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GOP Welcomes Steve Wynn's Millions, Despite Rape And Harassment Allegations

Oct 21, 2020
Originally published on October 29, 2020 7:28 am

A major political donor, who just two years ago was forced out of his position as finance chair of the Republican National Committee, has contributed millions of dollars this election cycle to Republican candidates and political action committees aligned with the party.

Steve Wynn's political contributions were once seen as toxic. A series of investigative reports in The Wall Street Journal in 2018 detailed alleged rape, assault and harassment by the now-disgraced casino mogul. Wynn has denied all of the allegations.

He is now back — or at least his money is. In the past, Republicans demanded Democrats return money from Harvey Weinstein, who was later convicted of rape. In this case, Republicans have continued to accept Wynn's money.

GOP leaders, including Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and super PACs connected with him, have been the primary beneficiaries of Wynn's contributions. In fact, Wynn has given more than $6 million to 2020 political campaigns, which appears to be the largest amount he has ever individually donated. Among Wynn's contributions identified by NPR:

  • A $4 million donation to the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC closely allied with McConnell, and led by McConnell's former chief of staff.
  • $1.5 million in donations to American Crossroads, another McConnell-aligned super PAC. Robert "Mike" Duncan, a longtime Republican Party official and chairman of the Postal Service Board of Governors, is among the super PAC's board of directors.
  • A $25,000 donation to the McConnell Victory Committee, and an additional $5,600 directly to McConnell's Senate campaign.
  • A $468,500 donation to Trump Victory, a fundraising committee supporting the president's reelection. Much of that donation was transferred to the Republican National Committee (RNC).
  • Around $200,000 in donations to entities connected with the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).
  • $5,600 in donations to New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik.

The Trump campaign referred NPR's inquiries to the RNC, which did not respond. McConnell's campaign declined to comment. The Senate Leadership Fund, American Crossroads, the NRSC and Stefanik's campaign did not respond to NPR's messages. Two attorneys who have represented Wynn also did not return messages seeking comment.

It's unclear whether Wynn may also be making additional donations to so-called "dark money" groups — political organizations that do not have to disclose their donors to the Federal Election Commission — but he has in the past. Between 2010 and 2012, when he was still the head of Wynn Resorts, the company donated half a million dollars to a conservative organization called Americans For Job Security. That donation was only revealed in 2019 after litigation by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Wynn joined the ranks of political megadonors after making a fortune in his decades-long career in casinos. Wynn founded and led Wynn Resorts, running businesses in Macau, Las Vegas and Boston.

In 2016, Trump tapped Wynn, a friend and former rival in the casino business, to help lead fundraising efforts for the Republican Party. That year, he individually gave more than $1 million to political candidates and committees, followed by a $729,217 donation to President Trump's inauguration through his company.

In 2017, before Wynn stepped down from his company amid allegations of sexual misconduct, he appeared at a White House event. President Trump applauded Wynn for "raising so much money for our great Republican Party."
The White House / YouTube

Then, in January 2018, The Wall Street Journal reported that "dozens" of his employees had witnessed a "a decades-long pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Wynn." Subsequent investigations by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and Nevada Gaming Control Board detailed allegations against Wynn, including a "nonconsensual sexual relationship" with one employee, and complaints that Wynn inappropriately exposed himself to employees during massages.

The most serious allegation stemmed from 2005. A Wynn employee was called in to Steve Wynn's office to provide a manicure. The employee said that Wynn then raped her in a massage room connected to his office, according to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

Wynn later testified in a separate civil lawsuit that he believed the encounter with his employee was consensual, though it reflected "bad judgment on my part." Wynn paid the woman a $7.5 million settlement on the condition that she sign a nondisclosure agreement. The company failed to "conduct any investigation whatsoever" into the rape allegation, the commission found.

Victims "felt that they didn't have a voice," the new CEO of Wynn Resorts, Matthew Maddox, told the commission in 2019. "That if they were to speak up they could be retaliated against. Or if they did, it would not be investigated. For that, I am truly sorry."

Wynn has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct, calling them "preposterous." He characterized the rape allegation as "extortion." He has not faced criminal charges. Still, he stepped down as CEO of his company. The head of the Republican Party, Ronna McDaniel, said she "removed" Wynn from his role as finance chair of the Republican National Committee. Some Republicans, including Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, donated contributions they'd received from Wynn to charity.

McDaniel and the RNC, on the other hand, told Fox News that they would keep Wynn's contributions, saying that Wynn "should be allowed due process." Still, McDaniel pledged in Jan. 2018 that if investigations of Wynn found "any wrongdoing, we will absolutely return 100% of that money."

Just a few months before that, in October 2017, officials and advisors with Republican PACs criticized Democrats for taking contributions from Harvey Weinstein, the former movie producer who was later convicted of rape. McDaniel called Weinstein's money "dirty."

Under pressure from Republicans, top Democrats — such as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Kamala Harris and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — pledged to donate Weinstein's contributions to charity or committees supporting female candidates for political office.

But now that the shoe is on the other foot, the RNC has taken a different stance. Despite the findings of casino regulators in Nevada and Massachusetts, the RNC, McConnell, and top Republican officials have accepted Steve Wynn's contributions.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's look now at one of the big political donors of the 2020 election season, which is set to be the most expensive in American history. We should say, some details in this story, which runs about four minutes, might be disturbing for some listeners. Two years ago, the casino mogul Steve Wynn lost his position as a Republican fundraiser after allegations that he sexually harassed and assaulted employees, which Wynn denied. But now top Republicans are cashing big checks from him. Here's NPR's Tom Dreisbach.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: After Donald Trump won the 2016 election, he got in touch with Steve Wynn. Wynn had made a fortune running an international casino business. That's how he and Trump got to know each other. And Trump picked Wynn to be finance chair of the Republican National Committee and shouted him out at a White House jobs event in 2017.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Steve Wynn, would you stand up? He's raising so much money for our great Republican Party.

(APPLAUSE)

DREISBACH: Then, in 2018, that all changed.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ABC WORLD NEWS TONIGHT")

DAVID MUIR: Late today, a scandal erupting in Las Vegas. The Wall Street Journal reporting casino mogul Steve Wynn, one of the most powerful men in that city and a powerful player in politics in this country, accused of sexual misconduct.

DREISBACH: The Wall Street Journal reported that dozens of Wynn's employees witnessed alleged sexual harassment and assault by Wynn over the course of decades. The most serious allegation of sexual misconduct stemmed from 2005. It was described in subsequent investigations by casino regulators in both Nevada and Massachusetts. An employee said that she was called into Wynn's office to provide a manicure and, according to her account, Wynn then raped her. Wynn later testified that he believed the encounter was consensual. But he paid a $7.5 million settlement to keep it quiet. Wynn denied any wrongdoing in that case and all others. But in 2018, the head of the Republican Party, Ronna McDaniel, told Fox News she removed Wynn from his position as finance chair.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RONNA MCDANIEL: So the allegations in The Wall Street Journal were deeply troubling. They were so troubling that within 24 hours, Steve was no longer our finance chair.

DREISBACH: Wynn also resigned from his company. Now, just a few months earlier, McDaniel had called out Democrats for taking money from disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. And so she was asked if Republicans would give back Wynn's money.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MCDANIEL: He should be allowed due process. And if he is found of any wrongdoing, we will absolutely return 100% of that money.

DREISBACH: Wynn has never faced criminal charges. And attorneys who have represented him did not respond to our requests for comment. But casino regulators in Nevada and Massachusetts did investigate. And they found that the company's leadership under Wynn failed to investigate the repeated allegations of misconduct. Still, the Republican Party did not return Wynn's money even as the new CEO of Wynn's company, Matt Maddox, apologized for failing to address the allegations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MATT MADDOX: I began to realize that there were many victims. And those victims felt powerless. And for that, I am deeply remorseful.

DREISBACH: Now Steve Wynn is giving money again. Campaign finance records show he's given more than $5 million to super PACs allied with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He's also given hundreds of thousands of dollars to committees supporting Trump's reelection campaign and Senate Republicans. McConnell's campaign and the Trump campaign declined to comment for this story. The other campaigns and committees did not respond. And so they have not answered questions about why they are willing to take Steve Wynn's contributions despite the allegations.

Tom Dreisbach, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE KILLERS SONG, "BE STILL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.