A new Pence fundraising arm raised eyebrows, but Republicans insist it’s not a sign of presidential ambitions

Vice President Mike Pence launched a political action committee last week, which raised eyebrows amid fresh turmoil in the Trump administration.

Some have questioned whether the vice president’s new leadership PAC, which was noted on the Federal Elections Commission’s website Wednesday, was aimed at promoting a possible future presidential bid at a time when some conservatives have started whispering about the possibility of President Donald Trump’s impeachment.

“No Vice President in modern history had their own PAC less than 6 month into the president’s first term,” Roger Stone, Trump’s longtime political adviser and confidant, tweeted Friday. “Hmmmm.”

Pence will be able to use funds generated by the PAC to cover his travel and campaign costs and channel money to GOP candidates in the 2018 midterms. It will also allow the vice president to transfer his database of donors and other campaign-related information he’s collected throughout his congressional and gubernatorial career to the PAC.

While George H.W. Bush launched a PAC while he was vice president, prior to his run for president in 1988, Republicans explained to Business Insider that the new Pence PAC, should not be viewed as a hint at a future Pence bid.

Alex Conant, the former communications director for Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign, said it’s clear Pence views this new PAC as a better way to handle his campaigning costs than the more traditional route of having the Republican National Committee or Trump’s campaign cover those expenses for him. He said he didn’t think the new PAC has the appearance of a vehicle for any presidential ambitions Pence may have.

“He’s the vice president of the United States,” Conant said. “I mean, this is not some governor from a small state who is now going to use this, starting a federal PAC, to play on the national level.”

Nick Ayers, a senior adviser to Pence during the 2016 campaign who helped launch the pro-Trump super PAC “America First Policies,” will run the new Pence PAC, dubbed “Great America Committee,” alongside Marty Obst, another longtime Pence aide.

Ayers said the PAC, which has been “in the works since December” and was discussed with Trump, is a “legal necessity” for Pence.

He outlined the three main purposes of the PAC, saying it allows Pence to purchase his prior campaign data — held in a gubernatorial account he can’t utilise — and move it to a federal account, cover campaigning costs, and provide him with cash to support candidates and office holders who are supporting Trump’s agenda.

“Some in the media have suggested the PAC’s formation has other motives,” Ayers told Business Insider in an email.

“They are wrong.”

Mike pence donald trump
Pence and Donald Trump. Getty Images/Pool

Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist and CEO of the Potomac Strategy Group, said what Ayers said “makes sense.”

“If you were to believe they were up to something clever, you know, it would be pretty obvious, it would be pretty transparent,” he said. “And I can’t imagine they could do something like that that wouldn’t rub people the wrong way on the Trump side of things.”

“I’m sure all of these, whatever they’re doing, has been worked out ahead of time,” he continued. “Everybody’s on the same page.”

He expects to see Pence campaigning for Republican candidates over the next year as midterms begin to creep closer.

“Pence is going to be in very high demand,” Mackowiak said. “And part of the reason why this is necessary is that Trump and Pence are different. Pence is going to have much lower negatives, nobody is attacking him. He’s very well-liked among conservatives, very liked among Republicans. He’s a well-liked figure among Republican elected officials. He’s very well-liked among donors. He’s just going to be a very attractive surrogate for this entire cycle.”

“Where I think Trump might end up being more limited to certain areas and certain districts, places that he did really well, Pence is going to be much less limited geographically and ideologically and politically than Trump will be,” he continued. “But of course, a lot of that depends on what Trump’s numbers are later this year, early next year.”

Brendan Fischer, federal and FEC reform director at the Campaign Legal Center, admitted that the timing of the PAC’s launch was “odd” and that it’s a “possibility” the PAC could be used to further Pence’s political ambitions. But what’s more likely, he said, is that the launch of the PAC goes hand-in-hand with Trump’s atypical move to file for reelection so early in his first term as president.

With a number of campaign events already held so far in his young presidency, Fischer said Pence might feel as if he needs to have such a committee formed early to cover these growing costs, which could also be covered by Trump’s campaign if necessary.

Fischer added that another reason for the Pence PAC is that the vice president could use funds from it to cover any legal costs accumulated as a result of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, which is now being headed up by recently appointed special counsel Robert Mueller, the former FBI director.

With any possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials being examined, Fischer said he’s “sure” the vice president will have legal costs stemming from the investigation examining the campaign. The PAC could pay for any such costs since the investigation directly tied to a campaign, he said.

The wildest reason for the PAC was what Fischer admitted was possible — Pence using it for his own presidential future.

“Certainly the optics of Pence forming his own 2020 campaign committee when his boss is also already declaring his candidacy, I mean, that would be for some strange, strange optics,” he said.

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