WASHINGTON ― No vice president in modern political campaigning formed their own fundraising committee independent of the president so far in advance of an election until Vice President Mike Pence launched the Great America Committee in May.
The mere hint that Pence is working to boost his own political brand instead of President Donald Trump’s has already led the vice president to blast the “fake news” bullhorn. The New York Times reported earlier this month that Pence’s fundraising was part of an effort to promote himself amid uncertainty for top-level Republicans created by the investigations into Trump’s ties to Russia.
Pence responded to the Times article with over-the-top bombast characteristic of the Trump administration, calling the piece “disgraceful and offensive to me, my family, and our entire team.”
“The allegations in this article are categorically false and represent just the latest attempt by the media to divide this administration,” Pence said. The vice president further insisted that he “will continue to focus all our efforts to advance the president’s agenda and see him re-elected in 2020.”
Despite the denial, it is notable that Pence is the first vice president to launch a personal fundraising effort, particularly during the first months of a first term in office.
Pence has already raised more than $500,000 and spent more than $230,000 through his political action committee. The funds largely come from donors residing in his home state of Indiana, where he has hosted at least one fundraiser this year. Pence’s committee spent more than $130,000 on political and fundraising consultants, and $68,000 on fundraising events. The committee made the maximum allowed donation of $5,400 to Trump’s re-election campaign.
Pence also has raised additional money at fundraisers for Republican Party committees around the country.
Pence is different than vice presidents Americans have known in the past 16 years. He has clear political ambitions, while the previous two vice presidents did not.
None of the vice presidents before Pence who held office since the enactment of campaign finance reforms in 1971 and 1974 have established independent political fundraising efforts to promote themselves to donors prior to announcing their own presidential campaigns. Instead, previous vice presidents grew their personal political base mainly by raising money for the president, the party, and congressional and state-level candidates.
Dick Cheney, vice president from 2001 to 2009, never considered running for president, and required heart-replacement surgery soon after leaving office. Joe Biden, vice president from 2009 to 2017, considered running for president in 2016, but chose to defer to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Before them, vice presidents who clearly aspired to the highest office did not take the steps that Pence has so early in a presidential administration ― or even at all.
Ron Klain, a former chief of staff to both Vice President Al Gore and to Biden, told HuffPost in an email that both Gore and Biden focused “their political activities on directly helping candidates, the party, and their party committees.”
The same was true of Gerald Ford, Walter Mondale, George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle.
Ford, of course, stands out among this collection of second-in-lines. Unlike the others, he ascended to the presidency during his vice-presidential term.
The story of how the 38th president came into office is pretty well known ― and part of the reason people perk up when they see that Pence is minding his own political brand in a way no vice president has before.
In 1973, Congress approved President Richard Nixon’s selection of Ford as his vice president after the previous office-holder, Spiro Agnew, resigned as part of a corruption plea deal. Ford entered the office less than two months after Nixon orchestrated the “Saturday Night Massacre” by causing his attorney general and deputy attorney general to quit as he successfully sought the firing of the special counsel investigating his 1972 re-election campaign for criminal misdeeds known as Watergate.
With Nixon increasingly unpopular, Ford became the face of the administration at fundraisers for congressional candidates and the Republican Party. At the time, Ford was well aware that he was going to be next president ― and before the 1976 election. He mused in an interview with The New Republic about which Nixon Cabinet members he would keep, and admitted as much to reporter Tom DeFrank in comments made off the record at the time.
Even though Pence has taken the unusual step of forming a political action committee, he ― like Ford ― is insistent on appearing loyal to the president.
Klain said Pence’s loyalty to Trump may be the real negative for him ― not his personal fundraising.
“My bottom line is that I do not share the growing view that Pence is doing unusual things to distance himself from Trump; my criticism would be just the opposite: he is linking himself more tightly to Trump every day,” Klain said. “That is the mistake that will come back to haunt him in future endeavors.”