Feb 2, 2022 - Politics & Policy

How much 2022 candidates are paying after endorsements

Illustration of a hand making a thumbs up with hundred dollar bills sticking out of the sleeve

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Some big-name 2022 candidates are cutting checks to high-profile backers who endorsed their campaigns, records show.

Why it matters: Key endorsements are a known boon to campaigns battling for support, especially among ideologically committed primary voters. The payments raise the specter of a quid pro quo.

  • In some cases, campaigns are touting those endorsements in press releases and social media posts long before campaign finance records reveal consulting gigs and speaking fees.
  • That can leave voters in the dark about pertinent financial arrangements between the campaigns and the political celebrities publicly backing them.

How it works: Newly released records show the Senate campaign of Arizona Republican Jim Lamon cut a $20,000 check in October to a firm run by Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union.

In a statement, ACU board member Matthew Smith said the board decided on the Lamon endorsement, and that Schlapp disclosed his consulting role during the process.

  • "We make endorsement decisions on a regular basis, including when candidates have a personal or professional relationship with one or more of our board members," Smith wrote.
  • "Lamon earned our endorsement because he stands for conservative/ America First policies and because he has attended multiple CPAC conferences."

Lamon's campaign also made three $8,000 payments in October, November and December to a firm run by Tom Homan, who led Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President Trump.

  • Homan, who endorsed Lamon in June, said he began consulting for the campaign on immigration-related issues months later.
  • "The endorsement was much before we agreed to the contract," Homan told Axios in an interview. "There's nothing related to the endorsement. I wouldn't do that."
  • Lamon's campaign "decided to formalize the relationship and bring him on as an official adviser on those issues in October," according to Lamon spokesman Stephen Puetz.
  • The campaign has continued touting the endorsement without mentioning Homan's paid role.

What they're saying: "Both Schlapp and Homan are actively involved in the campaign, attend regular strategy meetings, weekly team calls and review policy based on their respective expertise," Puetz said.

The campaign for Ohio Republican Jane Timken, another Senate candidate, steered $5,000 in August to a firm run by ex-NYPD chief Bernard Kerik.

  • On the same day, Kerik tweeted about Timken for the first time.
  • He subsequently joined her for "Back the Blue" rallies in support of her candidacy and talked her up on Ohio talk radio.
  • Kerik denied selling his endorsement to the Timken campaign.
  • "Jane is thrilled to have former NYPD Commissioner Kerik’s support," a campaign spokesperson said. "He believes Jane is the best candidate in this race to champion the America First agenda and support law enforcement so is of course helping her spread that message.”

The big picture: Timken and Lamon are both in the midst of competitive GOP primary fights.

  • Ideological street cred is essential to winning over committed Republicans.
  • Big names in conservative politics can bestow some of that credibility, making endorsements very valuable as primary season heats up.

Between the lines: It can be difficult to draw a clear line between payments for endorsements and payments for services provided in addition to those endorsements.

  • Tamika Hamilton, a Republican House candidate in California, has paid a consulting firm run by conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza.
  • D'Souza backed Hamilton during a pair of fundraising events last year. The payments were itemized as speaking fees in campaign finance reports.
  • That's similar to the structure of payments to former Trump White House official Sebastian Gorka, who drew speaking fees from campaigns he backed in public appearances.
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