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Republican AG group holds private retreat for corporate donors at swanky Palm Beach resort

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Anti-abortion activists demonstrate outside the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, June 13, 2022.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

The Republican Attorneys General Association is hosting a private retreat for its corporate donors at a luxury resort in Florida this weekend — on the heels of the GOP’s long-sought win in getting Roe v. Wade overturned by the Supreme Court.

Nearly 20 corporations and trade groups are said to have RSVP’d to attend the three-day retreat, including lobbyists and executives from CNBC’s corporate parent Comcast, Match Group, General Motors, Johnson & Johnson, Anheuser-Busch, Juul Labs, Koch Industries, Lowe’s, and Walmart, according to a list of expected attendees obtained by CNBC.

The private gathering at the luxurious Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Fla. — where the cheapest room on its website goes for around $830 a night — is scheduled to start on Sunday and carry through late Tuesday, according to an agenda reviewed by CNBC. The agenda, titled “ERC & Victory Fund Retreat” shows an opening reception and dinner on Sunday followed by a cigar and whiskey reception on Monday with optional excursions to play golf, attend a tennis clinic or go deep sea fishing.

The retreat falls as the group seeks more donations to fend off legal attacks from Democrats seeking to protect abortion rights. A June 24 fundraising email said “every donation will help the Republican Attorneys General combat the Democrats’ pro-abortion agenda and stand tall for life.”

The group, headed by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.

Lobbying giant Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, PhRMA, and the US Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, a business legal advocacy group, are also listed as those set to attend the upcoming retreat.

Records show that, since the 2020 election cycle, almost of all of the corporations and trade groups listed to attend the private retreat have combined to contribute over $4 million to RAGA. They raised over $4 million alone in the first quarter of 2022.

Out of all of the expected attendees, only seven responded on the record to CNBC’s requests for comment on whether they still plan to attend the gathering in Florida or their plans to continue to support the Republican Attorney Generals group, given its advocacy in overturning of Roe.

Pfizer was invited but has decided not to go, spokeswoman Sharon Castillo said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.

“Our engagement with RAGA has focused mainly on advancing healthcare policies related to patient safety and efforts to combat counterfeit medicines, and is completely unrelated to the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion,” she added.

PhRMA spokeswoman Sarah Sutton, in an emailed statement to CNBC, didn’t confirm or deny whether they were sending anyone to the retreat

“We engage with policymakers and organizations from both sides of the aisle, as well as bipartisan and nonpartisan organizations who all have a wide array of health care opinions and priorities,” Sutton said. “We may not agree on every issue, but we believe dialogue is important to promoting a policy environment that supports innovation, a highly-skilled workforce and lifesaving medicines that are affordable for patients.”

Jeannine Ginivan, a spokeswoman for General Motors, also didn’t confirm or deny its attendance at the retreat. She noted that GM has also supported their rivals, the Democratic Attorneys General Association.

“General Motors has been a long time supporter of the Democratic Attorneys General Association and the Republican Attorneys General Association. GM believes that through continuous engagement with these organizations it has the best opportunity to build an understanding around issues important to GM and the auto industry,” Ginivan said.

Shira Rawlinson, a spokeswoman for the US Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, said in a statement that the court’s decision on Roe v. Wade is not an issue they take a position on as an institution. “The Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform has ongoing relationships with state attorneys general on both sides of the aisle,” Rawlinson said. “We will continue to work with those in the state AG community who support a fair legal environment for the business community.”

Clare Boyle, a spokeswoman for Johnson and Johnson, didn’t confirm or deny whether the maker of everyday products like Tylenol and Aveeno skin care products was attending the retreat. She did, however, note that the pharmaceutical company isn’t a member of the GOP group’s top membership tier known as he “Victory Fund.”

Kaitlin Craig, a spokeswoman for Anheuser-Busch, similarly didn’t confirm or deny whether it was sending anyone to the retreat. She sent a statement saying the beer maker provides reproductive health benefits to employees, including contraception and fertility treatments.

“While we defer to Congress, state legislatures, and the courts when it comes to policy on this issue, we will continue to support our employees and their dependents through our company-sponsored health care plans and programs,” Craig said.

Though it’s unclear how much each corporation donated to attend the event, an outline within the group’s 2022 membership packet suggests it may cost up to $250,000. An ERC or Edmund Randolph Club member, named for one of America’s founding fathers and the 7th governor of Virginia, must donate $125,000 a year. That membership includes “unlimited passes to annual Victory Fund and ERC Retreat,” according to the 2021 membership outline. Victory Fund members have to donate at least $250,000 to the group.

Since the court’s decision to overturn the landmark abortion ruling last month, Comcast and Match Group said they will cover travel costs for employees who have to travel out of state for abortions. Match Group, a company that owns dating sites such at Tinder and OkCupid, recently made the decision to suspend contributions to both the Republican and Democratic Attorneys General groups.

Comcast has yet to publicly say whether they will halt donations to either group since the ruling and didn’t return repeated requests for comment.

In an email to CNBC, Match spokeswoman Vidhya Murugesan didn’t address the RAGA event her company is set to attend. Instead, she sent CNBC a fact sheet that highlights the companys healthcare benefits. It says the company “will fight all legal requests or subpoenas for any employee data or user data related to abortion or LGBTQIA+ rights.”

Mississippi’s Republican Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who is listed on the Republican group’s website as one of the group’s allied AGs, cosigned a brief last year filed in support of overturning Roe v. Wade.

In it, Fitch argued that the court should “consider the policy and cultural shifts that have occurred in the 30-50 years since Roe and Casey and argues that the precedent set in these cases, ‘shackle states to a view of facts that is decades out of date.'”

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