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Trump’s fundraising dips, trailing DeSantis

The former president’s PAC raised about $36 million in the first half of the year, down 29% from the prior six months

Former President Donald Trump speaks during an event with Joe Lombardo, Clark County sheriff and Republican candidate for Nevada governor, and republican Nevada Senate candidate Adam Laxalt, on July 8, 2022, in Las Vegas. (John Locher/AP)

Former president Donald Trump’s fundraising slowed in the first half of 2022, falling below $50 million in a six-month period for the first time since he left the White House 18 months ago.

A fundraising committee that directs money to his various political groups raised $17 million in the second quarter of this year, according to a new federal filing. That brings the committee’s haul to at least $36 million so far this year.

The tally does not include new direct contributions to Trump’s Save America PAC, which won’t be disclosed until late this month and have in recent months totaled up to $20,000. The PAC received $23,409 this quarter through WinRed, which processes online transactions for Republican candidates and committees.

The former president’s yields are falling as his time in the White House recedes further into the past. In the same six-month period last year, Trump collected more than $56 million in online donations, and then raised about $51 million from July through December of 2021.

The latest filing puts Trump’s haul behind that of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a possible contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. DeSantis, who delighted conservatives nationally with his hands-off approach to the coronavirus pandemic, raised about $45 million in the first six months of the year, according to state filings.

Small-dollar online donations have dipped across the GOP, said people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal party data, blaming the trend on donors having less disposable income because of inflation and on their fatigue with the relentless fundraising appeals. Numerous Democratic incumbents in close Senate races reported record hauls in the second quarter, including Georgia Sen. Raphael G. Warnock, who brought in $17 million compared to GOP challenger Herschel Walker’s $3.6 million, and Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who raised $7.5 million compared to GOP challenger Adam Laxalt’s $2.8 million.

The new figures offer fresh evidence of the financial muscle Trump could put behind a third run for the presidency, as he sounds out allies about a possible announcement. That dynamic could influence the timing of any possible campaign announcement, as Republicans weigh whether he would clear the field and how his designs on 2024 might reshape this year’s midterms.

Trump and DeSantis are the dominant fundraisers in their party, with Trump maintaining a reservoir of support from small-dollar donors and DeSantis having won the backing of some of the GOP’s most generous megadonors, foremost among them hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, who recently said he would move his company, Citadel, from Chicago to Miami. Next week, DeSantis is holding a trio of fundraisers in Utah. He is asking for $25,000 from couples attending a reception in Salt Lake City hosted by, among others, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and property developer Scott C. Keller, according to invitations obtained by The Washington Post.

The comparison is imperfect. DeSantis is raising money for a committee that can accept unlimited contributions, while donors can only give $10,000 per year to Trump’s joint fundraising vehicle. DeSantis also has an ongoing race for which he’s raising funds — he’s up for reelection this fall. So, too, is Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), another possible contender for his party’s 2024 presidential nomination. He raised $29 million in the first six months of the year, his campaign said.

But Trump is hardly choosing to “hang up his hat and sail into the sunset,” as the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, this week advised him to do. Instead, he’s traveling the country stumping for endorsed candidates, repeating his debunked claims of election fraud and hinting at a third bid for president. He recently told supporters in Las Vegas that he “ran twice and won twice, and may have to do it a third time.”

“He is not only raising money at an unparalleled pace, but he is investing in America First candidates and continuing to grow the MAGA movement into 2022 and beyond,” said Taylor Budowich, a Trump spokesman, in response to the new filings on Friday.

The latest fundraising numbers show that his online solicitations continue to resonate with his base, even as House investigators probing the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol accuse him of deceiving his supporters with promises of a nonexistent fund devoted to contesting election fraud.

“Having campaigned and fundraised for President Trump since 2015, there has been no stronger support and interest for him than there is today,” said Ed McMullen, Trump’s ambassador to Switzerland who also served as his South Carolina state director during the 2016 presidential campaign. “President Trump’s popularity and fundraising continues to grow and thrive at every level.”

Trump’s name and image dominate fundraising appeals for other GOP candidates and party committees, a sign of his enduring pull with the party’s base. Trump has recently moved to rein in other entities’ attempts to fundraise off his coattails, and the tension would only intensify if and when Trump officially announces his candidacy.

“The entire fundraising apparatus in the Republican Party revolves around President Trump,” said Caroline Wren, a Trump-aligned GOP fundraiser who helped organize the rally on Jan. 6. “Candidates and party committees rely on President Trump’s name for their low-dollar fundraising efforts, and when it comes to high-dollar fundraising, President Trump has selflessly spent the past two years raising millions of dollars for America First candidates and organizations, including headlining fundraising events for every major Republican Committee.”

Trump had been largely stockpiling his PAC contributions, but a person familiar with the group who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe its financial details said its spending jumped in June. The increase stemmed from legal bills arising from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, more transfers to support other candidates and committees, and higher costs to raise money online, the person said. The Save America PAC finished June with $112 million on hand, the person said, which would be a net gain of about $11 million from the prior month.

The Save America PAC’s June report to the FEC is due on July 20. Earlier filings show the group dispersed about $6 million in recent months to boost Trump’s preferred candidates in Pennsylvania’s Senate primary and Georgia’s gubernatorial primary. He prevailed in Pennsylvania, successfully elevating celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz above a crowded field, but failed to topple incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp in Georgia.

The committee directed $75,000 in May to the law firm of an attorney representing Cleta Mitchell, a pro-Trump lawyer who advised him on efforts to overturn the results of the election. The attorney, John P. Rowley, did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s PAC also continued to spend money at his properties, directing about $30,000 in recent months to the Trump Hotel Collection.

There are no explicit restrictions on the personal use of funds raised by leadership PACs. Such committees, in addition to boosting like-minded candidates, can be used to pay advisers, cover travel expenses and defray legal bills, among other costs.

One limitation, said experts in campaign finance law, is that people behind such PACs can’t use the money to further their own future campaigns. Travel and other expenses advancing a candidate’s political activities are subject to contribution limits once the candidate has declared for a certain office, these experts said.

Even transferring those funds to a super PAC making independent expenditures boosting the candidate would likely provoke complaints if the money “established the super PAC or is the majority of the money financing the super PAC,” said Charles Spies, a Republican election lawyer.

Trump’s committee reported its dividends as its fundraising practices are under scrutiny by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Amanda Wick, a committee investigator, highlighted in a hearing last month how Trump and his allies raised $250 million in the weeks after the election by barraging his supporters with fundraising emails promoting an “Official Election Defense Fund,” even though no such fund existed.

“Not only was there the big lie,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). “There was the big rip-off.”

A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment about those allegations.

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor focused on securities and commodities fraud, said the Justice Department is unlikely to bring charges related to the fundraising practices highlighted by the committee. Prosecutors would face a host of challenges, he said, including proving that authors of the solicitations had an intent to defraud and countering a possible defense that donors would have chipped in regardless of the substance of the appeal.

Such appeals continue. Four emails sent in May from Trump’s PAC, for example, asked donors to contribute to a “Protect our Elections Fund.”

One subject line: “Future Election Fraud Alert.”

It implored supporters: Please contribute at least $45 or more IMMEDIATELY to the Protect our Elections Fund.”

Josh Dawsey, Dylan Freedman, Anu Narayanswamy and Chris Zubak-Skees contributed to this report.