“You know, numbers just came out for her [Hillary Clinton] where she raised like $50 or $60 million and 20 people gave it. I think it was — let’s see, 20 people gave her $60 million in her fund. $60 million from 20 people. I want to get a list of those 20 people. Oh, those 20 people, I want to find out who they are, I want to find out how many I know. But I’ll tell you what, 20 people gave her $60 million. And that’s what I’ve been saying, folks. Look, I know the game better than anybody and the game is played that way. They own her. They own her.”
— Donald Trump, remarks at a rally in Ashburn, Va., Aug. 2, 2016
We have puzzled and puzzled over these remarks until our puzzler was sore.
As usual, the Trump campaign did not respond to requests to explain them. But as best we can tell, Trump is claiming that the announcement that the Hillary Clinton campaign raised more than $60 million in July was the result of donations from just 20 people.
In fact, Trump mentions “20 people” six times, clearly trying to drive home the message that Clinton is in the pocket of her big contributors. ‘They own her,” he said. “They own her.”
But there’s a very big problem with Trump’s claim.
Clinton announced on Aug. 2 that her campaign had raised $63 million in July. Two joint fundraising committees that Clinton has with the Democratic National Committee brought in $26 million more for the national and state parties in July, giving her a monthly total of about $90 million.
The full details of the contributions are not due at the Federal Election Commission until Aug. 20. Presumably, Trump, in citing $60 million, was referring to the $63 million raised for Clinton’s campaign.
But here’s the rub: Under the law, contributions to Clinton’s campaign are limited to $2,700 per person in the primary season and $2,700 for the general election. Primary contributions generally can be collected until the official nomination, at the end of July this year, so in theory a person could have contributed as much as $5,400 in July. But that’s the maximum possible that can be given directly to the campaign. (The limits are much higher, about $100,000, to national party committees.)
The Clinton campaign said that the average donation was $44 and that about 54 percent of the donations came from new donors.
So let’s do the math: That works out to about 1.4 million contributors for the $63 million, a far cry from “20 people.”
Update: It turns out a Clinton campaign spokesman had tweeted out a figure. Some people apparently donated more than once, so the figure is actually 900,000.
— Josh Schwerin (@JoshSchwerin) August 2, 2016
The Trump campaign announced on Aug. 3 that it had raised $82 million with the Republican National Committee, but it did not detail how much had been raised for his campaign committee. Officials suggest that its fundraising has also been powered by small donors.
But let’s not forget that in July, The Washington Post reported that sixty mega-donors gave at least $100,000 each to a joint committee raising funds for Trump and the GOP, accounting for $15.4 million from late May until the end of June. That was 30 percent of the $52.3 million that Trump raised overall over the five-week period.
So why does Trump claim that only 20 donors provided $60 million in July to Clinton? Beats us.
Our colleague Anu Narayanswamy looked at the big donors to the Clinton-DNC Joint Fundraising Committee and found that no one tops $1 million. The 20 biggest donors to Priorities USA Action, a Super PAC, have given about $75 million, according to opensecrets.org., but that’s over the course of the campaign, not just one month.
The Pinocchio Test
There’s a huge difference between 900,000 and 20. In an effort to spin a narrative that Clinton is controlled by a small group of donors, Trump relies on innuendo and fantasy math. In reality, Clinton raised her campaign cash in July from a substantial base of small donors.
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