Donald Trump holds his first presidential fundraisers this week. The events directly benefit his campaign, but he doesn’t see it that way.
Trump insists that his about-face from self-funded candidate to one who relies on donors is happening only at the request of the Republican National Committee.
“The RNC really wanted to do it, and I want to show good spirit,” Trump said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “’Cause I was very happy to continue to go along the way I was.”
Trump’s self-funding has been a point of pride, a boast making its way into nearly every rally and interview. The billionaire businessman lent his campaign at least $43 million, enough to pay for most of his primary bid.
“By self-funding my campaign, I am not controlled by my donors, special interests or lobbyists. I am working only for the people of the U.S.!” he wrote in September.
With this week’s fundraisers — a small gathering Tuesday in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a large $25,000-per-head dinner Wednesday in Los Angeles — Trump gains hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars but loses his ability to accurately assert that he is free from the shackles of outside donors.
Trump’s voters repeatedly have cited his independence from the influence of donors and special interests as a top reason they back him. It’s not clear how they will react now.
Perhaps to assuage those voter concerns, Trump is trying to promote his fundraising agreement as beneficial to other Republicans, not his own campaign.
For every check he solicits — and donors can give almost $450,000 apiece — the first $5,400 goes to Trump’s primary and general election campaign accounts. The rest is spread among the RNC and 11 state parties.
The RNC can use its money to help Republican candidates for Senate and Congress. However, Trump’s team and Republican officials also have said the RNC plans to take the lead on major presidential campaign activities such as voter identification and turnout.
Asked by The AP if he sees a contradiction in asking for money after repeatedly saying he stood above the other candidates because he didn’t, Trump said, “No, because I’m raising money for the party.”
Trump also first denied to the AP that he is raising any money for the primary. Reminded of the terms of the fundraising agreement, he then said primary donations don’t really count because he already has defeated his GOP rivals.
He promised not to use any donor money to pay down his loans. That means he has until the Republican convention in late July to spend primary contributions on expenses such as staffing and summer advertising.
Despite Trump’s claim that he would have carried on self-funding if not for the RNC, in other media interviews he has expressed a reluctance to sell buildings or other assets to pay for a costly general election.
“It would be foolish for him to unilaterally disarm against Hillary Clinton,” said Roger Stone, Trump’s friend and informal political adviser about why Trump decided to take donations.
Trump’s likely opponent, the former secretary of state, aims to have $1 billion for her bid, through her campaign, the Democratic Party and outside groups.
The presumptive GOP nominee’s still-forming fundraising team, led by Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s national finance chairman, and Lew Eisenberg, the RNC’s national finance chairman, is rushing to schedule events.