And while most of that $600 million probably went to buy advertising, I wouldn’t be too surprised if the favored officers of the shell company got nice salaries, nor if there were ways that it was used to funnel campaign contributions back to Trump himself.
We may never know. But I know this: Trump’s supporters couldn’t care less, even if it’s their money.
That’s because he has spent years convincing them that self-dealing and graft are perfectly fine. The only question is whether it’s the people you like who are benefiting.
This was always Trump’s argument about unethical behavior: not that he’s innocent and others are guilty, but that everyone is guilty, so we shouldn’t worry about his misdeeds. Everyone is corrupt, everyone is on the take, everyone mistreats women, we’re living in a world without morals or principles and all that matters is whether you win.
He never made any bones about it. Even in 2016, when Hillary Clinton charged that he was probably refusing to show his tax returns because he paid no taxes (which turned out to be pretty much true), he replied, “That makes me smart.” Obeying the rules is for suckers and chumps.
By now, Trump’s supporters — who will remain his supporters after he leaves office — firmly believe that. If he pulls a new scam and they’re his victims? That just shows what a genius he is.
I’m not even exaggerating. If you took 100 people committed enough to Trump to send donations when he solicits help with the Georgia Senate runoffs, then told them that much of it ended up in Trump’s bank account, do you think they’d feel cheated? Of course not.
And that could well happen. Since Election Day, Trump has raised $250 million, $60 million of which has gone to his new leadership PAC — and he’s done it by telling supporters that he needs the money to fund lawsuits trying to overturn the election or keep up the fight in Georgia. He will be able to use that money for a wide variety of vaguely defined purposes, as long as it is not used explicitly in support of another presidential run.
He could, for instance, fund his own travel around the country, or pay for advertising getting his ideas out, or donate money to other candidates to maintain their loyalty. In other words, it’s basically a slush fund.
But there are many ways Trump could use his leadership PAC to put money in his own pocket by applying the techniques he used quite profitably as president. The PAC could rent office space in Trump Tower, just as Trump’s reelection committee did. (As the Times notes, the reelection continues to pay $37,000 a month for space there, even though its headquarters is in an office building in Virginia.)
The leadership PAC could also hold events at other Trump properties, just as many Republican organizations have for the past four years. This began early on: As the District of Columbia attorney general charges in a lawsuit, Trump’s inaugural committee paid inflated rates to rent space in the Trump International hotel. At first the hotel was going to charge a mind-boggling $450,000 a day for the use of a ballroom; that number was eventually reduced to a still-incredible $175,000 a day.
The inaugural committee was a nonprofit, which subjects it to rules that may have been violated, as the D.C. suit alleges. But the leadership PAC may be able to get away with more. It could, for instance, hold monthly “Thank you President Trump!” events at his properties— mini-Fyre Festivals that Trump would charge enormous rates to host, while attendees got a mayonnaise sandwich, a cash bar and the knowledge that they were helping the Trump Organization cling to profitability.
They’d consider it an honor.