Two days later, Turning Point USA, a conservative group for young Americans, held a sprawling event at Mar-a-Lago, where organizers said Trump’s presence was the key to attracting 750 guests.
Since Trump returned from his New Jersey club to Palm Beach, Fla., this fall, Mar-a-Lago has become a hotbed for Republican fundraisers, with candidates jockeying to line the former president’s pockets in hopes of winning his endorsement, get a photo with him or simply give donors a chance to be in his presence.
The surge in business at his private club spotlights the unparalleled way in which Trump has personally profited from his presidency and his popularity in the GOP — a revenue stream that began during his time in the White House and has only strengthened since he left office. Rather than hosting fellow Republicans, Trump is charging them for the privilege of using his venues.
The Washington Post identified at least 30 events held by GOP candidates or conservative groups at Trump properties through mid-December, based on campaign finance records and social media posts. That’s more than The Post tallied in any previous year; in 2020, The Post counted 13 such fundraisers — most of them paid for by Trump’s own reelection campaign.
Trump’s properties have collected $463,000 in revenue from just nine of the 2021 gatherings that have been disclosed so far in federal campaign finance reports. That sum will grow substantially next month when federal political committees report their spending for the second half of the year.
The disclosures will also show that the total number of fundraisers held at Trump properties in 2021 is far greater than the 30 identified so far by The Post, according to club members and Trump advisers familiar with the events.
Many of the largest gatherings have happened in recent months, such as the Walker fundraiser, a “Spirit of Lincoln Gala” put on by the Log Cabin Republicans and the Turning Point gala, according to people familiar with the schedule. At times in recent weeks, advisers said, there have been several fundraisers in one evening.
The steady business indicates that even after the former president’s lies about the 2020 election, the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters and a polarizing presidency in which many charities and companies stopped patronizing his properties, Trump has held onto a durable base of political business, thanks to his strength inside the Republican Party.
Mar-a-Lago is a particularly popular venue with Trump-inspired candidates, those running for the first time and those competing in crowded Republican primaries, according to people familiar with the events who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private gatherings.
Among those planning to hold fundraisers at the club are GOP Reps. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and Jeff Van Drew (N.J.), according to Trump advisers. In a news release put out by her campaign, Stefanik said she was “honored” to kick off her reelection effort “with my friend President Trump at Mar-A-Lago.” An adviser for Van Drew confirmed an upcoming fundraiser but declined to comment.
Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University, said the rush of paid GOP events at Trump’s club is “indicative of how powerful of a hold he has on the party.”
Zelizer noted that while other former presidents have given paid speeches or taken seats on lucrative boards, they did not rent property to candidates while serving as GOP kingmaker and contemplating another White House run.
“It‘s like a party boss, with one of his homes being the place for wheeling and dealing and picking the next Senate candidate,” Zelizer said.
Taylor Budowich, a Trump spokesman, said the former president’s properties — including his Bedminster club in New Jersey — are sought after by those running for office on the right.
“When it comes to raising money for Republican causes and candidates, there are only two seasons that matter: Bedminster season and Mar-a-Lago season. Through the dozens of fundraisers that will be held at Mar-a-Lago this season, the Trump property and Trump brand will continue to fuel the MAGA wave ahead of the midterms,” he said.
The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment.
The vast majority of the fundraisers held at Trump properties this year have taken place at Mar-a-Lago, the members-only club that now doubles as Trump’s home for much of the year.
The Republican National Committee spent about $175,000 there this year after the national party agreed to move part of its annual spring donor retreat to the club, finance records show. At that dinner, Trump briefly thanked the donors in attendance before launching into a jeremiad about the “rigged” 2020 election and lambasting other Republicans.
Other groups have paid Trump’s business to host events that honor him or former first lady Melania Trump. And sitting U.S. senators have held events at his properties, even as he attacks Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Before Mar-a-Lago cites a price to candidates seeking to book a fundraiser, they are required to fill out a form asking if Trump’s presence is requested, how many photos the candidate needs with him and whether his name will be on the invite, according to a copy of the form reviewed by The Post. A longtime Florida GOP fundraiser, Meredith O’Rourke, is now a point person for scheduling such events at the club, according to multiple people involved. A candidate has to be sponsored by a Mar-a-Lago member to hold an event there.
Two political consultants who have planned events at Mar-a-Lago said the club’s fees were steep but that the fundraisers were key to potentially gaining face time with the former president. The Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment about what it charges.
Some candidates have gravitated to Mar-a-Lago because donors are eager to visit the club and meet Trump, and because Palm Beach is a place where many wealthy contributors live.
“Contrary to what you might hear from other candidates, he’s still by and far the most popular figure in the Republican Party in North Carolina,” said Jonathan Felts, an adviser to Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.), who held a Nov. 11 fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago for his U.S. Senate bid. “Between his popularity and the perceived cool factor of Mar-a-Lago, it has a significant attractiveness in and of itself.”
Trump, who endorsed Budd in June, agreed in advance to speak at the November fundraiser, at which the top-tier tickets cost $10,800 a person. And invitation to the event obtained by The Post noted that the former president would be a “special guest” and featured an image of Mar-a-Lago surrounded by palm trees.
Some candidates hold events at the club because they are still hoping to get his endorsement, according to consultants familiar with their thinking.
Of the 20 candidates who The Post identified as having held events at Trump properties this year, 11 had been endorsed by him by the time of their fundraiser. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), was endorsed by Trump on the very day he held a lunch fundraiser at the club in April.
Holding an event at a Trump property doesn’t guarantee a candidate will get his backing.
Lynda Blanchard, who served as Trump’s ambassador to Slovenia, spent $24,000 in March on a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago for a short-lived campaign for U.S. Senate in Alabama. She brought along a group of state Republicans, who had a framed proclamation from the Alabama GOP calling Trump “one of the greatest and most effective presidents” in American history, Fox News reported.
“Honored to have received a surprise visit from President Trump at my event this weekend!” Blanchard wrote on Facebook, alongside a picture of Trump attending the event — which was held within a few hundred yards from his home.
But Trump never endorsed Blanchard, instead backing Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) for the Senate seat. Brooks, who had loudly echoed Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 election, held his own fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago two weeks after Trump’s endorsement. (Blanchard has since ended her Senate bid and launched a campaign for governor.)
A Trump spokesman did not respond to a question about whether candidates who hold events at his properties have a better chance of getting his endorsement.
The club has drawn business this year from both federal and state candidates, including nine people running for Senate, six running for the House, four for governor and one for state attorney general.
Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Sarah Sanders — Trump’s former White House press secretary — held two events in March and April, paying a total of $59,000, according to campaign finance filings. Sanders did not respond to requests for comment.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), running for reelection in a crowded GOP primary, held an event at the club last week — the first state attorney general The Post has identified as holding a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago this year. In footage from the event posted online, Trump can be seen praising Paxton.
Paxton was indicted in 2015 on charges of felony securities fraud, a case that has not yet gone to trial amid numerous legal challenges. Paxton’s campaign did not reply to requests for comment.
When Trump took office, Mar-a-Lago was the center of Palm Beach’s busy — and lucrative — charity ball circuit. It hosted dozens of events a year, including galas that cost $250,000 or more.
The bulk of that business disappeared in 2017, however, after Trump said there were “very fine people” among the protesters at a violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. Afterward, 22 charities canceled their events, and most stayed away, reducing one of the club’s largest income streams.
Since then, Mar-a-Lago’s shift to court Republican customers has mirrored a broader change in Trump’s businesses, which appear to be shifting from their focus on apolitical luxury brands toward an effort to monetize Trump’s GOP base.
Instead, Trump appears to be focused on new ventures that build on his political supporters, including an e-commerce site that sells “Make America Great Again” hats, and a fledgling social media company that has already attracted more than a billion dollars of potential investment before even launching its product. He is also selling picture books of his time in office.
At Mar-a-Lago, Trump also appears to have shifted one of his oldest businesses to rely on those new customers. While most of Trump’s businesses were hammered by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Mar-a-Lago’s revenue actually went up that year to its highest level since 2017, according to Trump’s financial disclosures.
“He can bring people to the table who will write checks,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who held a golfing fundraiser with Trump in May that raised more than $1 million, according to the Graham. “He has real juice.”
Blake Masters, a U.S. Senate candidate in Arizona, held a fundraiser at the club in November. Trump has not endorsed a candidate his race.
“I‘d been to Mar-A-Lago before, but I’m always blown away when I return. We always knew we wanted to host an event there, and it was especially awesome to learn that President Trump was willing to host us and attend the event. He was a huge draw for dozens of our guests,” Masters said in a statement. He said Trump gave the crowd a history of Mar-a-Lago and criticized Democrats, adding: “His remarks were high energy.”
Josh Mandel, a candidate for U.S. Senate in Ohio candidate, has held a fundraiser at the club — and even attended a recent fundraiser for Herschel Walker, according to an attendee and a Trump adviser. Another Trump adviser said Mandel was a regular visitor to the club.
He was joined by at least five other candidates for different offices who also attended the Walker fundraiser, Trump advisers said. A representative for Mandel did not respond to requests for comment.
The Dec. 4 Turning Point event marked the fifth time the nonprofit group had held its gala at Mar-a-Lago, spokesman Andrew Kolvet said.
“At this point, it’s become tradition. So all the folks that are supporters and fans of Turning Point USA sort of expect the winter gala to happen at Mar-a-Lago,” Kolvet said. He said the former president also plays a role in bringing attendees: “The Trump connection is a draw.”
Trump didn’t speak at the gala itself. But he did address an earlier poolside reception, hosted by Turning Point’s political arm. According to video taken at the event, Trump called Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley a “f---ing idiot” for the way he oversaw the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Kolvet declined to say how much Turning Point spent at Mar-a-Lago this year. In past financial disclosures, however, the group has reported spending about $280,000 on its annual Mar-a-Lago galas — in line with the largest charity events the club attracted before Trump entered politics.
At the fundraiser for Walker, Trump and the retired football player stood on the balcony overlooking the pool as the former president ticked off football statistics from Walker’s career for about 550 attendees, according to someone who was present.
Guests included country singer Travis Tritt, who sang a patriotic tune for the crowd, and attendees were able to view a Heisman trophy and greet football player Doug Flutie.
Contributors who paid for access to a private dinner were served Trump wine with their meal, and the former president took photos with at least 50 donors who had contributed the highest amounts.
Lori Rozsa in Palm Beach, Fla., contributed to this report.