Top Jeb fundraisers leave campaign amid troubling signs
The move comes amid weak poll numbers and concerns that Bush’s torrid fundraising pace has slowed.
By ALEX ISENSTADT and MARC CAPUTO
Three top Jeb Bush fundraisers abruptly parted ways with his presidential campaign on Friday, amid internal personality conflicts and questions about the strength of his candidacy, POLITICO has learned.
There are different versions of what transpired. The Florida-based fundraising consultants — Kris Money, Trey McCarley, and Debbie Aleksander — have said that they voluntarily quit the campaign and were still working with Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise Super PAC. Others said the three, who worked under the same contract, were let go because they were no longer needed for the current phase of the campaign.
None of the three responded to requests for comment. Bush spokesman Tim Miller would only say that “Governor Bush has the widest and deepest fundraising operation of any candidate in the field. Ann Herberger — a longtime aide with more than two decades of experience in state and national politics — will continue to lead the operation in Florida with our team in Miami.”
The departures came at a time of uncertainty for Bush. While he has had massive success raising money for his Super PAC, he is overseeing an official campaign that has many more staffers but far less money. Earlier this week, the New York Times revealed that it had taken steps to rein in some of its spending and had gone so far as to cut some employee salaries. And POLITICO reported one Bush fundraiser expressed concerns about the slowing pace of the campaign’s fundraising after Bush’s shaky debate performance.
The Bush campaign wasted no time seeking a replacement for the three fundraising consultants and has reached out to Meredith O’Rourke – one of Florida’s top Republican fundraisers who briefly worked for Chris Christie’s campaign in May but left it in July. O’Rourke, who wouldn’t comment, helped Gov. Rick Scott raise about $100 million for his 2014 reelection campaign and also works for Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who’s likely to run for governor in 2018.
One source attributed the departures to personality conflicts in the campaign. Some identified Bush’s finance director, Heather Larrison, as a shouter with whom it’s difficult to work. She wouldn’t comment. Others singled out Money as a problem due to what they describe as his haughtiness and his heavy-handed donate-or-else attitude with potential contributors.
“They were glad to go. This wasn’t a shock to anybody,” said one campaign source. “There were just some personality problems. It happens when you have a big organization like this, a big campaign. Some of the national people are tough to work for.”
Another campaign source, though, said the three fundraising consultants – who worked on contract and were not staffers – were let go because they weren’t raising enough money relative to how much they had been raising during the last financial quarter.
“We appreciated their work, but we are entering a new phase of the campaign post Labor Day, and we needed to move in a different direction,” the source said.
But another source disputed that: “They raised a lot of money out of Florida. A lot. So if anyone says they didn’t quit, it’s not true. They’re still working for the super PAC as well. This is not about them…This is about the campaign.”
Frontrunner Donald Trump seized on the POLITICO report Saturday morning and took a shot at his rival on Twitter: “Wow, Jeb Bush just lost three of his top fundraisers – they quit!”
Aleksander, Money and McCarley have deep and longstanding ties to Florida’s GOP power structure. Aleksander has been a member in good standing of Bush’s operation since he was governor. Money is close with former House Speaker Will Weatherford, McCarley’s part of Commissioner Adam Putnam’s political team along with O’Rourke.
Donors last week told POLITICO that they still felt good about Bush’s chances and that they weren’t worried about Bush’s recent slip from second to third place in averages of national polls. As the son and brother of former presidents, the former governor of the third-most populous state in the nation has a broad, deep-pocketed and savvy donor base. Some said they’re less concerned with the campaign than with Jeb’s candidacy, which has so far failed to ignite Republicans.
But Bush’s fundraising pace has slowed in the late summer months. Still, he’s likely to remain the GOP campaign’s top fundraiser, but Bush is also spending more than other candidates because he has a mammoth operation.
“Jeb has a big army, and that army needs to be fed,” said one campaign consultant familiar with the campaign’s internal numbers. “Jeb might not have a fundraiser problem. He might have a spending problem.”