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GOP donors balk at shutdown strategy

Top GOP donors fear that the party’s tough line could wreak havoc on the economy — and the party’s standing in the eyes of voters.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

Top GOP donors fear that the party’s tough line could wreak havoc on the economy — and the party’s standing in the eyes of voters.

Potential donors listen as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney attends a fundraiser at the Union Club on September, 28, 2012 in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

Special interests drive politics, but when it comes to the shutdown and debt ceiling fiascos, top Republican donors are saying: don’t look at us.

Big time fundraisers fear that the party’s tough line could wreak havoc on the economy — and the party’s standing in the eyes of voters.

And while tea party lawmakers aren’t generally backed by top party donors, the grumbling in big money circles is still significant. It puts additional pressure on establishment members of Congress and it shows how far House Republicans have taken the fight this time.

“I am as opposed to Obamacare as anyone else, but shutting down the government is not the way to deal with this,” Bobbie Kilberg, a veteran Virginia Republican fundraiser told MSNBC. “Going forward, I’m going to be supporting Republicans who are center-right and who understand that the way to get something accomplished is not to shut down the government.”

The ongoing government shutdown, now approaching its second week, is expected to have a small but significant impact on the still-fragile economic recovery. More ominously, if Congress doesn’t agree to raise the debt limit before mid-month, the U.S. could default on payments it owes to creditors. That could trigger a “catastrophic” recession worse than the one that followed the 2008 financial crisis, the Treasury Department warned last week.

Republicans have been refusing to fund the government unless President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the healthcare law, is defunded or delayed. And they’ve said they won’t raise the debt ceiling unless Obama agrees to a slew of conservative economic policies. The White House has said it won’t negotiate over either issue, citing the precedent that would be set.

One epicenter of the growing concern among GOP donors is on Wall Street, where the effects of a credit default would likely be felt first. Mallory Factor, a longtime New York Republican powerbroker and fundraiser, told MSNBC that the standoff over the debt ceiling has had financial industry donors saying they plan to keep their wallets in their pockets—though he said it’s too soon to know whether they’ll make good on the threat, and might not.

“It hasn’t translated yet into what you would call serious dollars,” Factor said. “Donors say stuff like that all the time, and then a month or so later, it all passes.”

But Kilberg said some top Republican donors may end up going further than withholding their dollars, and may also support efforts to oust Tea Party lawmakers in primaries.

“I think you’re going to see that happen,” Kilberg added. “I think the tide may turn.”

“I am not writing a check to anyone,” Fred Zeidman, a key fundraiser for President George W. Bush, told The Daily Beast last week. “That’s not working for the American people.”

Several lawmakers of both parties have in recent days cancelled planned fundraisers, out of a concern that being seen raising campaign cash while the federal government remains shuttered could portray the wrong image. Rep. Dave Camp, who chairs the powerful Ways and Means committee, cancelled a recent event that was to be sponsored by Norpac, a group that supports a hawkish line on Israel, according to a spokesman for the organization.

At the same time that some GOP donors are growing disillusioned, Democrats appear to be enjoying success in exploiting the shutdown controversy to raise money. The Democratic National Committee announced last week that in the 24 hours before the shutdown, it raised nearly $850,000—more than on any single day since the 2012 election.

Of course, the level of influence that traditional Republican donors have on Tea Party lawmakers, who tend to rely more for support on grassroots activists, is open to question. But party fundraisers aren’t the only ones who appear turned off by GOP’s brinksmanship. More voters blame Republicans than President Obama for the standoff, and a poll released Sunday suggested that the GOP could be in danger of losing the House.

Kilberg suggested the standoff in Congress could do serious harm to the party.

“Short term, it has everybody very angry,” she said. “Long-term, it has the potential for serious damage.