When top Republican Party operatives unveiled the online donor portal platform WinRed last month, they promised a game-changer in grassroots giving among conservatives. But despite getting the full endorsement of the party’s political apparatus—including the backing of the president and his team—the site has had what could charitably be described as a rocky launch.
In the first week of operation, just $184,000 was raised through the platform for participating Republican political committees, including the Republican National Committee, GOP House and Senate campaign arms, and Donald Trump’s reelection campaign.
Officials at WinRed say that operations have improved since then, with a source familiar with the company’s internal workings relaying that it helped raise nearly $4 million in just the last four days of July. But the source acknowledged that the company doesn’t expect to keep that pace. The $35 million it expects to bring in this year raises questions for the party as it heads into a high-stakes election cycle.
WinRed launched with a simple but formidable goal: to compete with Democrats’ mammoth small-dollar fundraising platform ActBlue, which has helped super-charge Democratic giving, with nearly $250 million in campaign contributions facilitated in the second quarter alone.
While other conservative groups had tried to build a competitor to ActBlue, WinRed was and is positioned to be the go-to outlet for the party establishment. All of the national party committees, and Republican candidates in every one of the NRSC and NRCC’s top target races, committed to using WinRed in the 2020 cycle. And virtually every GOP leader of consequence—most notably Trump himself—are fully behind WinRed’s adoption.
The speedy adoption of the platform by top GOP officials and committee was largely a result of intense pressure by Republican leaders to force the party’s candidates to adopt the payment processor. That’s led to accusations of favoritism and financial chicanery that the party’s leaders have vehemently denied, but which have nonetheless dogged internal deliberations over WinRed’s adoption.
WinRed’s president, Gerrit Lansing, says the speed of that adoption portends far larger fundraising numbers ahead.
"In little more than a month, WinRed has shown that it is well on its way to competing with ActBlue,” Lansing told The Daily Beast in an email. “We’re clear-eyed about the 15 year head start they have, but thanks to President Trump and a united Republican Party, we’re well on our way towards finally solving this small-dollar donor problem."
But the platform’s rollout was not without its hiccups. Even the modest numbers it reported to the FEC last week were bolstered by operatives and donors who were already giving generously to Republican campaigns and political organs. Three donors in particular—Marc Goldman, Thomas Michaud, and Ron Ulrich—contributed a collective $50,000 through the new platform during the final week of June. And Lansing himself as well as a handful of other employees of his payment processing company Revv—which was incorporated into WinRed—made 63 donations through the platform during its first week in operation.
Employees of the RNC, NRCC, NRSC, and a pro-Trump super PAC also used WinRed to chip in money to various GOP committees—including, FEC records show, their own employers.
Those contributions suggest that WinRed is, at least at the outset, more a tool for party officials than a facilitator of grassroots giving that it was designed to be. That could come in time, and those involved with WinRed’s development object, not without reason, to drawing any broad conclusions off its first week of fundraising numbers.
But some veterans of the other side’s grassroots fundraising apparatus say their opponents might not be up to the task—and that it has nothing to do with the merits or execution of WinRed or any other fundraising tool the party is employing.
“The problem that they have is not technology, they have a culture problem and the numbers show this,” according to veteran Democratic digital fundraiser Tim Lim. “Most of their movement funding is based on big checks, an environment that does not foster growing millions of donors online.”
Trump, who consistently racks up huge small-dollar numbers, has been one major exception to that rule, and Lim acknowledged that some “individual GOP candidates are doing better than others.” But he added, “I don't see them solving this problem until they actually have to rely on online contributions, not just use them as a talking point.”