In the week leading up to Tuesday’s high-profile Senate runoff in Georgia, Montana Congressman-elect Ryan Zinke (R) sent out at least nine messages asking his supporters to donate to Georgia GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker.
“GEORGIA UPDATE: Herschel Walker is on the ropes, and he needs EVERY Republican to send support NOW, or the Senate will be lost,” read a text that went out Monday. (Even if Walker wins, Democrats will maintain Senate control.)
Walker, the former football star who has been dogged by scandal throughout the race, squares off against Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock in Tuesday’s runoff. Warnock, the incumbent, has outraised Walker by more than 2 to 1, and limited polling shows Warnock with a slight edge in Tuesday’s runoff.
The message from Zinke included a link to a webpage hosted by the GOP fundraising platform WinRed, where people are encouraged to “chip in” contributions ranging from $10 to $2,900 to help Walker “stop the Democratic majority.”
There’s a catch. Unless a donor clicks on the fine print that allows them to adjust the allocation amount, only half their money goes to Walker’s campaign. The other half goes into Zinke’s coffers.
Zinke, the scandal-plagued former Trump administration official, won last month’s race for Montana’s new House seat and, according to Politico, is already weighing a run for Senate in 2024. He has not publicly voiced support for Walker’s campaign, according to HuffPost’s review of social media and news interviews.
And he’s just one of several Republicans who have latched onto Walker’s bid down the stretch, using the contested runoff to grow their own war chest.
Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah) and the Indiana Republican Party all have similar WinRed donation pages that default to a 50/50 split with Walker’s campaign. Graham and Scott are among the Republicans who have repeatedly joined Walker during TV appearances, at times dominating the interviews.
Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., from left to right, Herschel Walker, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Georgia, former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, and radio host Clay Travis pose for a photo at the end of a rally in Kennesaw, Ga., Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. Walker is in a runoff election with incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.
The most egregious solicitations surrounding the Georgia race have come from Republican committees and party leaders. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), which Scott chairs and the National Republican Committee have taken as much as 99% of individual donations that at first glance would appear to benefit Walker, leaving the candidate with a measly $1 for every $100 that comes in.
A fundraising email from Trump last month warned that “Our Senate Majority is on the line” and urged would-be donors to “contribute ANY AMOUNT IMMEDIATELY to the Official Georgia Runoff Fundraising Goal.” The fine print, however,automatically diverted 90% of individual contributions to the former president’s political action committee, the Save America Joint Fundraising Committee, leaving just 10% for Walker.
Fundraising emails from GOP Sens.-elect J.D. Vance (Ohio) and Ted Budd (N.C.) initially defaulted to a 90/10 split, according to NBC News.
The Walker campaign and Republican operatives have condemned the tactic.
“We need everyone focused on winning the Georgia Senate race, and deceptive fundraising tactics by teams that just won their races are siphoning money away from Georgia,” Walker campaign manager Scott Paradise told NBC last month.
“This is the last fight of 2022, and every dollar will help,” Paradise added. “The companies and consultants raising money off this need to cut it out.”
In an interview with Mediaite’s Isaac Schorr this week, a source close to Walker’s campaign called those raising money off Walker’s campaign “a bunch of vultures and hyenas.”
Steven Law, the head of the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), a PAC controlled by allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, accused the NRSC of working to “steal from their candidates.” Representatives of the NRSC were quick to dismiss the allegations.
“@HerschelWalker campaign and @NRSC work hand in hand,” NRSC Political Director Stu Sandler wrote in a Nov. 15 post to Twitter. “NRSC is $16M into Georgia and counting. We are a team. NRSC is spending in Georgia, don’t you worry.”
Several candidates and committees subsequently adjusted once lopsided allocations in favor of a 50/50 split, NBC reported. But with so much money being thrown around in Georgia, Republicans are still trying to snag a piece of the pie — all the way up to the 11th hour.
“Patriot Herschel Walker needs my help, but I’ve got nothing left to give,” read a text from the Zinke campaign Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before the polls closed in Georgia. “Would you spare $8 if it meant winning the Senate?”
It absolutely will not mean that. Democrats have already won 50 seats and will control the chamber via Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. If Warnock wins, Democrats will have a 51-49 outright majority.