WinRed’s profits went to Revv, the credit-card payment processing company Lansing founded in 2014, while he was with the National Republican Congressional Committee, and then continued to run while he worked at the RNC. The remainder goes to Data Trust, a private firm created by Republicans to create and maintain a voter database.
Also unlike ActBlue, which charges a flat 3.95% for each credit-card donation, WinRed charges 3.8% but then also collects 30 cents per transaction, no matter how small the amount. The additional charge means little for donations of hundreds or thousands of dollars, but for small-dollar, recurring donations ― the bread and butter of online fundraising – the extra 30 cents can drive up the percentage diverted to WinRed dramatically. For a $10 donation, WinRed’s cut is 6.8%. At $5, it’s 9.8%.
The $2.2 billion that WinRed reported in contributions for candidates and political committees to the Federal Election Commission for 2019 and 2020 would have generated at least $88 million in revenue at that formula, likely resulting in about $29 million in profits.
Lansing did not respond to HuffPost queries.
Late Thursday, Megan Foote, IMGE’s executive vice president, told HuffPost that Rymer’s letter had “numerous factual inaccuracies” but that the company was not going to comment further. “Out of respect for our former client’s privacy, at this time we do not wish to comment on, or discuss the specifics of our former client’s engagement in a public forum. We routinely provide clients with fee structures that work for their specific needs. We enjoyed working with the leadership at the MNGOP on a successful 2020 cycle,” she said.
Rymer, in his email to his Minnesota state party colleagues, said the squandered money would make their donors lose confidence in them:
“By not having proper oversight, we played fast and loose with our donors. If our large-dollar donors or our grassroots donors who have given for years thought 20%, 30%, 50%, 90%, 100% of their money should go to a consulting firm ― they may not want to donate again…. This was not just a ‘small mistake.’ It was half the money our online donors gave us. That is not reasonable.”
He also said he was troubled by how Carnahan ― who, according to Republicans close to the RNC, has ambitions of running for chair of the national party ― tried to damage his reputation for bringing the issue to light.
“As I was uncovering this detrimental failure in our party’s financial and governance oversight, Chair Carnahan began a campaign that went directly to the highest levels on the Republican National Committee,” Rymer wrote. “This was a totally unnecessary and reckless campaign, in which Chair Carnahan attempted to silence me, humiliate me, and intimidate me by mischaracterizing or flat out telling mistruths about my words/motives.”
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