Back on March 9, Donald Trump’s now-fired campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, assured us that the tens of millions of dollars Trump had given his campaign — which were technically loans and not contributions — would not be returned to the candidate if he could raise the money to pay Trump back.
“He is not going to repay himself,” Lewandowski said flatly.
Trump confirmed this in early May. “I have absolutely no intention of paying myself back for the nearly $50 million I have loaned to the campaign,” he told MSNBC. “This money is a contribution made in order to ‘Make America Great Again’ ” (i.e. Trump’s campaign). The reason was clear: To send a message to potential donors that their money would be used to help elect a Republican president — and not on repaying their nominee (who is a billionaire, after all). That comment also came after some of Trump's aides made less-than-Shermanesque statements about whether he might eventually repay himself for the loans.
Fast-forward to this week, and we still have no indication that Trump is putting his money where his mouth is. His latest campaign finance filing, which covers all of May -- including three weeks after Trump's declaration -- shows Trump still isn’t converting his loans into non-refundable campaign contributions. And an additional $2.2 million Trump gave to his campaign last month was given in the form of a loan -- not a contribution.
In other words, whether it’s his intention or not, he will still be able to repay himself if he wants to, based on the filings.
As future Fix editor Rebecca Sinderbrand noted late Monday night, after the report had been filed:
More than a month ago, his team said he would be making good on his “self-funding” pledge by converting the loans he’s made to his campaign — which accounted for nearly all the funds he’d provided — into a gift in the “near future.” Since then, he has repeatedly referred to that gift in the past tense. If he’s made good on the pledge, it’s not evident on the form tonight, which lists more than $45 million in loans made or guaranteed by Trump, and less than $400,000 in outright contributions.
The near future, it seems, hasn’t arrived. And what’s more, as The Washington Post’s Matea Gold and Anu Narayanswamy report, Trump even spent more than $1 million in payments to companies bearing his name and to reimburse travel expenses for his family — out of the $6.7 million he spent in May.
Hillary Clinton took the unusual step of pointing to her opponent’s campaign finance filing Tuesday:
What is Trump spending his meager campaign resources on? Why, himself, of course. https://t.co/6LsNwf4gTL
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 21, 2016
Trump’s anemic fundraising numbers in May are bad enough. He had secured the GOP nomination for much of the month, making his paltry $5.4 million haul all the more stunning. That’s a time during which you would expect Trump’s fundraising to surge, as party officials — and, ideally, donors — rally to his cause. It didn’t happen.
One way Trump could have assured them he’s serious about the general election and about not wasting their money was to convert his loans to his campaign into donations that couldn’t be returned to him at a later date. And you can bet the fact that he still hasn’t demonstrated he'’s going to do that will not be ignored.
Of course, the mere idea that Trump would one day repay himself for his tens of millions in loans is predicated on the idea that he could actually raise enough money to do so. And he hasn’t shown that he can.