RNC Chairman Reince Priebus Reacts To The McCutcheon Decision
HH: I begin with politics, and the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, Mr. Chairman, welcome back, always a pleasure.
RP: Honored to be on your show, and I think you saw Cleveland made the cut?
HH: I did, and let’s begin there. You root for the Milwaukee Bucks, don’t you?
RP: I do.
HH: They’ve had kind of a rough season.
RP: Rough season, but the Brewers are looking up a little bit.
HH: Well, I’m wondering if Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers were to trade Tyler Zeller to the Bucks, would that get the convention to Cleveland?
RP: Well, hey, listen, you know who has actually been very helpful in the Cleveland bid was Jim Haslam who owns the Browns. He was front and center in the bid for Cleveland to the RNC, and he’s a big Republican. And you know, I think it’s his brother is the governor of Tennessee.
HH: That is correct, and Dan Gilbert has been helpful. Now they’re not Shelly Adelson, and that’s what I want to talk to you about. Now you guys dumped Columbus and Phoenix this week, and nobody wants to go to Columbus other than for football, and Phoenix you don’t want to go to in the summertime. And let’s face it, nobody wants to spend a week in K.C. or Cincinnati, Mr. Chairman. So this is really between Cleveland and Las Vegas when you come down to it. How do we compete against Adelson, though?
RP: Well, first of all, I’ve got to backtrack a little bit on everything you just said. I would just tell you that Phoenix and Columbus did do a fantastic job bidding, and so obviously it’s not easy, and there’s a lot of factors that go into it. But you know, the committee will do its work and come back with another recommendation, and then I think the full committee will convene and do a site visit in three, maybe four cities across the country. And so we’re looking forward to it. I know it’s not the answer you want, you want more specifics, but you know, I can’t get ahead of the committee, Hugh.
HH: Well, there are reports that Adelson’s breaking your arms, that he’s really leaning on you guys to do Vegas.
RP: No, he’s not. In fact, I’ve not, I haven’t spoken to Sheldon in months about anything that has to do with the RNC.
HH: Because if this is a level playing field, I must tell you, Cleveland is clearly the frontrunner. So I leave it at that, we’ll come back to that. But let’s talk about the other big news, which is McCutcheon V. FEC. I taught this case to my Con Law students today, and I said this was a great victory for free speech.
HH: But there are dissenters. There are people who say this means money will buy the national committees. How do you respond to that?
RP: Well, first of all, I mean, you know that, for your listeners, I mean, you broke it down for your students, but the case basically says, and let me just back you up. When I was here in 2011, the problem I had was the RNC was $26 million in debt, we were 18 months from a presidential election, and donors were already giving their money to the House committee and the Senate committee. And even though they were happy with what we were doing at the RNC and they wanted to help, they couldn’t, because there was what was called an aggregate limit, meaning people could give the maximum to two committees, but not all three. People could give the max to nine candidates, but not a tenth candidate. And so I sat there and thought well, what is wrong with this? And so we brought the case. Nobody actually thought we could win, and we brought the case under the 1st Amendment, and challenged the corruption argument that the previous case set forth, and we actually won. So now what does that mean for, back to your question, as to the giving in money and politics? First of all, there was a billion dollars spent in 2012. And that had, and that was before this case ever took place. To me, the problem that I face is that we run a committee here that discloses every single dollar that we take in and every nickel we spend, but we’re limited on how much we can raise, whereas you have other entities out there that disclose nothing and have unlimited discretion as far as what they can raise. And so I’m not saying that’s wrong, but what I am saying is that party committees are the best, most responsible place to spend your money outside of the candidates, and we were restricted. And so we fought it and we won, and now people can give to us. It’s still limited, but they can give to us freely just like any other party committee across the country.
HH: Now Reince Priebus, I think this is actually going to be if not the most significant thing you do during your tenure, and long may it go on at the RNC, it’s historical. It’s very important for free speech interests. But would you explain how the RNC, the corruption argument was dismissed by a majority of the Court as simply not purposefully given, or they rejected it out of hand because it’s not corruption to give money to a national committee.
HH: So how much can a donor give to you now?
RP: A donor can give to us the same amount they could give to us before, which is $32,400. Now the FEC adjusts that number ever so slightly each election cycle, but so it’s $32,400. So there was some initial reports that came out and they said well, this means that money is going to flow in like it’s never had before. That’s not true. It’s always restricted. It’s still capped. It’s just that there’s no aggregate. And obviously it didn’t, you know the $32,000 grand here for the billionaires that spend $100 million or $10 million in soft money groups are still going to do that. It’s not going to change much of anything as far as how much money goes into politics.
HH: Does it make the job of building the party easier, because this is, there’s been a great complaint among intellectuals, and I share it, that the parties got weak over the last 40 years, and that strong parties make for strong democracies. How much easier does this make your job?
RP: Well, it makes it easier, because I no longer have to call people to say I know we helped you out last year, but because I hit my aggregate limit, Reince, I love what you guys are doing, I appreciate that you’re getting a hold of these debates and building a field staff. But I can’t help you even if I wanted to. So now I can call our donors that are at that level and say guess what, you can renew at the end of this year. I’ve got great news for you. You can keep giving, and it actually does, I mean, it does make things easier, because actually you can fund the ground operation, which by the way, if people out there don’t realize, when it comes to the United States Senate, and winning that, and when it comes to keeping the House, and when it comes to about five or six key governor’s races across the country, as a national entity, we’re a massive reason why the field operation in all those states are paid for, because it mostly comes out of, in many cases, the Republican National Committee.
HH: So to summarize, I want people to really understand this. There is, you can’t be bought. There isn’t enough money to buy a party, and the Supreme Court said that that’s a bogus argument. Nevertheless, the real hidden story remains union funding and special interest funding that always goes unremarked upon. Are you caught up, Reince Priebus, vis-à-vis the left when it comes to political campaign funding?
RP: I think as far as hard money competing with all of that, I’d say no, because the way that the laws are written, and the way that unions abuse the system and the fact that they have a built-in field operation where unions are actually using paid employees to go door to door and do their field work, no. But it gets us a step closer. And I think eventually, we need to get to a place where we don’t, where we have as long as we’ve got disclosure at the party level, we need to be on the same playing field as unions and third parties and 527’s and everyone else. So we’re getting there, and the McCutcheon case is a key component to getting the national parties on both sides on an even playing field with all of these third party groups.
HH: Last question…
RP: I don’t think we should have caps at all.
HH: That’s what I wanted to get to, because I don’t, either. I think that contribution limits are unconstitutional, and they have to be revisited. Will you look for an opportunity to put that before the Court as well?
RP: Absolutely, I would. And I would look to another, and I would look to cases that allow us to raise soft money, and I would look to cases that allow us to raise money for the conventions, and but disclose it all. You know, I mean, that’s kind of where I’m at personally, but you know, you look at even some of these disclosure laws, Hugh. You’ve got now groups that are targeting people viciously, both businesses and individuals, because their names are disclosed. I mean, you want to be for disclosure. But when you start to see some of the cases out there where people are targeted, and businesses are targeted and picketed and threatened for political contributions, then now you’re suppressing free speech through disclosure. So I mean, even things that I want to agree with are getting to be very difficult.
HH: Well, keep pushing the 1st Amendment agenda. You can’t go wrong with that, Chairman Priebus. Congratulations on a big win, and just keep in mind, Cleveland has rapid transit. None of these other cities, well, Las Vegas does, but people will melt in the summertime in Las Vegas. You really have to keep in mind the rapid transit system.
End of interview.