WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Sexual harassment allegations against billionaire casino mogul Steve Wynn could handicap the Republican Party's fundraising as it gears up for the midterm elections, with some in the party questioning how he can remain as the GOP's top fundraiser.
Wynn, the founder of Wynn Resorts Ltd and the finance chairman for the Republican National Committee, paid US$7.5 million (S$9.8 million) to settle claims brought by a former manicurist at his 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, who turns 76 on Saturday, denied the allegations. "The idea that I ever assaulted any woman is preposterous," he said in a statement.
The board of directors of Wynn Resorts met and formed a special committee comprised of independent directors to investigate the allegations, CNBC said in a Twitter post, citing a statement issued by the board.
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 GOP 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 US$33.5 million more in the bank than its Democratic counterpart, thanks in part to the big donors Wynn can attract.
"Losing him would hurt fundraising. He has been a tremendous asset," said Dan Eberhart, chief executive officer of oilfield services firm Canary LLC and a Republican fundraiser.
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, has come under fire himself 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.
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.
Representative Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican, decided not to seek re-election after a report surfaced that he used US$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, RNC Chairwoman Ronna 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 US$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." The RNC didn't respond to requests for comment.
Michael Weaver, a spokesman for Wynn Resorts, declined to say whether he would remain at the RNC.
Remaining Silent 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. "We believe that women must be empowered and respected."
Larry Kawa, a Florida orthodontist and a Republican fundraiser, said the allegations won't limit Wynn's effectiveness in raising money for the party. "It's going to have no impact on his bundling ability," Kawa said. "Steve Wynn is Steve Wynn, he's not Steve Loser."
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.