Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort is seen in Palm Beach, Florida, February 8, 2021.
Marco Bello | Reuters
Many top Republican donors, lawmakers and strategists huddled privately over the weekend at Mar-a-Lago, the Florida resort owned by former President Donald Trump, to discuss ways the party can take on corporate America and Big Tech, according to several attendees.
Donors and strategists met throughout the weekend to discuss a “strategy on social media and big tech,” according to Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, who said he has been part of these conversations.
“I’m participating in a lot of conservations with people who have substantial means, and there are going to be new ways for people to get there information and to share information and to stay connected with each other,” Schlapp said. He later defined most of these conversations as “informal” and that “plans are still coming together.”
One major player, Republican donor Roy Bailey, told CNBC that he is interested in potentially investing in a social media platform tailored for conservatives, to counter Facebook and Twitter.
“It is something I’m interested in if it can be put together properly,” said Bailey, a Texas businessman who was a key fundraiser for Trump’s 2020 campaign. “I’ve identified a potential platform and there’s a lot of work to do.”
The concept is in its early stages, he said. Bailey also noted that the “platform would be where conservatives can control their own destiny and not worry about censorship.” He declined to comment further on the effort.
Todd Ricketts, a longtime GOP donor who is also the RNC finance chair, is being floated as a potential investor in such a platform.
“He always looks at investing into companies that upend established markets,” Brian Baker, a spokesman for Ricketts, told CNBC.
The discussions come as the party feuds with major corporate leaders over new voting laws pushed by Republicans in states such as Georgia. The tension also comes more than three years after Trump and congressional Republicans lowered the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35%.
Numerous corporate leaders have come out against the Georgia law and others across the country that critics say restrict voters from participating in elections.
Top Republicans have often publicly blasted social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter, claiming they censor conservative voices. The companies deny these accusations. Trump was banned from the two social media platforms in the wake of the deadly Capitol Hill riot on Jan. 6. He was later impeached for inciting the riot, but was ultimately acquitted in the Senate.
There is also infighting among Republicans. Trump on Saturday during the portion of the RNC retreat at Mar-a-Lago took aim at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for helping certify the results of the 2020 election.
Schlapp said that there were also broad discussions over how to respond to what conservatives see as “being cancelled by insurance companies and banks.”
He said some conservatives believe they aren’t getting banking services because some of their businesses have been deemed too conservative to get their help. Since the Mar-a-Lago meetings, Schlapp’s ACU has launched an effort to push back on corporate enemies.
During seperate portions of the Republican National Committee’s donor retreat at the nearby Four Seasons over the same weekend, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., took aim at corporations, including big tech companies, and how they treat their employees, according to people briefed on the matter.
Rubio, according to some of the people, pushed back on corporate executives and seemed to encourage party leaders to better appeal to union workers in the upcoming midterm elections. Union workers are typically considered solid Democratic voters.
Rubio in March wrote an op-ed in USA Today lambasting Amazon and praised the efforts by some of their workers to unionize. The e-commerce giant won enough votes to defeat the move by their workers in Alabama to unionize.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told CNBC that conversations he had at the retreat focused, in part, on “concern over bias and growing power of media and social media.”
No sign of corporate CEOs
Though CEOs and other executives from publicly traded companies don’t always come to these events, their absence at the RNC retreat was particularly conspicuous.
Leaders from some companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange have given big to the RNC in recent years, such as Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman and Charles Schwab, the chairman of Charles Schwab Corporation.
A person familiar with the RNC retreat told CNBC that there was no sign of Schwarzman at the gathering. It’s also unclear if Schwab was there.
Representatives for Blackstone and Schwab did not return requests for comment.
However, that doesn’t mean big money donors didn’t show up. Many privately said they would support Trump again if he ran for president in 2024.
One person said that former Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, who is married to Intercontinental Exchange CEO Jeffrey Sprecher, attended the retreat as a party financier. As did George M. Drysdale, the chairman and CEO of the Marsman Drysdale Group, Florida based investor Marc Goldman and Jane Timken, the former Ohio GOP chair who is now running for Senate.