A Deep Dive into Trump’s (Lack of) Campaign Funding
Last month, Donald Trump tweeted that his campaign had “perhaps more cash than any campaign in the history of politics.” New Federal Election Commission filings show that he was very, very wrong.
At the end of May, Trump’s campaign had nearly $1.3 million in cash on hand, putting him significantly behind Hillary Clinton’s $42 million. With less money than many congressional campaigns — let alone Clinton and at least one erstwhile Republican challenger — the Trump campaign has set up a funding gap far more dramatic than we see in a typical presidential race.
Trump’s funds were sitting at just 3 percent of Clinton’s as June began — a much bigger separation than even the one between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama at this point four years ago. At the end of May 2012, Romney, the GOP’s nominee-in-waiting, had $17 million to Obama’s $110 million after the latter’s unopposed run through the primaries — putting Romney’s cash at 15 percent of Obama’s. And at the same time in 2008 — the last presidential election cycle without an incumbent running — the two candidates were much more closely matched: Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) $31.6 million came to 73 percent of Obama’s $43.1 million.
That $1.2 million in cash doesn’t just put Trump behind Clinton. It’s also less than the $9.2 million that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) had in the bank at the end of the month and the $1.8 million that Ben Carson’s campaign reported still having, long after his White House bid came to a halt. Though also-ran Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have now emptied out their campaign treasuries, each reported quite a bit more on hand at the end of April than Trump reported at the end of May — $9.4 million and $3.3 million, respectively.
Add in super PAC figures and the disparity only gets larger, as Trump hasn’t attracted much in the way of outside spending. Great America, the most active pro-Trump PAC, ended May with $500,000 in cash after raising $1.4 million over the course of the month. Meanwhile, Priorities USA Action, the largest pro-Clinton PAC, has nearly $52 million in cash, having rung in $12 million in May. The new filings do not include groups that have cropped up in the past month — such as Rebuilding America Now, a pro-Trump PAC created in June and supported by investor Tom Barrack, whose connection to Trump dates back to helping negotiate his 1988 purchase of New York’s Plaza Hotel.
Even many members of Congress have more in the bank than the brash New York real estate developer: There are 122 House and Senate lawmakers who trump Trump’s stash, according to their most recent FEC reports. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) leads all of Congress with more than $26 million on hand, while Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is at the head of the House list with $7.7 million. Of those 122 members, 71 are Republicans.
No member of Congress has more cash on hand than Clinton.
Despite his repeated claims about self-financing his campaign, including again this morning, Trump reduced his campaign’s dependence on his own money in May. Before May, Trump loaned an average of $4.3 million per month to his own effort. In May, that number was only $2.2 million.
Donors shouldered more of the burden in May. Prior to that, Trump spent an average of $5.6 million per month while taking in $1.4 million from donors; that’s four times as much in outlays as in contributions. In April, right before Trump clinched the nomination, the campaign’s spending had ballooned to nine times its contributions. Trump infused his campaign with $7.5 million in loans that month. But in May, the campaign seems to have both tightened its belt and ramped up fundraising, so that it spent only twice as much as it received in contributions. Though Trump spent more than average, $6.7 million, he also received more in contributions, $3.1 million.
Maybe. Trump’s spending has certainly been anything but conventional. His campaign has funneled over $1 million into his own businesses and family travel expenses. According to the AP, 10 percent of the campaign’s outlays have gone to his own companies. That includes $423,317 to his Mar-a-Lago Club, a business where he also lives part of the time. In other words, Trump’s campaign has spent a sum approaching half-a-million dollars renting Trump’s own home. Trump’s campaign also diverted almost $1 million toward “campaign swag and printing,” the Washington Post reports. Trump distributes these items at his rallies, and sells them on his website.
The public option?
Given Trump’s less-than-stellar performance as a fundraiser so far, might he think about taking public funding for the general election portion of the campaign? It’s an odd prospect, given Trump’s oft-touted wealth — even if he’s not quite as rich as he claims to be.
But there is a $96.1 million grant waiting for him should he say the word.
“People shortchange that program,” said campaign finance attorney Trevor Potter, who was the lawyer for McCain’s campaign in 2008; McCain was the last general election candidate to accept public funds.
“He could still go out and play footsie with the super PACs,” helping the pro-Trump outside spending groups raise money without explicitly asking for checks. He could also still raise funds for his General Election Legal and Accounting Compliance account — money with which the campaigns pay their lawyers and accountants, which is not insignificant. And he could help the Republican party raise cash through joint fundraising accounts, as long as none of the money went to his campaign.
“I’m not sure he’d be giving up much,” Potter said. “Especially given that there seems to be a hole in his financing infrastructure.”
In case anyone’s wondering, though: No, he couldn’t use the public money to pay himself back the money he’s lent to his campaign.