Senior members of the administration are starting to show up as special guests in virtual fundraising events for President Donald Trump's campaign and the Republican National Committee, as the GOP tries to strengthen its war chest in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
The efforts have so far included an event that featured Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, a member of the president's coronavirus task force. Perdue wrote a letter this month to leaders of meat packing plants across the country, urging them to remain open while maintaining the safety protocols established by the Centers for Disease Control.
In the coming weeks, Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, and other White House advisors are expected to take part in the virtual gatherings, according to people familiar with the matter. These people declined to be named as these fundraising efforts are being made in private.
Kudlow told CNBC earlier this year that he believed the U.S. had the virus contained, only to walk back those comments a month later. He has been a vocal opponent of China during the pandemic and recently said that the administration is looking at providing cash incentives to encourage unemployed Americans to go back to work. More than 30 million people have filed for unemployment.
Most of these private events have been tailored for the Trump Victory committee, a joint fundraising operation that distributes donations to the president's campaign and the RNC. The events are not necessarily focused on bringing in six figure checks. Many organizers have asked for donors to contribute up to $35,000 and events were expected to bring in at least $250,000, one of the people said. That represents a change from what was taking place prior to states shutting down earlier this year, when the Trump campaign and RNC were hosting events that would, at times, charge up to $580,600 per couple.
All campaigns have gone fully virtual since March when states started shutting down due to the spread of the pandemic. Trump's campaign and the RNC combined to raise just over $61 million in the month of April, while their rivals, Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee, took in $60.5 million over that same time period.
While Trump and the RNC have more cash on hand than their Democratic opponents, having White House advisors taking part in their virtual events comes as many donors across the political spectrum have prioritized other matters over giving to campaigns.
Trump administration officials can skirt by potential violations of the Hatch Act if they are not officially using their titles or government resources to raise money for the campaign. In this case, Kudlow, Perdue and others are not in violation of the law, which prohibits government employees from directly soliciting campaign cash from donors.
"The Hatch Act would prohibit the use of official titles or resources in connection with a fundraising event but if a cabinet official is just described as a 'special guest' or 'the honorable' it is okay," Brendan Fischer, a director at the watchdog Campaign Legal Center, told CNBC.
An RNC official confirmed in a statement that White House advisors are involved with fundraising events but only as "special guests."
"Any White House official who takes part in a Trump Victory event with supporters does so in their personal capacity in accordance with the law. They are special guests and do not solicit funds," this committee official explained.
A spokesman for the White House declined to comment. A representative for the Department of Agriculture referred questions about Perdue being a virtual fundraising guest to the campaign. Kudlow did not return multiple emails seeking comment.
The fact that White House advisors are taking the time to get on fundraising calls is likely to come under scrutiny by Democrats who have been critical of the president and his team's efforts in combating the coronavirus. A Real Clear Politics national polling average shows Biden ahead of Trump by close to six points.
Trump came under fire this weekend by Biden's campaign for golfing in Virginia as the U.S. coronavirus death toll rose toward 100,000.
The president has signed close to $2.5 trillion worth of stimulus legislation. Yet he is criticized by Democrats for, as they claim, not distributing enough personal protective equipment to states.
Trump has also been hit for appearing to downplay the potential harmful effects of hydroxychloriquine, which he said he used to ward off the virus. Studies have shown that the anti-malaria drug could lead to higher mortality rates in coronavirus patients. Trump recently said he had been taking the drug but stopped.
The Food and Drug Administration have previously warned against taking malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19 outside a hospital or formal clinical trial setting.