A leading congressional ally of President Donald Trump alleged last week that Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) threatened to withhold financial support for the president’s re-election effort unless he helped get her top Republican opponent out of the race.
According to Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Loeffler or her representatives approached the Trump campaign and offered to spend tens of millions of dollars on Trump’s behalf. But that financial support would only come, Loeffler’s team supposedly said, if Trump helped convince Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) to drop his Senate bid. Gaetz supports Collins and was speaking at a campaign event.
“This is what the Loeffler team went to the Trump team with,” said Gaetz. “They went and said, ‘Look, you guys gotta get Doug Collins out of this race’… She said, ‘I have $50 million for this project, and I can either spend my $50 million getting new voters and helping the Trump campaign, or I can spend that $50 million taking out Doug Collins.’”
In a preamble to his comments, which have not been previously reported, Gaetz said that he had not told that story before. And, perhaps for good reason. The charges are an explosive volley against the Republican Party’s preferred Senate nominee—an accusation that Loeffler is not truly committed to supporting the president, and is using her vast personal fortune simply to elevate her own political prospects.
Gaetz did not provide any evidence beyond his recollections and did not respond to inquiries about his remarks, which were made during an appearance at the Cobb County GOP headquarters last week.
The Loeffler campaign declined to address Gaetz’s comments directly but portrayed them as late-in-the-election mudslinging.
“With 40 days left until Election Day, career politician Doug Collins is losing in every poll,” campaign spokesperson Caitlin O’Dea told The Daily Beast in an emailed statement. “His campaign is in free-fall and will say anything to distract voters and protect the congressman’s taxpayer-funded paycheck.”
Loeffler and Collins are statistically deadlocked ahead of November’s crowded special election, and each has tried to appear as the more loyal Trump backer in a state that the president is expected to narrowly carry in November. That makes Gaetz’s allegations particularly potent.
But while other sources confirmed that a message about Loeffler’s potentially diminished financial support was passed from her team to Trump’s, they described Loeffler’s reported ultimatum as more nuanced than Gaetz portrayed it.
According to one source familiar with the interactions, the Loeffler team’s offer had more to do with supporting other Senate candidates than with supporting the president and was actually relayed to the president’s campaign by way of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
“Basically it was to get McConnell and the Senate committee behind Loeffler and to not support Collins,” the source said.
Federal Election Commission records show that Loeffler and her husband, New York Stock Exchange Chairman Jeff Sprecher, have stepped up their political giving substantially this cycle. Sprecher gave $1 million this year, his largest political contribution yet, to a super PAC supporting Trump’s re-election. The couple has also made six-figure donations to Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee benefiting the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee; the RNC itself; and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
But those totals fall far short of the $50 million figure Gaetz cited. And no candidate or committee has received as much money from Loeffler and Sprecher this cycle as the $1.5 million that they donated to a super PAC backing Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid. Moreover, their sizable contributions to Republicans since last year are still a fraction of the funds that Loeffler has committed to her own campaign. She has loaned her re-election effort $15 million so far and left open the possibility of millions more in additional personal financing.
Trump initially favored Collins over Loeffler to fill the seat vacated by former Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson and lobbied Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to select the congressman, who emerged as one of Trump’s top defenders during impeachment hearings in January. But in spite of his personal preference, the president has remained steadfastly neutral in the race, and even attempted to broker a truce to the vicious intraparty battle, even as McConnell and the NRSC line up fully behind Loeffler.
Recent polls show that Loeffler and Collins both lead Democrats’ top contender for the seat, Rev. Ralph Warnock, though the margin is close. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters will advance to a runoff election in January.