President Donald Trump’s political operation has raised more than $170 million since Election Day, using a blizzard of appeals about the election to shatter fundraising records set during the campaign, according to people with knowledge of the contributions.
The influx of political donations is one reason Trump and some allies are inclined to continue a legal onslaught and public relations blitz focused on claims of election fraud, even as their attempts have repeatedly failed in court and as key states continue to certify wins for President-elect Joe Biden.
Much of the money raised since the election is likely to go into an account for the president to use on political activities after he leaves office, while some of the contributions will go toward what’s left of the legal fight.
The people with knowledge of the fundraising amounts spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose internal numbers. The Trump campaign declined to comment.
The surge of donations is largely from small-dollar donors, campaign officials say, tapping into the president’s base of loyal and fervent donors who tend to contribute the most when they feel the president is under siege or facing unfair political attacks. The campaign has sent nearly 500 post-election fundraising pitches to donors, often with language about voter fraud.
“Our democracy and freedom is at risk like never before, which is why I’m reaching out to you now with an URGENT request,” reads an email to donors from Vice President Mike Pence. “President Trump and I need our STRONGEST supporters, like YOU, to join the Election Defense Task Force. This group will be responsible for DEFENDING the Election from voter fraud, and we really need you to step up to the front lines of this battle.”
The fundraising requests are being made by the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint fundraising committee that raises money for the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee. As of Nov. 18, that committee also shares its funds with Save America, a new leadership PAC that Trump set up in early November and which he can use to fund his post-presidency activities.
The money raised since Nov. 3 is a massive haul for such a short period, especially after the election, when losing campaigns typically ramp down their fundraising operation. By comparison, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee raised $125 million in the second quarter of 2020, according to federal records. The campaign account’s best single month was September, when it raised $81 million, according to available data.
The contributions, from thousands of grass-roots donors across the country, are split into several accounts, including the leadership PAC that is loosely regulated.
According to the fine print in the latest fundraising appeals, 75% of each contribution to the joint fundraising committee would first go toward the Save America leadership PAC and the rest would be shared with the party committee, to help with the party’s operating expenses. This effectively means that the vast majority of low-dollar donations under the current agreement would go toward financing the president’s new leadership PAC, instead of efforts to support the party or to finance voting lawsuits.
“Small donors who give to Trump thinking they are financing an ‘official election defense fund’ are in fact helping pay down the Trump campaign’s debt or funding his post-presidential political operation,” said Brendan Fischer, who directs federal regulatory work at the Campaign Legal Center, which supports greater restrictions on the role of money in politics.
Fischer said that “only bigger donors who’ve maxed-out to Trump’s campaign or the RNC will see any portion of their contribution go to dedicated recount or legal funds.”
“The RNC has spent tens of millions of dollars over the last two years funding legal efforts in multiple states, and we continue the fight for election integrity across the country,” RNC spokesperson Mike Reed said.
For some of the president’s die-hard supporters, the fact most of the money goes toward the leadership PAC is not a concern.
Harold Burnham, a 78-year-old retiree in Maine who has given to Trump’s campaign multiple times in small amounts, said he gave about half a dozen times to the “Election Defense Fund” in response to recent text appeals that have come since the election. In fact, all 12 members of his family who support Trump have given to support Trump’s post-election efforts, he said.
Burnham said he is concerned about potentially fraudulent ballots being counted in the election and wants to donate so that those ballots could be investigated. He said he is aware that the majority of the donation goes toward the leadership PAC, which he believes will be used to help Trump run again in 2024 or help finance a Trump-aligned candidate.
“I’m fine with that, because I’m hoping that if he doesn’t run for election, that somebody that he would support with conservative values would be running for president in ’24,” Burnham said. “It’s not big money, certainly. But every little bit helps if a million people are doing it.”
Leadership PAC funds can’t be used to finance the campaign activity of the officeholder or former official who leads the PAC. Any money contributed from the PAC to support other candidates for office must be done within federal contribution limits, and the contributions must come from legal sources.
But beyond that, there are no restrictions on how the official can spend leadership PAC money, said Kate Belinski, a campaign finance legal expert who formerly served as an attorney at the FEC’s Enforcement Division.