Congressional Republicans have largely rejected what John Bolton has to say in his newly released memoir about his time working for Donald Trump. What’s less clear is whether they’ll reject Bolton’s money.
Bolton, the ultra-hawkish former national security adviser to Trump, is a longtime fixture in Republican politics, and for years he’s used a personal political action committee to direct campaign money to politicians whose values align with his own. Since the 2014 election cycle, Bolton’s PAC has doled out $1.6 million to a number of sitting GOP lawmakers. Two out of every five current GOP senators have cashed a check from Bolton at some point in the last six years, and dozens of U.S. House members, former lawmakers, and candidates have, too.
For the 2020 election, Bolton has backed three GOP senators up for re-election—Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Thom Tillis (R-NC)—as well as two House members, Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY). Each has received the maximum $10,000 contribution from his PAC.
In addition to those contributions, Bolton’s sister super PAC ran a handful of Facebook ads in late 2019, seemingly designed to build up its voter contact list with petitions to “defend Ambassador John Bolton” from “the radicalized liberal Left.” But both the PAC and super PAC have remained largely dormant so far this year.
If Bolton decides to reactivate his political operation, though, it will have a significant war chest at its disposal. All told, the PAC and super PAC are still sitting on roughly $2.5 million in cash, largely raised during previous election cycles. Bolton’s plans for the two groups and the substantial sums they still command aren’t yet clear. A spokesperson for the PACs did not respond to questions about their activities going forward.
When Bolton’s book dropped and alleged that Trump had, among other things, attempted to persuade Chinese President Xi Jinping to help him win re-election by buying U.S. exports from farm states, Tillis told reporters that he agreed with the blistering response from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who said Bolton was “unpatriotic” for putting his testimony in a book instead of under oath during Trump’s impeachment trial. “I got a long reading list ahead of me, and it’s not going to go to the top of the stack,” Tillis said of Bolton’s book. Cotton, meanwhile, said on Fox News that he found Bolton’s claims to be “simply implausible.”
All five of Bolton’s current endorsees for this election cycle were contacted by The Daily Beast; none indicated they’d return Bolton’s money. Asked directly on Capitol Hill if he’d considered returning Bolton’s contributions, Cotton declined to comment. A spokesman for his campaign later told The Daily Beast in an email, “We’re keeping the contribution and will be using it to run ads against Joe Biden for his failure to stand up to the woke liberal mob.”
The apparent reluctance among Republican politicians to cut all ties with Bolton, especially supportive ones, may speak to the power of lingering good feelings toward the GOP stalwart, even as he derides the leader of their party as unfit for the presidency.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), who took $10,000 from Bolton’s PAC in 2016, said he’d take a check from him again. “He's been a valued adviser on foreign policy for a long time and he's helped a lot of Republicans running for office,” Blunt told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “He established a PAC just to do that. And I suspect that will continue to be the case. “
Per federal campaign finance records, however, Bolton’s PAC has been quiet since Sept. 23, 2019, two weeks after he left the White House on poor terms with the president. On that day, the PAC dropped $50,000 to support its five initial endorsees for 2020, but no disbursements have been made since. As recently as May 2020, the PAC has continued to spend money on overhead such as fundraising expenses, rent, and payroll. Bolton’s super PAC has been spending money on similar things through March, though it has not directed any money toward ads or other communication yet for the 2020 cycle.
If holding onto Bolton’s money hasn’t proven thorny for the Republicans who already have it, it’s unclear what might happen if he decides to spread the wealth to more candidates, just as he has in the last three election cycles.
In particular, several of the candidates Bolton has supported in the past find themselves in tough elections in which some extra dollars would be welcome—but Bolton’s imprimatur might not.
Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ), for example, has long been one of Bolton’s favorites. His PAC has given $35,000 to her campaigns since 2014—that year, her successful bid to unseat a Democratic House incumbent was actually the first that Bolton’s PAC officially endorsed. McSally, a former fighter pilot and a strident hawk, has previously been effusive in her praise for the former national security adviser, calling Bolton a “true patriot” in 2018.
But McSally, who’s seriously at risk of losing the seat she was appointed to after Sen. John McCain’s death, has hugged Trump closely. Her campaign did not respond to a question from The Daily Beast about whether she’d return any of Bolton’s money or welcome it again in the future.
Tillis, whose re-election battle in North Carolina could be among the hardest-fought in the country, has received $20,000 from Bolton over the years. In 2014, Bolton’s super PAC spent $1.3 million on ads boosting Tillis’ first successful bid for Senate. Two other top Democratic targets, Sens. David Perdue (R-GA) and Steve Daines (R-MT), also received Bolton contributions during their 2014 campaigns.
Another current Bolton-supported candidate, Zeldin, is a marginal Democratic target in the House but maintains close ties with Trump and Trumpworld. He was a vocal defender of the president during the impeachment inquiry, and traveled with Trump on Air Force One to his recent rally in Oklahoma. A frequent tweeter, Zeldin has not mentioned Bolton’s allegations since they were revealed on June 17.