GOP axes rival online fundraising platform amid efforts to boost grassroots support

PHOTO: In this file photo, President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign kick off rally at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., June 18, 2019. PlayCarlo Allegri/Reuters, FILE
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The GOP is ramping up efforts to centralize its fundraising apparatus, wiping out other small-dollar donor tools considered to be rivals to a President Donald Trump-backed platform in order to close the gap with Democrats on grassroots support.

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The Republican State Leadership Committee, an organization focused on electing Republicans to state-level offices across the country, announced Wednesday it removed Give.GOP from its domain registry, virtually shutting down the newborn online fundraising tool amid an intraparty legal battle that is roiling tensions with leaders of the party.

"The Republican Party is one team working towards one goal: winning -- up and down the ballot," RSLC President Austin Chambers said in a statement. "President Trump's strong leadership in making WinRed a great success for every candidate and committee has been critical to that mission, and the RSLC has every intention in serving as a key partner."

PHOTO: Ronna McDaniel, Republican National Chairperson, is shown at the Women For Trump Kickoff Rally In King of Prussia PA, July 16, 2019. Ricky Fitchett/ZUMAPRESS.com/Newscom
Ronna McDaniel, Republican National Chairperson, is shown at the Women For Trump Kickoff Rally In King of Prussia PA, July 16, 2019.

The RSLC, which said the money-processing firm was using the ".gop" domain without their approval, signaled that Give.GOP could potentially thwart the success of WinRed, the Republican Party's answer to the powerhouse ActBlue, a fundraising tool with a virtual monopoly over online fundraising for Democrats.

"Their actions prey on the good intentions of activists who are tricked into believing they are supporting the Republican Party. We won't stand for this deception, and we will always do what's right for the Party, the president, and the tens of millions of hardworking Americans who support our cause," Chambers continued.

The RNC's chief of staff, Richard Walters, praised the RSLC's decision to shut down Give.GOP, writing in a tweet, "The @gop appreciates @achambersgop's leadership and his efforts to promote technology that supports the re-election of @realDonaldTrump and Rs up and down the ballot."

With the White House, the Republican National Committee, along with two campaign arms, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Republican Governer's Association, insisting that Republican candidates unite behind WinRed, the founder of Give.GOP argues that his platform is not a competitor to WinRed as it's focused on giving donors a one-in-all online donation tool contrary to WinRed's focus on providing a fundraising tool for campaigns.

Amid the GOP's lackluster performance with small-dollar donations in recent cycles, and the party seeing bruising losses in the 2018 midterm elections, Paul Dietzel launched Give.GOP on July 2, claiming to offer candidates and Republican groups a cost-friendly option that would charge a smaller percentage in processing fees than the existing competition (WinRed).

"Apparently, we are being punished for empowering donors to give directly to conservative causes," Dietzel said in a statement provided to ABC News on Wednesday. "Despite the fact that the Platform has already successfully empowered donors to give to more than a dozen committees with ZERO fees, Washington committees are attempting to shut down this movement of grassroots donors."

PHOTO: The White House is shown in this file photo on March 24, 2019 in Washington. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images, FILE
The White House is shown in this file photo on March 24, 2019 in Washington.

In the wake of his site being shut down, Deitzel, a former Republican candidate himself who ran in the 2014 GOP primary for Louisiana's 6th Congressional District seat, forcefully defended his fundraising tool, which he plans to revive, dismissing the push to consolidate around WinRed.

"This grassroots, donor-powered platform is not changing and will continue to empower donors to support conservatives and Trump-supporters through a new domain name that will be released soon," he said.

But the announcement Wednesday is only the most recent step by the party's top brass to ensure that WinRed is the sole platform devoted to building up their small donor network.

The tension between the Republican Party and Give.GOP peaked earlier this month when the RNC sent out cease-and-desist letters to Dietzel, alleging the rogue fundraising platform's illegal use of the party's trademarks, including the elephant logo and the name GOP.

In one of the letters, the RNC also argued that the party committee has yet to receive any funds from Give.GOP, despite the platform's claims that it has been accepting and processing contributions to the RNC.

The Give.GOP founder also launched Anedot in 2010, an online fundraising vendor used by many conservative organizations and Republican campaigns, including Sen. Ted Cruz's campaign, Sen. Rick Scott's campaign and former House Speaker Paul Ryan's leadership PAC.

But the party decided to steer away from Anedot, RNC spokesperson Mike Reed said in a statement to ABC News, in part because of its "long history of working with scam PACs."

"Anedot also positions itself as a non-partisan entity," Reed added. "It obviously makes more sense for the RNC to work with a platform that is aligned completely with the Republican Party and the President."

The RNC also announced earlier this year that it will not support Republican candidates and state committees that refuse to use the party-backed WinRed, which was first reported by Politico and confirmed by ABC News.

The highly-anticipated WinRed platform officially launched in late June, with the full endorsement of the White House, RNC, NRSC, and the National Republican Congressional Committee, as a "game-changer for turning grassroots enthusiasm into online fundraising," according to the release.

Republican leaders painted the newly-launched tool as a key vehicle central to their success in the upcoming 2020 elections and Trump's campaign said that they began the process of phasing their online operations over to WinRed at the time of the launch.

"The Trump campaign will be the most innovative Presidential campaign in American history, and WinRed is a critical component of our strategy," said Brad Parscale, campaign manager for the Trump campaign in a statement. "With WinRed, we will have the cutting-edge technology needed to translate grassroots enthusiasm into the resources we need to win in 2020."

PHOTO: In this file photo, President Donald Trump arrives to speak during a rally at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla. to officially launch his 2020 campaign on June 18, 2019. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images, FILE
In this file photo, President Donald Trump arrives to speak during a rally at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla. to officially launch his 2020 campaign on June 18, 2019.

The RNC reiterated Trump's endorsement of WinRed on Wednesday, further illustrating the committee's push to cement it as party's sole small-donor platform.

"WinRed has the full backing of President Trump and his campaign," Reed told ABC News in a statement Wednesday. "WinRed is a revolutionary tool in the fundraising arsenal for Republicans that will transform the way GOP candidates and conservative causes across the country raise money."

It's unclear how many campaigns and committees are currently using the platform, and how much WinRed has brought in since its launch.

But earlier on Wednesday, ActBlue announced its second quarter fundraising, in which the site collected a total of $420 million from 3.3 million individual donors for nearly 9,000 Democratic campaigns and organizations in the first half of this year, nearly double the $249 million it brought in by the first half of 2017.

On June 30, the last day of the second quarter, ActBlue said it pulled in the most contributions in a single day -- over 390,000 -- in its history. June 30 also marked the second biggest haul for ActBlue ever, with over $12 million raised.