Published — February 1, 2019

Donald Trump’s campaign cash machine: big, brawny and burning money

President Donald Trump speaks with supporters at a Make America Great Again campaign rally on Oct. 17, 2018, at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in Mesa, Arizona. (Gage Skidmore)

The president enjoys a financial advantage over his would-be Democratic challengers

A version of this article appeared in the Buffalo News.


More than $6.9 million.

That’s how much money President Donald Trump’s 2020 principal campaign committee collected from donors during 2018’s final three months, consisting mostly of small-dollar contributions.

“Significantly, grassroots support for the President has remained both steady and historic, with the vast majority of our fundraising coming from contributions of $200 or less,” said Michael Glassner, chief operating officer of Trump’s campaign, in an email announcement. “This is a true testament to President Trump’s fulfillment of his promises made to the forgotten men and women of America.”

That brings Trump’s re-election fundraising haul up to $67.5 million — an unprecedented effort for a first-term president during his first two years in office. This total doesn’t count tens of millions of dollars more raised by the Trump-aligned Republican National Committee, which jointly fundraises with Trump, who filed for re-election on the day of his inauguration.

Trump’s fundraising prowess meant the president had $19.3 million in his campaign warchest going into 2019. That number would have been larger had the president’s campaign not burned through existing reserves — it spent more than $23 million from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31.

An ever-expanding field of Democratic presidential candidates are angling to challenge him. None, however, can yet match Trump’s cash advantage, and all face what promises to be an expensive Democratic primary, where they’ll first battle each other for their party’s nomination.

Read on for the most notable nuggets discovered by Center for Public Integrity reporters within a new batch of Federal Election Commission filings, covering the final weeks of 2018:

75 percent: Percentage of donors that gave Trump’s campaign contributions of $200 or less during the final three months of 2018.

$1,006,954: Estimated amount Trump owed the U.S. Treasury for travel expenses, as of Dec. 31.

$838,000: Total amount Trump’s campaign paid eight firms for legal services during the final three months of 2018.

$692,000: Amount Trump’s campaign paid the consulting firm of his 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, Parscale Strategy LLC, for “digital consulting,” “video production services” and “web development” from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31.

$187,000: Amount Trump’s campaign paid Trump companies, including $4,700 to the Trump Corporation for legal consulting, $150,000 to Trump Tower for rent and $500 to the Trump National Golf Club for a facility rental, during the last three months of 2018.

$344,000: Amount Trump’s campaign paid for private security services from Black Tie Protection Services, Inc., during the last three months of 2018 — a break from the norm of presidents relying solely on the Secret Service.

$289,000: Amount Trump’s campaign paid for Make America Great Again hats and delivery from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at an event in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Jan. 12, 2019. (Mark Nozell)

2020: The election where potential presidential contenders and announced presidential candidates alike already have cash stashed away in existing campaign accounts. As of Dec. 31, these politicos reported the following amounts in their existing coffers: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. ($9.1 million from his Senate campaign committee and $4.7 million from his 2016 presidential campaign committee); Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. ($11.1 million); Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. ($10.3 million); Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. ($4.1 million); Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. ($3.9 million); Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii ($2 million); Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio ($1.4 million); Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. ($1.3 million); former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas ($286,531); former Rep. John Delaney, D-Md. ($268,000). Politicians may use money raised for U.S. Senate or U.S. House campaigns toward a presidential campaign.

$167,000: Amount of debt Booker reported on his latest FEC filing. Nearly all of it — $162,000 — was owed to law firm Perkins Coie for legal services.

$53,441: Amount Republican Mark Harris still owes Red Dome Group, a firm in the center of an election fraud investigation taking place in North Carolina’s 9th District. Harris, despite receiving more votes than his Democratic opponent, has not been seated in Congress because of allegations of absentee ballot tampering in Bladen County involving Red Dome Group contractor Leslie McCrae Dowless. Harris reported these debts on his last filing as well.

85.9: Percent of Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century’s income from Nov. 27 to Dec. 31 that came from its sister “social welfare” nonprofit, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation — $650,000 in all. The foundation does not publicly disclose its donors. Many Democratic presidential hopefuls and congressional members have decried the use of such “dark money” in politics. American Bridge 21st Century Vice President Shripal Shah declined to comment Thursday.

$10,000: Amount in December that Vice President Mike Pence’s Great America Committee, a leadership PAC, paid Green Monster Consulting, the consulting firm of President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. Also of note: Great America spent about $9,500 at the Trump International Hotel — and $600 on model airplanes for donor gifts.

$10,000: Paycheck in December received by Ed Rollins, lead strategist for pro-Trump hybrid super PAC Great America PAC. Overall, Rollins has received $230,000 from 2017 through 2018 from the group. The pro-Trump hybrid PAC raised $242,000 from Nov. 27 to the end of December, for a total of almost $5 million during 2018.

$323,000: Amount raised by pro-Trump hybrid super PAC The Committee To Defend The President in December, for a total of $3.4 million during 2018. The group paid its chairman, Ted Harvey, $12,750 during the final five weeks of 2018.

$3,279.17: Amount Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., spent upgrading his home security system. The Federal Election Commission approved the use of campaign funds for residential security systems in certain instances in 2017.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida addresses the Republican National Convention in 2012. (AP)

2016: The election that won’t end for some also-ran candidates. Republican Marco Rubio is $877,657 in debt for consulting and media production services. Rick Santorum’s 2016 presidential campaign still owes various creditors $177,392, including almost $14,000 interest on a loan Santorum made to his own campaign. Libertarian Gary Johnson owes $150,875 for legal fees, video production and marketing, among other expenses. Republican Scott Walker is $40,635 in debt, mostly to consultants. Republican Jim Gilmore owes $12,275 in legal fees to law and lobbying firm K&L Gates.

2012: The election that continues to bedevil former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose presidential campaign that year remains the king of presidential campaign debt: $4.63 million worth of it, as of Dec. 31. Gingrich’s creditors number in the dozens and include Twitter, Comcast, Verizon and organizations operated by 2012 presidential candidate Herman Cain and lobbyist and former Rep. J.C. Watts.

$36,349: The money Sen. Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign committee — yes, it still exists — earned in November and December from renting the personal information of Romney supporters to a data company and conservative news outlet Newsmax.

$1,020: What Carly for America, a super PAC formed to support the 2016 presidential campaign of businesswoman Carly Fiorina, paid for several sessions of “styling services” and “hair and makeup consulting” from August through December at the Style Me Bar in Virginia. The super PAC lately appears to have little purpose beyond funding beauty services, Uber car rides, furniture and stops at a Ritz-Carlton hotel, according to Federal Election Commission filings. It’s unclear whether Fiorina herself is exclusively benefiting from these expenditures. The super PAC’s treasurer, Brenda Hankins, did not respond to requests for comment. Super PACs, which may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for and against political candidates, face few federal regulations regarding non-political expenditures.

$68,493: Value of Infinex Investments Inc. stock donated through a broker by attorney Steven Holtzman to the environmental super PAC LCV Victory Fund.

2: Number of 2020 elections (primary and general) to which Koch Industries PAC donated the maximum of $5,000 each to Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines in Montana.

$78,500: What San Francisco-based The Gap Inc. PAC contributed to federal candidate committees for both Democrats and Republicans in 2018. The PAC has $51,404 in cash on hand.

Michelle Trachtenberg, left, who portrays Dawn, Buffy’s mystery-laden younger sister Emmy, playfully spears Oscar nominee and series producer-creator Joss Whedon, during the taping of the final episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in Santa Monica, Calif., April 16, 2003. (AP /Damian Dovarganes)

$17,873: Amount of debt for digital ads belonging to Save the Day PAC, started by “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon. The group was largely inactive during the 2018 midterms. In 2016, the group aired get-out-the-vote videos featuring celebrities such as Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson.

$5,000: Refund issued on Dec. 20 by the campaign of Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., to the National Beer Wholesalers PAC. Her campaign faced a run of refund demands from corporate political action committees, including Major League Baseball and Amgen, after she made controversial comments on the campaign trail, including one referencing a “public hanging.”

$6,483,856: Amount of cash on hand reported by former U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign committee. Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat, lost to Republican U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer in November, and hasn’t yet said what she’ll do with this surplus money.

$2.7 million: Donation from Democratic megadonor Tom Steyer to one of his super PACs, NextGen Climate Action Committee, in December. Steyer announced this week he would spend another $40 million in 2019 on efforts to impeach Trump.

$21.4 million: The amount ActBlue, the payment processor that handles the bulk of contributions to Democratic candidates, reported raising for federal campaigns between Nov. 27 and Dec. 31. ActBlue has typically filed monthly disclosures with the Federal Election Commision, providing greater transparency into contributions to Democrats. But on Thursday, it said it will switch to a semi-annual reporting schedule for 2019 to sync up more closely with presidential campaign committees.

$150,780: How much Alexandra Chandler, who ran for Massachusetts’ 3rd Congressional District, raised during the 2017-2018 election cycle. It’s the largest amount of money any openly transgender federal candidate raised last cycle. Had she won the general election, she would have been the first transgender member of Congress.

0.6 percent: Amount of overall expenditures that Put Vets First! PAC, which was the subject of a Center for Public Integrity investigation, put toward the campaigns of candidates running for office in 2018. The PAC, run by former Army Major Brian Arthur Hampton, gave just $10,000 to political candidates out of $1.6 million it raised last year. Most of the rest of its spending went to pay telemarketing companies and fund salaries, including Hampton’s own. Hampton earned about $65,800 from his PAC alone — not counting the salaries he earned from his two related nonprofits, the Center for American Homeless Veterans and the Circle of Friends for American Veterans. Those organizations have refused to provide their most recent annual tax returns to the Center for Public Integrity, as required by law. The Center in January filed a complaint with the IRS. Attorneys general in New York and Virginia are investigating the Center for American Homeless Veterans, and both charities were the subject of a whistleblower complaint to the IRS.

1: Number of campaign money “bundlers” for former Sen. Claire McCaskill, who lost her U.S. Senate race in Missouri. The Jewish organization J Street PAC collected $101,000 worth of checks for McCaskill’s race.

$86,239: The amount of cash on hand reported by Black Economic Alliance PAC. The PAC launched just last year after a group of African American business and civic leaders decided to band together to support candidates committed to increasing economic opportunities for African Americans. The PAC spent $792,264 in independent expenditures supporting winning Democratic House candidates such as Texans Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred.

$16 million: Outstanding balance on an $18 million loan the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took out in September from Bank of America. In all, the committee raised $153 million in 2018, not counting the loan.

$0: Amount the Republican National Committee received in loans last year. In all, the committee raised $141.6 million during 2018.

$0: Amount of cash the Texas Forever super PAC had on hand when it closed its doors in January. Texas Forever, a pop-up super PAC that didn’t have to disclose its donors before the midterm election, spent heavily to discredit Republican Sen. Ted Cruz as he battled now-former Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke to keep his seat. The group filed a termination report with the FEC on Thursday after raising and spending $2.4 million in 2018. Its biggest donor turned out to be Senate Majority PAC, a massive super PAC promoting Democrats.

$63 million: Amount former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg contributed last year to his Independence USA PAC, a super PAC. The PAC spent $38 million helping Democrats get elected in the midterm races. Bloomberg himself is mulling a presidential bid.

$2,307,925: The total amount of contributions made to the Congressional Black Caucus PAC during 2018 from individuals and other political committees. The PAC spent $235,515 directly supporting Democratic House candidates, with that largest amount going to support gun control advocate Lucy McBath, who ran for and won Georgia’s 6th Congressional District seat.

Read more in Money and Democracy

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