Some Trump RNC Delegates Surprised About Paying Their Own Way To Cleveland

Originally published on August 1, 2016 12:07 pm

Getting to next week's Republican National Convention in Cleveland has become more of a burden than some delegates were expecting. For one thing, some of them had no idea they'd be on the hook for the whole cost of casting a vote for their candidate.

One such delegate is Rita Gaus, who lives out among the cornfields and wind turbines about two hours south of Chicago in Buckingham, Ill. Gaus and her husband are dog breeders, something that started out as a hobby but has turned into a full-time gig on their family farm.

Until Donald J. Trump came along, there had never really been much room for — or interest in — politics in Gaus' life.

Intrigued by the candidate, Gaus connected with a couple of Trump Facebook groups and, to her surprise, someone on the Trump campaign asked her to be a delegate ahead of the March 15 Illinois primary.

She wasn't entirely sure what she was signing up for.

'Wait a minute ...'

"I asked ... 'What's involved?' and they said, 'Well, you just get to vote,' and I'm like, OK, I can do that. They didn't say that vote costs you five grand!" Gaus said, laughing.

While Gaus' estimate might be a little high, being an RNC delegate in Cleveland isn't cheap. Illinois delegates are looking at more than $300 a night for hotels, plus a $600 flat fee for food and transportation to and from the convention, not to mention flights, gas, parking or any other costs.

Maria Hough was one of many first-time delegates who say they had no idea they'd have to spend all that money to get to Cleveland to vote for Trump.

"Oh my gosh," Hough said. "I was like, wait a minute, I've gotta pay to go vote for my man?"

It's a scene that played out many times around Illinois last fall. People completely new to politics called the Trump campaign looking for hats or signs and ended up as delegates to the Republican National Convention.

Casting a wide net

"The traditional Chicago political joke is we don't want nobody, nobody sent, and frankly these are the nobodies that nobodies sent," said Kent Gray, an attorney who helped the Trump campaign find potential delegates in Illinois.

Typically, convention delegates are a mix of congressmen, party leaders or other elected officials who have access to campaign accounts to cover these costs.

But this year, some of Illinois' top Republicans, like Sen. Mark Kirk, opted to skip the convention because they don't support Donald Trump.

Kirk originally said he'd support the Republican Party nominee, but later issued a statement saying that Trump "has not demonstrated the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world." Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner will also be skipping the convention, much to the dismay of some delegates.

When the Trump campaign went looking for other Illinois delegates, it cast a wide net.

"I had some that I had to make sure they were still registered to vote or they had to get, they had moved and we had to make sure they had re-registered to vote," he said.

Creative funding

To cut costs, some delegates are getting creative: They're bunking together in hotels or carpooling, even if they don't know each other.

At least six Illinois delegates have launched GoFundMe pages, but with only minimal success. One delegate who's on disability is planning to put the whole trip on his credit card — and figures he'll be in debt for years.

But regardless of the costs, many of these first-timers aren't deterred. Maria Hough says casting her vote for Trump will be part of history.

"I really, really believe in him so, I just wanna make sure nobody's gonna mess with him. If my little vote counts, my God, I've gotta be there to do it," Hough said.

But beyond casting that one vote, many delegates still aren't quite sure what else they're in for.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

For some of those who are going to Cleveland next week, the trip has become more of a burden than expected. There are delegates who didn't know that they'd be on the hook for the whole cost of casting a vote for their candidate. From member station WBEZ in Chicago, Lauren Chooljian has the story of some political newcomers from Illinois.

RITA GAUS: I know. That's a little female. She's noisy (laughter).

LAUREN CHOOLJIAN, BYLINE: Out here among the cornfields and wind turbines about two hours south of Chicago, you'll find Rita Gaus and a pack of adorable Goldendoodle puppies.

GAUS: I used to do standard poodles, and everybody called me and asked for Goldendoodles. So I said, well, we're going to try it. And it took off - and supply and demand, demand and supply, I guess (laughter).

CHOOLJIAN: On a typical summer day, the Gaus family farm is home to 13 dogs, a couple litters of puppies, not to mention some grandkids who are all cared for by Rita and her husband. And so there's never really been much room for politics. That is until Donald J. Trump came along. Gaus said she connected with a couple of Trump Facebook groups, and to her surprise, someone on the Trump campaign reached out and asked her to be a delegate. She wasn't entirely sure what she was signing up for.

GAUS: Because I asked, and I said, what's involved? And they said, well, you just get to vote, you know? And I'm like, OK, I can do that (laughter). Yeah they didn't say that vote cost you five grand (laughter).

CHOOLJIAN: It might not cost that much, but hotel rooms in Cleveland are going for more than $300 a night. There's a flat $600 fee for transportation to and from the convention and food, not to mention flights or gas, parking and everything else.

MARIA HOUGH: Oh, my gosh.

CHOOLJIAN: Maria Hough was one of many first-time delegates who say they had no idea they'd have to spend all that money on this trip.

HOUGH: And I'm like, wait a minute, you know? I got to pay to go vote for my man.

CHOOLJIAN: This is a scene that played out many times around Illinois last fall. People completely new to politics like real estate agents, a home fragrance sales woman - they called the Trump campaign looking for hats or signs and ended up as delegates to the Republican National Convention.

KENT GRAY: The traditional Chicago political joke is, we don't want nobody nobody sent. And these, you know - frankly, these are the nobodies that nobody sent.

CHOOLJIAN: This is attorney Kent Gray, the guy responsible for helping the Trump campaign find potential delegates in Illinois. Typically convention delegates are a mix of Congressmen, party leaders or other elected officials who have access to campaign accounts to cover these costs. But this year some of Illinois' top Republicans like Senator Mark Kirk opted to skip the convention because they don't support Donald Trump. So the Trump campaign cast a wide net for delegates.

GRAY: I had some that I had to make sure they were still registered to vote, or they had to get - they had moved, and we had to make sure they had re-registered to vote.

CHOOLJIAN: To cut costs, some delegates are getting creative. They're bunking together in hotels or carpooling even if they don't know each other. At least six Illinois delegates have launched GoFundMe pages but only with minimal success. One delegate who's on disability is planning to put the whole trip on his credit card and figures he'll be in debt for years. But regardless of the costs, many of these first timers aren't deterred. Maria Hough says casting her vote for Trump will be part of history.

HOUGH: And I really, really believe in him. So I just want to make sure nobody's going to mess with me (laughter). You know, if my little vote counts, by God, I'm going to be there to do it.

CHOOLJIAN: But beyond casting that one vote, many delegates still aren't sure what else they're in for. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Chooljian in Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.