Where Do Trump’s Donations Go?
He can’t spend his PACs’ millions on 2024 and isn’t using much in midterms.
By Karl Rove, July 27, 2022 6:47 pm ET
Former President Donald Trump addresses the America First Policy Institute’s America First Agenda Summit in Washington, July 26.PHOTO: TOM WILLIAMS/ZUMA PRESS
What will Donald Trump do with his campaign cash?
The former president controls four political-action committees—Save America; Make America Great Again, Again! Inc.; Trump Make America Great Again PAC; and Make America Great Again Action. The PACs’ cash on hand as of June 30 came, respectively, to $103.1 million, $10.3 million, $7.3 million and $700,000, giving Mr. Trump more than $121 million at his disposal.
In comparison, at the end of June, the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the National Republican Congressional Committee together had $174.8 million. Mr. Trump has assembled a war chest equivalent to 70% of that of these national GOP groups.
That won’t surprise the many Republican small donors who are pummeled with requests from the former president’s causes. In a 24-hour stretch this week, I received 25 fundraising pleas from Trump World beseeching me to help save America from the Democrats. In exchange for donations, I was offered a blue “Official 2022 Trump Card,” then a gold one, “Limited Edition Trump Wine Glasses” (I don’t drink), an “EXCLUSIVE Trump Rally Shirt,” and a slot on the “Official 2022 Trump Donor Wall.” Alongside gifts, the emails offered flattery: I was called a “Trump MVP,” one of the former president’s “Most Loyal Supporters,” an “America First Trump Patriot” and “Patriot of the Month.” I even got an invitation to join the “American Defense Task Force.”
These requests have apparently produced a flood of contributions that donors think will help defeat Democrats. But it isn’t clear that much of Mr. Trump’s lucre is going to help in the midterms.
One option off the table is converting that money to a Trump presidential campaign, according to federal election lawyers. If Mr. Trump decides he must upstage the midterms and announce this fall rather than waiting, he’ll immediately need to file a new committee for his presidential campaign to pay his political expenses. That’ll mean asking for donations at the same time GOP candidates for Senate, House, governor, state legislatures and local offices are scrambling for dollars to win midterms. Candidates, donors and grass-roots activists are sure to be angry that the former president put his personal interests above those of the party if he announces before the midterms.
So what can Mr. Trump use his existing cash stash for? Well, financially supporting other candidates, but he hasn’t shown much interest in that so far. Save America, the former president’s leadership PAC, has given $5,000 each—the maximum by law—to 60 House and 13 Senate candidates. This $365,000 is a pittance, and it’s impossible for him to use up Save America’s remaining $103.1 million this year simply with direct contributions. If Republicans were running candidates for every House and Senate seat this year and Mr. Trump gave each $5,000, that would amount to only $2.35 million.
One way to use more of this money is through independent expenditures on behalf of candidates, but Mr. Trump hasn’t devoted much cash to that either. Save America transferred $2.6 million to a Georgia group in an effort that failed to defeat Gov. Brian Kemp and $500,000 to a super PAC opposing Rep. Liz Cheney in her Aug. 16 primary.
The former president’s Make America Great Again! Inc. has made roughly $394,000 in independent expenditures, all in GOP primaries to candidates he endorsed. Mr. Trump put $193,000 toward TV for Hershel Walker’s Georgia Senate bid, about $69,400 for direct mail and text messaging for Adam Laxalt in the Nevada Senate primary, and a little under $25,000 to boost Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and attack Mr. Oz’s two Senate primary opponents. The rest was split among four Trump-backed House candidates in Georgia and South Carolina, where the former president notched one win and three losses.
With more than $121 million left in his four committees, Mr. Trump has quite a bit to spend on independent expenditures to help his endorsed favorites in their general election contests. Legally, the former president can’t coordinate with candidates, but he could help rescue those who are obviously in need, such as Ohio Senate hopeful J.D. Vance. The Trump-backed candidate was outraised by his Democratic opponent 4 to 1 last quarter. Mr. Vance is compounding his problem by making the payback of a $700,000 personal loan to his primary campaign a priority.
If Mr. Trump doesn’t start actually deploying these funds to help candidates he’s backed for Congress, governor and other statewide offices, donors might not keep giving to the former president’s causes. Trump-endorsed candidates might start to wonder how strong an ally the former president really is, beyond lending his name in a primary.
Many Republicans running are parroting Mr. Trump’s views, especially his discredited claims about the 2020 election. We’ll soon see if he backs those who’ve backed him—and how they fare if he does.
Mr. Rove helped organize the political-action committee American Crossroads and is author of “The Triumph of William McKinley” (Simon & Schuster, 2015).