For Trump's Convention, Quiet Parties and Sluggish Fundraising

Many top donors, lobbyists and powerful lawmakers skipping convention.

July 19, 2016, 6:58 AM

Cleveland, Ohio— -- For the Washington insiders and well-healed donors who have long fueled the Republican political machine, the Republican National Convention was off to a muted start Monday, with many parties half empty and several of the most powerful political figures, including more than one-third of the Republicans in the U.S. Senate, staying home.

“Each one of them had their own plans whatever they want to do, whether they come or not,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas. “I came to support the nominee.”

The convention in Cleveland, Ohio, began with presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump trailing his Democratic rival in dollars raised. Then came word that the 2016 Cleveland Host Committee, which shares responsibility for financing the convention, had to plead with casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson for funds lost when expected corporate sponsorships did not materialize.

David Gilbert, the Host Committee CEO, told ABC News his organization is “actually very, very pleased” with fundraising that’s 93 percent to its goal. But with a budget of more than $60 million still unmet, he was working hard to persuade the wealthiest Republican boosters to make up the difference -- hosting VIP concerts, dinners, even a reception at the lavish lakefront mansion of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.

As for the well-known companies that refused to donate, he said they either didn’t give a reason or said they could not stomach “the publicity around just this whole election process.”

“They have their reasons for giving and not giving,” Gilbert said.

As the week’s festivities got underway, receptions that in past cycles would have been packed with lawmakers mixing with lobbyists and other powerful figures were half empty. Some were canceled outright.

PHOTO: The dance floor stands mostly empty at a party ahead of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
The dance floor stands mostly empty at a party ahead of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
ABC News

When top Republicans showed up at a party sponsored by two billionaire families, the Ricketts family, owners of the Chicago Cubs, and the Hendricks family, roofing magnates from Wisconsin, attention was on cigars and dancing, and not the Republican nominee. The night’s honored guest, Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus, mentioned the candidate’s name only once in his welcoming remarks.

“This is a binary choice,” he said. “It’s Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, and I gotta tell you, how many people here want two more Sonia Sotomayors on the Supreme Court?”

Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., spoke to a small audience at an American Jewish Committee panel discussion, where he deflected a question from the audience about possible appeal for Trump among hate groups. Afterwards, he said he has heard from some supporters who were happy to see him in Cleveland and others who he said asked him “Why are you going?”

Of the Republicans from Illinois who decided not to attend, Roskam said, “Their concerns are largely, disposition. Comments and those sorts of things that Donald Trump has made in the past.”

The centerpiece for entertaining in Cleveland was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On Monday night, while convention-goers gathered across town to listen to Trump's wife Melania speak, the National Republican Senatorial Committee hosted a VIP reception in the museum lobby.

Bill Clinton’s saxophone was on display in a glass case upstairs. A smattering of guests watched the speech on a large screen television, drank from an open bar and ate elegant finger food. The event, sponsored by AT&T, Blue Cross Blue Shield and AFLAC among others, was not crowded and emptied out well before the planned 2 a.m. closing.

Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, left the event after briefly touring the music exhibits. As for the whereabouts of so many of her fellow senators, she said she had no idea.

“You'd have to ask them, I would say,” Collins said.

Cleveland-based freelance journalist and regular ABC News contributor Barbara Lowe and ABC News' Randy Kreider, Cho Park, Alex Hosenball, Andrea GonzalesPaul and Michael Faucher contributed to this report.

PHOTO: Each political season ABC News and the Brian Ross Investigative Unit follow the money on The Money Trail.
Each political season ABC News and the Brian Ross Investigative Unit follow the money on The Money Trail.
ABC News
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