Are Trump's indictment-inspired cash bounces starting to fall flat?

What was once a reliable money train may be showing signs of slowing

Hand holding cash over American Flag background
(Image credit: Illustrated / Getty Images)

In spite of (or perhaps because of) his growing suite of criminal indictments, former President Donald Trump has managed to dominate the 2024 GOP presidential primary field thanks in no small part to a preternatural talent for spinning his personal legal peril into campaign finance gold. Trump's reelection bid "reported massive surges in donations in the wake of both his first indictment in late March in New York and the federal indictment returned in June," CNBC reported last month, pointing out the campaign has deliberately used his criminal exposure as a fundraising tactic by putting the various charges "front and center" in his many appeals for cash. So when Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith announced a historic third indictment against Trump — this time for his efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election — it came as little surprise that the former president's campaign team was quick to leverage the move as yet another fundraising opportunity, complete with a line of "I Stand with Trump" tee-shirts available in exchange for a $47 dollar donation to their Trump Save America Joint Action Committee.

This time, however, there are signs that the campaign's once-reliable post-indictment donation bump may be flattening, even as his legal fees skyrocket accordingly. Is Trump's indictment-fueled cash flow starting to dry up, or can the thrice-indicted candidate continue to expect an influx of funds with each new charge against him?

What are the commentators saying?

Trump's trend of using his criminal hurdles to "turbocharge" his donor base "may be ebbing," Politico reported on Tuesday, citing newly filed Federal Election Committee data that showed "the former president's fundraising did not spike as high after his second indictment in June compared to his first one in the spring."

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Still, NBC News noted, despite that drop between the first and second spikes, the "single best fundraising day of his entire campaign was the day he was arraigned in New York state," while "the second best day was the day he was arraigned in Miami." To the extent that those peaks may be fading with each successive indictment, they are still sizable peaks in Trump's larger fundraising arc.

"Whether that life cycle continues to sustain itself remains to be seen," cautioned U.S. New & World Report. The fact that Trump's second indictment — for mishandling classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate — "is widely considered to be more serious than the first," the outlet pointed out nevertheless, "his campaign saw only about a third of that fundraising power" from the first to the second. "Trump's joint fundraising committee is outperforming his rivals among small-dollar donors," Politico said. "But the new data is a warning sign that further legal jeopardy for Trump may not be the fundraising savior it once was as his committees burn through cash."

Trump's potential fundraising slump comes as his campaign "has reportedly paid over $40 million in legal fees so far in 2023," well outpacing the funds it's raised over the past quarter, Axios reported. "Any charges in the election interference case would likely mean more money is diverted to legal fees as the 2024 election moves closer to primary season."

"In order to combat these heinous actions by Joe Biden's cronies and to protect these innocent people from financial ruin and prevent their lives from being completely destroyed, the leadership PAC contributed to their legal fees to ensure they have representation against unlawful harassment," Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung affirmed to CNN, several days before Smith announced his latest round of indictments.

What's next?

Already some of Trump's GOP rivals for the party's presidential nomination have begun to seize upon the campaign's finance structure, with former Trump ally and confidante-turned-challenger Chris Christie attacking Trump for "taking $25, $50, $100 from everyday Americans who believe they're giving it to him to help elect him president" and using it for "paying his legal fees."

And those legal fees are likely to only grow from here. In addition to Smith's latest indictment filing, Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis is widely expected to file her own charges against Trump in the coming weeks for his role in pressuring that state's election officials during the 2020 race. Already his team has begun creating a separate legal defense fund to "handle some of the crush of legal bills stemming from the investigations and criminal indictments involving him and a number of employees and associates," the New York Times reported last month, noting that "it was not expected to cover Mr. Trump's own legal bills."

Ultimately, however, "where the Trump campaign's pockets have grown shallow, support for his campaign has remained steadfast," U.S. World & News Report concluded. And with the power of the presidency able to make most (although not all) of his legal challenges go away, any fundraising dips may end up mattering less in the long term, so long as his poll numbers remain right where they are.

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Rafi Schwartz

Rafi Schwartz is a Politics Writer with The Week, where he focuses on elections, Congress, and the White House. He was previously a contributing writer with Mic, a senior writer with Splinter News, and the managing editor of Heeb Magazine. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, GOOD, The Forward, and elsewhere.

Rafi currently lives in the Twin Cities, where he does not bike, run, or take part in any team sports. He does, however, have a variety of interests, hobbies, and passions.