Analysis: Trump is a fundraising giant but his stingy spending raises questions

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WASHINGTON, March 22 (Reuters) – Former President Donald Trump’s Save America group has quickly become one of the top Republican fundraising organizations ahead of the November 8 legislative election.

But so far it has been stingy in its spending on Republican efforts to win in November compared to spending by other groups, according to a Reuters analysis of financial disclosures made to the Federal Election Commission.

Trump has previously drawn attention for giving only small sums to Republican candidates, but the findings of the Reuters analysis showing the stark contrast in spending have not been reported before.

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Since Trump founded Save America in November 2020, the group has raised $124 million – the largest war chest ever built by an ex-president – ​​but has only spent around $14 million, or about 11%. Much of that has gone to fund rallies and ads that ostensibly promote Republicans running for Congress but focus more on Trump himself.

By comparison, his party’s main fund to support Senate candidates has spent about 80% of the $135 million it has raised since the start of 2021, while its main fund for House candidates has spent more than half of the $162 million it raised in the same period, FEC filings show.

Save America’s limited spending has raised questions among campaign finance experts and political observers, who say it could signal it is setting aside money for a presidential race.

Taylor Budowich, communications director for Save America and Trump, said the former president supports candidates through direct contributions, rallies and joint fundraising.

“Save America will not release specific tactics or spending in the press,” Budowich said in a statement to Reuters. “Every dollar raised will be used to advance President Trump’s America First agenda through his endorsed candidates and causes.”

Trump registered Save America as a leadership PAC, or political action committee. Under election laws, he can only spend on election campaigns for people other than Trump, but campaign finance experts have said there could be ways to dip into the PAC’s war chest if Trump does. another bid for the White House.

Trump has not announced his 2024 candidacy, which would require him to create a separate fundraising account for his campaign, but he regularly hints at his political rallies that he intends to run again to the presidency.

STRANGE SPENDING PATTERN

It’s still early in the election cycle and Trump could increase spending by November to support his Republican Party, which hopes to take control of Congress.

But at this point in a midterm election year, leadership PACs are usually already spending lavishly on candidates, said Michael Beckel, research director at Issue One, a nonpartisan group that advocates for political reform. campaign financing.

“It’s atypical for someone to amass such a big political war chest in their leadership PAC and not spend a lot directly on elections,” Beckel said.

Justin Sayfie of Ballard Partners, a Florida-based lobbying firm with ties to Trump, said it was smart to suspend spending now so Trump could have a bigger impact as Election Day approaches.

“I would determine which 30 seats are the best Republican pickup opportunities after the primaries are over,” Sayfie said. “And then pour all my money into those August races on Election Day.”

ADVICE, ADVERTISEMENTS AND HOTELS

Trump’s biggest expense has been paying for his rallies, which many political watchers see as potential preparation for 2024 as he connects with crowds and collects data on attendees.

Save America has spent more than $3 million on events through February, according to FEC financial information filed by the March 20 reporting deadline.

Save America also spent more than $2 million on consulting services, nearly $300,000 on ads, and about $200,000 in contributions to Republican candidates for Congress. At least $170,000 was spent on Trump-owned hotels, covering Save America’s expenses for accommodations, meals and rental of hotel facilities.

The Republican Party’s major congressional fund gave about $300,000 to congressional candidates, but they spent huge sums elsewhere, including more than $20 million on ads and more than $25 million on text messaging and access. to voters lists, which they use to target voters for political mailings and door-to-door campaigns.

“TWO WORDS”

Trump has used his rallies to urge his supporters to vote for Republican candidates for Congress, but they are mostly focused on him.

During a chilly rally at a South Carolina airport on March 12, Trump cut off his remarks so that Russell Fry, a state representative endorsed by Trump to challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Representative Tom Rice, could speak.

“Why don’t you just say two words and we’ll be fine then because it’s cold,” Trump said.

After Fry spoke briefly, Trump continued for about 20 minutes, describing how his program would transform the country after the next presidential election. “In 2024, we are going to take over this beautiful White House,” he said. “I wonder who’s going to do this. I wonder, I wonder.”

A Democratic fundraising group filed a lawsuit last week with the Federal Election Commission alleging Save America’s spending on rallies amounted to a presidential campaign, a violation of election laws. Read more

The FEC is unlikely to crack down on Trump even if he announces a presidential run and tries to funnel Save America money to his campaign, according to Beckel and other campaign finance experts.

The FEC leadership is split evenly between Republican-aligned and Democratic-aligned commissioners and has been deadlocked on most contentious issues in recent years.

“It’s free for everyone,” said Ann Ravel, a Democrat who served as an FEC commissioner from 2013 to 2017.

Trump spokesman Budowich said the complaints raised by Democrats were “frivolous” and had “no merit”.

One legal strategy Trump could use to use Save America money in a presidential campaign would be to sever his official ties with the group, Ravel and other experts said. Trump could also transfer funds from Save America to an allied group.

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Reporting by Jason Lange in Washington and Alexandra Ulmer in San Francisco Editing by Ross Colvin and Alistair Bell

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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