Billionaire Steve Wynn has stepped down as Republican National Committee finance chair, the RNC’s chairwoman said, a day after reports that the casino magnate had engaged in multiple instances of sexual harassment.
The decision may be a blow to the Republican Party’s fundraising as it gears up for midterm elections in November with an unpopular president as its standard-bearer.
“Today I accepted Steve Wynn’s resignation as Republican National Committee finance chair,” the RNC’s Ronna Romney McDaniel said in a statement that didn’t reference the harassment allegations.
Wynn, the founder of Wynn Resorts Ltd., paid $7.5 million to settle claims brought by a former manicurist at his Las Vegas resort who said he pressured her to have sex with him, the Wall Street Journal said Friday. The report contained numerous other allegations of harassment and coercion by other women.
Wynn’s departure was first reported by Politico. In a statement on Saturday, Wynn, whose fortune is estimated by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index at about $3.5 billion, noted the “distraction” caused by allegations he termed “preposterous” a day earlier.
“The work we are doing to make America a better place is too important to be impaired by this distraction,” Wynn said in the statement. “I thank the president for the opportunity to serve.”
The board of directors of Wynn Resorts met and formed a special committee comprised of independent directors to investigate the allegations, according to a statement issued by the board.
“The board is deeply committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all of the company’s employees and to operating with the highest ethical standards,” it said in the statement.
Committee members contacted by Bloomberg said they first learned of the allegations from news reports. One, who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak for the party, said that in his view the Republican Party couldn’t keep Wynn in such a high-profile position given the nature of the accusations.
Under Wynn, the RNC set a fundraising record in 2017 for a non-election year. It ended November with $33.5 million more in the bank than its Democratic counterpart, thanks in part to the big donors Wynn can attract.
“Most of the credit for the cash on hand advantage goes to chairwoman McDaniel and her team. But Wynn was certainly a part of the success. He will be hard to replace, especially mid-cycle,” said Dan Eberhart, chief executive officer of oilfield services firm Canary LLC and a Republican fundraiser. “It’s another worry the Republicans don’t need.”
The allegations come at a delicate time for the party, which needs to maintain its financial edge as it faces a wave of retiring House incumbents and an expensive Senate race in Florida.
The party is also struggling to improve its standing with women after its reputation was bruised last year in Alabama. Roy Moore, the party’s candidate for what had been one of its safest Senate seats, lost after allegations arose that he had sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl when he was in his mid-30s and had pursued other teenagers.
Republicans also have to contend with the fact that President Donald Trump, who personally asked Wynn to be the party’s top fundraiser, came under fire in 2016 for a video in which he made lewd comments while taping the television program “Access Hollywood” in 2005. Separately, 19 women have accused the president of sexual misconduct.
More recently were revelations this month that one of Trump’s lawyers paid adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, $130,000 before the 2016 election to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Trump that started in 2006.
As powerful men across an array of industries have been accused of harassing and abusing women, both parties have had to deal with misconduct allegations in their ranks. Democrats forced high-profile incumbents, including Senator Al Franken of Minnesota and Representative John Conyers of Michigan, to resign.
Among Republics, Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas decided not to seek re-election after a report surfaced that he used $84,000 of taxpayer money to settle a sexual-harassment complaint brought by a former aide.
Republicans have been critical of Democrats for accepting money from the movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who was a prolific fundraiser for the party as well. In response to the allegations of sexual misconduct against Weinstein, the RNC’s McDaniel tweeted that returning his money “would be a no-brainer.”
According to the Journal, which said it had contacted more than 150 people who worked with Wynn, he coerced the manicurist and massage therapists to perform sex acts for $1,000 tips.
In his statement denying the allegations, Wynn told the Journal that it was “deplorable for anyone to find themselves in this situation.”
Democrats were quick to pounce. “They remain silent amid sexual assault allegations involving Steve Wynn, one of their party’s most senior officials,” spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said in a statement on Friday. “We believe that women must be empowered and respected.”
Wynn and Trump have a long history. They competed in the Atlantic City casino market two decades ago — a period that included a fierce court battle. They have since made amends, though Wynn has said he didn’t fully embrace Trump until he had already won.
Wynn said Trump asked him to be the committee’s finance chairman before the inauguration. His duties include building a national network of fundraisers and courting major donors, who increasingly have more options amid the rise of outside groups that can raise and spend unlimited sums.