GOP senators, lobbyists aid challengers to lightning rod House members

Tillis, Cassidy aiding opponents of fellow Republicans Cawthorn, Greene

North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis will be a headline guest at a fundraiser for a Republican primary challenger to Rep. Madison Cawthorn. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis will be a headline guest at a fundraiser for a Republican primary challenger to Rep. Madison Cawthorn. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 19, 2022 at 5:26pm

GOP Sen. Thom Tillis plans to appear as a “special guest” at a fundraiser slated for next week benefiting Chuck Edwards, a primary challenger of embattled North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn, according to an invitation sent to potential donors in the lobbying sector.

Edwards, a Republican state senator, is seeking to oust Cawthorn in their party’s primary May 17. The April 26 fundraising event, hosted by K Street lobbyists, comes on the heels of congressional candidates’ first-quarter fundraising reports, which offer insight into how incumbents and challengers are faring.

Cawthorn, the subject of multiple controversies, disclosed spending more in the first quarter than the $659,000 his campaign brought in, leaving him with $242,000 cash on hand as of March 31, Federal Election Commission disclosures show. That’s less money in the bank than Edwards reported: $390,000, according to the filings. 

Edwards, a former McDonald’s employee-turned-franchisee for the burger enterprise, hauled in $310,000 in the first quarter. He disclosed recent donations from the political action committees of McDonald’s, the National Association of Realtors and the National Restaurant Association. He’ll have more campaign cash to add from next week’s event with Tillis, where the hosts include lobbyists Kirsten Chadwick and Aleix Jarvis of Fierce Government Relations, Manny Rossman of Harbinger Strategies and the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors PAC, among others. 

A Tillis spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.  

Washington insiders, including members of Congress and lobbyists, have rallied in support of opponents of other lightning rod lawmakers, such as GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado. 

Greene, a conservative firebrand in her freshman term on Capitol Hill, still has lots of campaign cash on hand (about $3 million) but spent more than the $1.1 million she raised in the first quarter. 

Her primary opponent, Jennifer Strahan, disclosed a $5,000 donation from Continuing America’s Strength and Security PAC, the leadership PAC of Louisiana GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy, as well as donations from the PACs of the Associated General Contractors of America,  Business-Industry PAC and the Value in Electing Women (or VIEW) PAC, according to the FEC reports.

Additionally, former GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia and former Oklahoma Sen. Don Nickles, who now runs the Nickles Group, gave to Strahan’s campaign, according to FEC records. So did Democratic lobbyist Jeffrey Forbes of Forbes Tate Partners, the filings show.

Julie Conway, executive director of VIEW PAC, noted that its support for Strahan marked the first time the group, which supports GOP women candidates, had endorsed against an incumbent.

“We’ve gotten a lot of support from the DC community because they’ve either had to try to work with MTG’s office, or not, and once you meet Jennifer Strahan you want her to be in Congress,” Conway said. She added that with a business and health care background, Strahan was “exactly the kind of person we want to have a seat at the table.”

Though Greene’s district is ruby red, her leading potential Democratic opponent, Marcus Flowers, posted huge fundraising returns, more than $2.4 million in the first quarter. He had one of the highest percentages of donations coming in amounts of under $200 of any congressional candidate, with 81 percent coming from small-dollar contributions. 

Boebert hauled in about $840,000 in the first quarter and held some $2.2 million on hand as of March 31. Her recent donors include $5,000 from former President Donald Trump’s Save America PAC and $2,000 from the campaign fund of Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz.

A number of Democrats have lined up to challenge her. Leading the fundraising was Soledad Sandoval Tafoya, who reported raising $265,000 in the first quarter. Democrat Adam Frisch raised $231,000 and loaned $1.5 million to his campaign. Alex Walker raised $130,000 in the period. 

Boebert’s opponents didn’t disclose much in the way of PAC donations. 

The upcoming event featuring Tillis for his fellow North Carolinian Edwards lists suggested donations ranging from $2,500 for PAC hosts to $500 for individual attendees.