Hinson, Miller-Meeks campaigns took disgraced GOP donor's money

U.S. Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02) were among dozens of House Republicans whose campaigns received $5,800 in March from Stephen Wynn, a former Republican National Committee finance chair who resigned in 2018 after former employees alleged sexual harassment or assault.

$5,800 is the maximum amount individuals can donate to federal campaigns for the 2022 election cycle ($2,900 each for the primary and general elections).

Brian Slodysko of the Associated Press was first to report on Wynn’s donation to Take Back the House 2022, a joint fundraising committee controlled by U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Eleven donors including Wynn gave $771,900 each, the largest of many five- or six-figure contributions to the committee this year. The money will be distributed to campaigns of House Republicans facing competitive races and to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the political arm for the House GOP caucus.

Wynn became the RNC’s finance chair early in Donald Trump’s presidency, but resigned from that position in January 2018, one day after the Wall Street Journal reported, “Wynn Resorts employees and others described a CEO who sexualized his workplace and pressured workers to perform sex acts.” That expose of a “pattern of misconduct,” informed by numerous sources, revealed that Wynn had paid $7.5 million to settle a claim brought by a former employee who said he raped her. He had paid hundreds of thousands more to settle with other former employees, who said he had exposed himself or coerced them to have sex.

Within days of the Wall Street Journal’s publication, Wynn resigned as head of his casino and resort company, though he denied all the accusations. (He is litigating defamation claims against some accusers and news organizations related to the alleged misconduct.) Republican candidates and committees announced they would return Wynn’s contributions or donate the money elsewhere.

Slodysko reported on April 16 that McCarthy was among the GOP candidates “who said they would donate campaign cash given by Wynn to charity after the misconduct allegations surfaced” in 2018. A written statement released last week did not address the donor’s alleged sexual misconduct: “Steve Wynn is one of the great innovators in the history of modern capitalism. I thank him for his continued support, and I look forward to working with him to retake the House Majority.” 

Take Back the House 2022 raised nearly $21.6 million during the first quarter of 2021, more than a third of what McCarthy’s joint fundraising committee brought in during the entire 2020 election cycle.

Two of the three Republicans who represent Iowa in the U.S. House will likely face competitive re-election races next year. So after reading Slodysko’s scoop, I checked the Federal Election Commission’s first quarter filings from the Hinson and Miller-Meeks campaigns. Each received transfers of $71,078.52 from Take Back the House 2022 in late March (see here and here). The transfer was broken down into contributions from 20 individuals, including $5,800 from Wynn.

Bleeding Heartland sought comment from both campaigns on whether they planned to keep Wynn’s contributions, return the money, or donate the $5,800 to charity. Representatives for Hinson and Miller-Meeks did not respond to inquiries sent on three successive days via email, Facebook messenger, or Twitter direct message.

As state legislators or legislative candidates, Hinson and Miller-Meeks have spoken out against sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault. Miller-Meeks was among 29 House Republicans who voted last month to reauthorize the Violence Against Women act. This week Hinson introduced a bipartisan bill to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

FEC filings show the Hinson campaign raised $570,180.53 during the first quarter, mostly from individuals. Operating expenditures totaled $216,833.64, which is high for this early in an election cycle. The most costly expenses on the itemized list included $50,000 to David Kochel’s political consulting firm (Redwave Communications) and roughly $60,000 to various entities for printing and postage. The campaign also gave $55,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, which spent more than $1 million to elect Hinson last year. As of March 31, Hinson’s campaign had $410,495.97 cash on hand and owed $37,500 to a South Carolina-based political consulting firm.

Miller-Meeks’ campaign reported total receipts of $545,154.60 from January through March, also mostly from individuals. Expenditures of $228,394.37 were high for this point in an election cycle, but that amount included $90,000 in “legal consulting” to attorney Alan Ostergren, who handled mattes related to the disputed IA-02 election, and about $40,000 in fees to various campaign consultants. As of March 31, the campaign had $769,172.79 cash on hand and $189,000 in debt, representing funds Miller-Meeks loaned her own campaign in 2020.

UPDATE: Readers pointed out that in February 2018, the University of Iowa decided to remove Wynn’s name from its Institute for Vision Research, to which the casino mogul had pledged $25 million. Wynn’s charitable foundation then declined to provide the last $5 million toward that pledge, and the university found other donors to make up the shortfall.

Hinson and Miller-Meeks would surely have heard of this controversy. Miller-Meeks is an ophthalmologist who did her residency at the university and has taught courses there.

LATE UPDATE: Miller-Meeks amended her first-quarter filing in July to report $5,325 in additional contributions during the first quarter.

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