Presidential Candidates Trolling for Dollars

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At a time when all eyes in the political world and beyond are focused on the precarious financial circumstances of former president and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his ability to navigate the consequences of the massive monetary judgments against him in the New York courts and ever-growing legal fees and expenses with no end in sight, the significant differential between the reported financial war chest of President Joe Biden’s campaign and that of Trump is worth noting.

According to reports filed by the two campaigns on March 20, Biden’s re-election campaign had $71 million on hand at the end of February, which was more than double the $33.5 million in Trump’s campaign account. As reflected in those numbers, Trump added $3 million to his campaign account in February, while Biden added five times that amount, or $15 million.

Neither the amounts raised monthly nor the reported balances in campaign accounts reflect money raised by both candidates through joint fundraising committees, which will not file financial disclosure reports until mid-April. Nor do those numbers include funds contributed to the candidates’ campaign efforts by independent, third-party funding sources.

For example, the numbers don’t include the $120 million pledged to the Biden campaign from the League of Conservation Voters, a leading environmental advocacy organization not directly tied to Biden’s campaign. But the pledge is part of the expected $2 billion the Biden campaign hopes to raise and plans to spend on his re-election effort.

Big dollars, for sure. And Republicans are likely to raise and spend a similar amount to support Trump. But with Trump, there is an additional, disturbing dynamic, reflected in a new fundraising agreement between the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee.

That agreement directs that a portion of donations to campaign events coordinated through the RNC are to be sent first to the campaign itself, then to a political account Trump uses to pay his legal bills, and only after those amounts are deducted will funds go to the RNC itself.

Thus, for example, in connection with megadonors to the Trump 47 Committee who are invited to a big event next month in Palm Beach, Florida, where donors are being asked to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars per person to attend, the first $6,600 will go to Trump’s campaign. The next $5,000 will go to Trump’s Save America PAC, which paid more than $50 million in legal and investigative fees for Trump in 2023.

And only after those amounts are deducted will the remainder go to the RNC. Those same campaign and legal fee deductions will apply to smaller RNC event donors as well, with the tithe to Trump’s legal fees taking a bigger bite out of the donor’s contribution.

The Trump Save America PAC should more properly be called Trump’s Litigation Funding PAC, since that’s where most of its money is being directed.

Quite simply, campaign donors, rather than Trump himself, are paying to fund Trump’s multiple legal battles.

Trump’s convoluted campaign fund distribution plan may be legal. And the donors who participate in the dance may be doing so to help their candidate. But like so much about the Trump campaign, it neither smells nor feels right.

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