2020 campaign cash
October 21, 2020

President Trump's "sprawling political operation has raised well over $1 billion since he took the White House in 2017 — and set a lot of it on fire," The Associated Press reports. Late Tuesday, the Trump campaign said it entered the final month of the campaign with just $63 million in the bank, far less than the $177 million war chest Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden reported.

Trump and his shared committees with the Republican National Committee, which jointly raised $1.5 billion since the start of 2019, entered October with $251 million on hand, versus $432 million for Biden and his joint committees with the Democrats National Committee, The New York Times reports. What happened to Trump's once-massive cash advantage over Biden?

"They spent their money on unnecessary overhead, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous activity by the campaign staff, and vanity ads," like a $10 million Super Bowl commercial and $1.6 million in the deep-blue Washington, D.C. media market, anti-Trump veteran GOP consultant Mike Murphy told AP. "You could literally have 10 monkeys with flamethrowers go after the money, and they wouldn't have burned through it as stupidly."

The Trump campaign spent significantly more to raise money over the summer than the Biden campaign, and raised significantly less money than Biden.

Other questionable expenditures include $100,000 on Donald Trump Jr.'s book, $39 million in legal and "compliance" fees, and at least $218,000 for Trump surrogates to travel on private jets provided by campaign donors, AP notes. Also, "since 2017, more than $39 million has been paid to firms controlled by [Brad] Parscale, who was ousted as campaign manager over the summer. An additional $319.4 million was paid to American Made Media Consultants, a Delaware limited liability company, whose owners are not publicly disclosed."

Trump's campaign insists it has enough money for the final leg, "almost three times as much as 2016," campaign manager Bill Stepien said Monday. But the campaign has canceled ad buys in Ohio, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, shifting resources to Georgia, Arizona, and Florida, Politico reports. Both campaigns are being aided by outside groups — GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson just poured $75 million into a new super PAC helping Trump — but fellow billionaire Michael Bloomberg's $100 million investment to defeat Trump in Florida "has thrown Trump into a defensive crouch across the arc of Sunbelt states," Politico says, forcing Trump "to spend big to shore up his position and freeing up Democratic cash to expand the electoral map elsewhere." Peter Weber

October 12, 2020

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has his hands full this week as the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, holds Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, but he's still caught up in a tightly-contested re-election battle in South Carolina. His Democratic opponent, Jaime Harrison, made headlines this weekend after his campaign announced he received a record-breaking $57 million in donations in the third quarter of 2020. Graham on Monday said the figure was "impressive," but suggested that it could actually hurt Harrison at the voting booth.

As Graham sees it, the flood of cash is a national response to the fact that he helped confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 and is considered a political ally of President Trump. And he doesn't think it will play well back in the Palmetto state, where he believes there's "a backlash building" since he claims it looks like Harrison is "trying to buy the state."

It's true that Harrison has received a good number of out-of-state donations, but that's pretty common for a candidate in a smaller state like South Carolina, including Graham himself. Tim O'Donnell

October 11, 2020

South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison, who is challenging Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for his seat in the upper chamber, raised $57 million in the third quarter this year, his campaign said Sunday. That figure easily shatters a Senate fundraising record set by Democrat Beto O'Rourke in 2018, when his campaign reeled in $38 million in the final fundraising period in his race against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Polls indicate Harrison is mounting a more-than-formidable challenge against Graham, but there are a few caveats behind the "unfathomable" donation numbers. O'Rourke, for instance, lost to Cruz, albeit in a tight race. And as The Associated Press' Meg Kinnard notes, most of Harrison's fundraising has come from out of state, which is the norm for a state with a small population like South Carolina and will likely be the case when those numbers from the third quarter haul come to light. Graham, who hasn't released his third quarter numbers yet, also receives most of his funding from out-of-state, so total dollar figures probably aren't the clearest predictive method.

But that doesn't mean Harrison won't try to take advantage of all that extra cash while he can, even with time running out. His campaign told Kinnard the plan is to ensure there's not a penny leftover as they make a final push across the state, with a particular focus on reaching out to Black voters. Read more at Politico and The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

September 8, 2020

"Money was supposed to have been one of the great advantages of incumbency for President Trump," and when Joe Biden emerged as the "relatively broke" presumptive Democratic nominee in the spring, "Trump and the Republican National Committee had a nearly $200 million cash advantage," The New York Times reports. Five months later, "Trump's financial supremacy has evaporated," and "some people inside the campaign are forecasting what was once unthinkable: a cash crunch with less than 60 days until the election."

The Trump campaign and RNC have spent more than $800 million of the $1.1 billion they raised since 2009, and some of the expenditures seem a little questionable, the Times suggests, drawing from federal campaign filings:

  • $325,000 to the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island near Jacksonville for scrapped RNC convention
  • $156,000 for airplanes to pull Trump banners in recent months
  • "$110,000 to Yondr, a company that makes magnetic pouches used to store cellphones during fund-raisers so that donors could not secretly record Mr. Trump and leak his remarks"
  • $6 million on "donor mementos"
  • Up to $11 million for two Super Bowl ads
  • $1 million on TV ads in the solidly blue Washington, D.C., area, presumably aimed at the "famously voracious television consumer" president
  • "$4 million into the Trump family businesses since 2019"
  • $21 million in extra legal costs since 2019, including on Trump's legal defense and $666,666.67 to Reuters News & Media for unspecified "legal proceedings — IP resolution"
  • $800,000 boosting former campaign manager Brad Parscale's Facebook and Instagram pages to highlight pro-Trump ads.

Parscale, recently demoted to senior adviser, took a lot of flak for the profligate spending.

"The campaign was spending all this money on silly things," and "Brad's businesses kept making money," a senior White House official told New York Magazine last month. "He's just milking the family, basically." Veteran GOP strategist Ed Rollins accused Parscale of spending "like a drunken sailor," telling the Times, "If you spend $800 million and you're 10 points behind, I think you've got to answer the question 'What was the game plan?'"

Parscale told the Times all his spending decisions were "under the very close eye of the family" or "in partnership with Ronna McDaniel," the RNC chairwoman. He called his online donation program a huge success.

Nicholas Everhart, a GOP strategist, said much of the money burn was simply the "peril of starting a re-election campaign just weeks after winning," noting that "a presidential campaign costs a lot of money to run." Read more at The New York Times. Peter Weber

July 2, 2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee out-raised President Trump and the Republican National Committee in both June and the second quarter, according to campaign finance numbers released Tuesday. Biden and the DNC jointly raised $141 million in June and $282.1 in the quarter, Biden's campaign announced Wednesday night, hours after the Trump campaign said it and the RNC had jointly hauled in $131 million in June and $266 for the quarter. The Trump-RNC fund still has more cash on hand, $295 million; Biden's campaign did not disclose cash on hand.

Biden's campaign said that 68 percent of June's donors were new to the campaign and the overall average online donation was $34. Trump's campaign also touted its small-donor fundraising, noting it raised a daily record of $14 million just on Trump's birthday. Biden and the DNC formed its joint fundraising committee in May, allowing larger donations, but while Biden's fundraisers have been held online, Trump resumed in-person fundraisers last month.

A June 11 Trump fundraiser in Dallas, requiring $580,600 per couple, brought in more than $10 million, and Trump raised another $3 million at a June 13 fundraiser at his New Jersey golf club, The Washington Post reports. Trump is headlining another $580,600-per-couple fundraiser at an undisclosed private residence in Hillsboro Beach, Florida, on July 10. Campaign finance laws restrict donations to candidates to $5,600 per individual, the Post notes, but "a single person can give more than 103 times that amount to the joint fundraising committee." Peter Weber

May 12, 2020

While he is still bringing in a hefty amount of money, President Trump's fundraising pace slowed down for the second straight month, with his re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee announcing on Monday they raised more than $61.7 million in April.

The campaign raised $86 million in February and $63 million in March. Brad Parscale, Trump's campaign manager, said in a statement the April fundraising is proof Trump's "consistent record of unprecedented action is met with overwhelming enthusiasm and support."

Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic National Committee on Monday said they raised $60 million in April. The average donation was $32.63, "showing continued grassroots strength even in this time of crisis," the campaign said. Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee. Catherine Garcia

January 3, 2020

Sen. Amy Klobuchar's (D-Minn.) presidential campaign brought in $11.4 million in the last three months of 2019, the campaign said Friday, a significant increase from the $4.8 million she raised in the third quarter. The fourth-quarter numbers are a personal best for Klobuchar, and her campaign attributed the spike in donations to a "massive surge in grassroots support" after her strong performances in fall debates. A total of 145,126 people donated to Klobuchar from October through December, her campaign said, and the average contribution was only $32.

The uptick in donations gives the Minnesota senator "the financial heft to try to turn that into a strong showing in neighboring Iowa, the first caucus state and the key to Klobuchar's campaign strategy," Politico reports, but she "still lags behind the top Democratic candidates in both polling and fundraising." Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he raised $34.5 million in the fourth quarter, Pete Buttigieg reported $24.7 million, former Vice President Joe Biden said he brought in $22.7 million, and Andrew Yang also out-raised Klobuchar with $16.5 million. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has said she raised more than $17 million.

President Trump's campaign announced Thursday that it raised $46 million in the fourth quarter and had $102 million in cash on hand. Still, "the idea that you're within striking distance of an incumbent president — not considering the party fundraising — I think that's pretty solid," said Rufus Gifford, finance director for Barack Obama's 2012 presidential campaign. "You've got to feel encouraged as a Democrat. There's obviously a lot of energy out there. Peter Weber

January 2, 2020

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) raised $34.5 million in the fourth quarter, with more than 1.8 million donors chipping in an average of $18.53 per donation, the Sanders campaign announced Thursday. That brings Sanders' 2019 total to more than $96 million. His fourth-quarter haul, which includes $18 million from December alone, is the single biggest sum for any Democrat this election cycle. Candidates don't have to report their donations from October, November, and December until Jan. 31, but presidential hopefuls with good financial news to share tend to share it earlier. The Sanders campaign has not yet reported how much cash it has on hand or how much it spent last quarter.

The only other top-tier Democratic candidate who has reported total Q4 donations is Pete Buttigieg, who raised $24.7 million. Andrew Yang said Thursday he raked in $16.5 million last quarter, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) has announced $3.4 million in fourth-quarter donations, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said he has raised more than $6 million, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — the final top-tier candidate, along with former Vice President Joe Biden — told donors she has raised at least $17 million and is shooting for $20 million.

President Trump's re-election campaign has outpaced all the Democrats and has more than $150 million cash on hand. There are still 15 Democrats running for president, and there is no clear frontrunner ahead of the first contest, the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3. The Sanders campaign said Wednesday it has gotten 5 million donations, a huge number bolstered, the campaign suggested, by repeated serial donations of $2.70. Peter Weber

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