Maplight, which tracks the influence of money in politics, has shone a spotlight on a Republican group led by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, which entertained big donors last weekend at, among others, a dinner at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
An agenda for the Republican Attorneys General Association’s fall meeting in Palm Beach, Fla., lists a dinner on Friday at Mar-a-Lago’s Teahouse restaurant for “Edmund Randolph Club” members. The club, named for the nation’s first attorney general, includes donors who give RAGA at least $125,000 per year.
The reception at Mar-a-Lago was not publicized, and privacy was apparently a priority, despite the resort’s blurring of lines between private events and White House business. “Cell phone use and picture taking is prohibited in all areas,” the agenda said. “If guests need to take a phone call, they may do so in the guest reception area or outside.”
Since Trump was elected, corporate lobbyists and foreign leaders have made frequent use of his family’s hotels.
Earlier this week, Rutledge’s press aide, Judd Deere, who is soon to join the Trump White House, issued a news release bragging on her continuation as chair of RAGA, which has waged corporate interest fights in behalf of the coal and electric industry, against higher wages and a variety of other fights that reflect the interests of their financial backers. RAGA itself pours money into the races of like-minded candidates such as Rutledge, who benefitted from huge dark money (individual contributors unknown) in her election in 2014. Her news release called herself a “champion of opportunity” working for, among others, the “job creators.”
And who are those job creators? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Kochs, among others. The program for the RAGA fete includes a schedule for contributors to visit individual fund-raising events. Rutledge’s, for example, was listed at 8:15 p.m. last Sunday night.
A good time was available for all, with a bit of politics thrown in.
State officials attending the meeting were invited to participate in a wide range of excursions, from golf outings or trips to local museums, to catamaran tours on Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway. The attorneys general were scheduled to hold 45-minute fundraisers together in groups of three or four officials. RAGA pulled in $7.3 million in donations during the first six months of 2017, after raising $19.3 million between 2015 and 2016.
The attorneys general were also treated to a high-profile slate of conservative speakers. A day after the Mar-a-Lago event, RAGA was scheduled to hold a dinner for top donors at The Breakers, a luxury Palm Beach hotel that’s on the National Register of Historic Places, with U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. Last year, Republican attorneys general sued the Labor Department over an Obama administration rule that would have made 4 million workers eligible for mandatory overtime pay. Acosta moved to undo the rule before it was struck down by a district court.
Top RAGA donors were invited on Sunday to a lunch event moderated by National Review editor Rich Lowry. Later that day, there was a reception featuring U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. On Monday, recently retired Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, now a Fox News contributor, moderated a panel on “rule of law restoration” under Trump.
I asked Judd Deere for a comment from Rutledge about her participation in this event, including sending business to Trump’s resort. He said he’d check and get back to me. I’ll let you know if he does.
UPDATE: Deere’s response to several questions, including whether donors present at the meeting had interests in any cases in which the attorney general was involved:
As the Chairman of RAGA, she attended numerous meetings and events with her colleagues throughout this past weekend.