By LIBBY CATHEY, SOO RIN KIM and WILL STEAKIN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — As former President Donald Trump plots his post-White House political life, his flashy country club private properties have emerged as destination spots for Republicans looking to raise money through events that are also sure to line the former president’s pockets.
Republicans have been making the trip to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach, Florida, to meet with donors — despite running for office in other states. While it’s common for politicians to travel outside of their state to reach bigger donors, in the age of Trump, meet-and-greets with Trump at what was once deemed the “Winter White House” have become a particularly attractive option.
Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders held a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago over the weekend with Trump making a “surprise appearance.” A loyalist of Trump’s since leaving the administration, Sanders is vying for the position her father, Mike Huckabee, held from 1996 to 2007 as governor of Arkansas.
“Great weekend on the campaign trail featuring a surprise appearance at one of my events by President Trump,” Sanders tweeted on Sunday evening, along with a photo of her and the former president.
Social media posts on Instagram show Sanders at Mar-a-Lago with former White House deputy chief of staff and social media director Dan Scavino and other guests at the fundraising event.
Sanders, who was publicly encouraged to run for governor by Trump, raised $1 million in the first four days after announcing her run, her campaign has said. Her 2022 race could become one of the first official tests of how much the Republican Party is influenced by the former president versus the GOP establishment.
“The Arkansas Governor’s race will be decided by Arkansas voters, not the rich and famous of New York and Palm Beach,” Christian Gonzalez, a campaign spokesperson for Sanders’ only Republican opponent, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said in a statement to ABC News. “The only time Attorney General Rutledge has been to Mar-a-Lago was to fundraise for President Trump. Attorney General Rutledge’s events usually involve barbecue and catfish not crab cakes and escargot.”
Since leaving the White House, Trump has hosted numerous other Republican allies at Mar-a-Lago as he continues to exert his influence over several potential contenders in upcoming elections.
The price tags of the recent Mar-a-Lago fundraisers have not yet been publicly reported and it’s unclear how much money the Trump allies are raking in from those fundraisers. But they’re likely lucrative deals for the former president’s business, based on the five to six-figure expenditures that the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and various other GOP allies have reported in connection with hosting fundraisers at Mar-a-Lago in recent years.
Over the last four years, campaigns and political groups have together spent at least $12 million at various Trump properties, including more than $9 million spent by Trump’s own presidential campaign, the RNC, and their shared fundraising committees.
The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and the Trump Tower in New York City have thrived in recent years not only as campaign headquarters and go-to places for lavish GOP fundraising events, but also as popular lodging options for traveling campaign staffers and hotspots for various supporter gatherings.
Mar-a-Lago, where Trump has resided since his departure from the White House, now appears to be taking on more of that role.
In late February, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, up for reelection in 2022, held a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago where guests included Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, both firebrand conservatives and staunch supporters of the former president. Dinner for the fundraiser ran $10,600 per couple, according to an invitation obtained by the Washington Post.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, thought to be a 2024 presidential hopeful, has also trekked to Mar-a-Lago this month to greet donors at an event hosted by Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle.
An invitation for Noem’s March 5 event that was obtained by Politico indicated a $1,000 minimum contribution to attend the fundraiser. Attending a private discussion and photo-op with Noem, Guilfoyle and Trump Jr., required a contribution of $4,000 per individual or $8,000 per couple.
Campaign representatives for Sanders, Noem and Lee did not immediately respond to ABC News’ requests for comments.
Trump has also issued a number of endorsements from Mar-a-Lago, including endorsing his former aide Max Miller, who is running for Congress in Ohio against Republican incumbent Anthony Gonzalez, who voted for Trump’s last impeachment.
Over the weekend, during a fundraiser held at Mar-a-Lago for Big Dog Ranch Rescue, a nonprofit, cage-free dog rescue organization, Trump teased that his daughter-in-law Lara Trump, married to his son Eric, may run for the Senate in North Carolina in 2022.
Earlier this year, Trump hosted Republicans including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.
Regarding his own political aspirations, Trump has yet to declare his own intentions for 2024, freezing Noem and other potential contenders in place as they balance appealing to the former president’s base with solidifying independent support of their own.
The one-term president has not shied away from maintaining a strong influence over the conservative political field. Immediately after Democrat Joe Biden was announced the winner of the 2020 presidential election, Trump launched a new leadership PAC called Save America, eventually directing much of the money raised through the Trump-RNC joint fundraising effort to the new PAC.
Through his post-election fundraising efforts, Trump’s massive fundraising prowess raised hundreds of millions of dollars through a joint fundraising apparatus with the Republican Party in just the two months following the November election.
But Trump’s team and the Republican Party have since parted ways in regard to fundraising, as Trump spars with the GOP over the use of his name in recent weeks. The former president has encouraged voters not to donate to establishment GOP candidates, but has instead endorsed only those candidates who remain loyal to him. And as he seeks to even the score with politicians he believes betrayed him, he has already vowed to campaign against an incumbent Senate Republican: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Earlier this month, Trump also turned his presidential committee into a political action committee designed to support multiple candidates, further signaling a move to support his allies in the 2022 midterm elections.
In addition, Trump and his allies are reportedly in the process of launching a new super PAC, which could accept big checks from donors and spend an unlimited amount of money supporting candidates — unlike regular PACs that are bound by $5,000 contribution limits per donor and per candidate. According to Politico, Trump told his advisers at a meeting at Mar-a-Lago last month that his one-time campaign manager Corey Lewandowski would lead the new super PAC.
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