Private jets, luxury hotels: For wealthy donors, the Republican debate is one big party


GOP debate banners ahead of the GOP presidential primary debate hosted by Fox News in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US, on Tuesday, August 22, 2022.

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Wealthy Republican political donors will get VIP treatment at the GOP presidential primary debate Wednesday night in Milwaukee, according to contributors and organizers who spoke to CNBC ahead of the event.

Many of the party’s top contributors, they explained, would arrive by private jet, attend special dinners and breakfasts around town, and meet face-to-face with their preferred candidates.

The first debate of the 2024 presidential cycle will provide campaigns with a crucial opportunity to win and dine with major donors in person, building momentum for the next phase of the race, the crucial early primaries.

Andy Sabin, a wealthy New York businessman who supports South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, told CNBC he plans to get to Milwaukee on a private jet for the debate. During the debate, Sabin said he would sit next to South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, who is seen by many in the party as one of the party’s brightest stars.

“I think it’s a good opportunity to get a first look at all the candidates,” Sabin said.

Billionaire and veteran venture capitalist Tim Draper will attend the debate to support former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, his preferred candidate. “I don’t think any other candidate can hold a candle to her,” Draper said in an email to CNBC. Haley currently tied for fifth in crowded field.

Scott and Haley will be joined on stage by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy.

One candidate will be noticeably absent: former President Donald Trump, who is far ahead of his rivals in opinion polls.

Donors can attend the debate at the Milwaukee ViceServe Forum as a guest of their preferred candidate, with tickets distributed to the campaign by the Republican National Committee, according to people familiar with the matter. Those who declined to be named did so in order to speak freely about private matters.

An RNC spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on the ticketing system.

A person familiar with the planning said about 50 tickets were submitted for each campaign, and that the Republican National Committee was responsible for approving the guest list.

Major donors to the Republican National Committee will be staying at the city’s fanciest hotel, the St. Kitt Hotel, according to a party fundraiser. The hotel is a haven for the arts, with art exhibitions and installations throughout the hotel, and also puts on a live performance every night, according to its website.

Wednesday’s debate is not officially open to the public. However, organizers expect between 4,000 and 6,000 Attendance, according to To the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Tickets are also being distributed by partner organizations, including online video platform Rumble and Young America’s Foundation, according to the Journal Sentinel.

Telethon for DeSantis

Many of DeSantis’ major donors will remain at The Westin Milwaukee, according to Hal Lambert, the businessman who donated $6,600 to the governor’s political operation, according to Federal Election Commission records.

On Thursday morning, Lambert said, some of the major donors will gather for a fundraising phone call at the hotel to place calls with their friends and associates to encourage them to donate to DeSantis.

Other major fundraisers who approached DeSantis to discuss included Texas businessman Roy Bailey and New York real estate executive Nick Sinatra, according to people familiar with the matter.

A special dinner for Scott’s donors

Some of Scott’s major donors will attend a private dinner Wednesday night at Milwaukee steakhouse The Capital Grille before the debate, according to a campaign aggregator that spoke to CNBC.

Part of a chain of restaurants whose Washington location is a favorite of lobbyists and lawmakers, the Milwaukee location’s menu features the $65 Bone-in Rib Eye.

Scott’s team will also host a Thursday morning breakfast for major donors at The Pfister Hotel, a luxury downtown landmark that first opened in 1893.

The fundraiser said Scott is expected to attend breakfast on Thursday but not dinner on Wednesday night. A Scott campaign spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

The debate provides candidates with a rare opportunity to go head-to-head with their rivals, and every campaign hopes to pull off the night with a clip that went viral. On-screen fireworks can be a powerful tool to help campaigns raise funds, thus qualifying for future discussions.

To qualify for the Milwaukee event, each candidate had to raise funds from at least 40,000 individual donors and reach certain ballot limits, such as At least 1% in three eligible national surveys.

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