Last month, Donald Trump finally appeared to be on par with Hillary Clinton in fundraising — a sign that he would have the resources to compete with her on the ground and in the air in the last stretch of the White House contest.
But new Federal Election Commission filings show that Trump’s campaign transferred in much less than anticipated from its joint fundraising committees with the Republican National Committee, sharply reducing his expected monthly take. And of the cash the campaign raised, it spent fitfully, making little effort to expand its meager field operation at a key juncture in the race.
The GOP presidential nominee’s limited investments in July illustrate Trump’s tightfisted approach to building a national infrastructure, a frugality that has forced the RNC to effectively serve as the campaign’s organizing arm.
The party’s field operation — and its top strategists — are emerging as even more essential as the campaign copes with its second leadership upheaval of the summer.
RNC officials have said that their ground operations are far ahead of where they were in the 2012 race, with 504 field organizers now deployed in 16 states, up from 461 in June. The responsibility for identifying voters, registering them, tracking absentee ballots and getting supporters to the polls on Nov. 8 largely falls on those party staff members.
“The major reason we are fundraising through the RNC is that a huge part of that fundraising will support a ground game, which not only benefits Donald, but benefits other people on the ticket,” said Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s national campaign finance chairman. “In essence, our strategy is to do a lot more in conjunction with the RNC.”
But Trump allies fear that the real estate tycoon is leaving himself vulnerable by outsourcing his voter mobilization program to the party, which has a responsibility to the entire GOP ticket.
“They have to basically make sure that in those eight or nine states that matter, they have their own imprint,” Ed Rollins, senior strategist for the pro-Trump Great America PAC, said of the campaign. “The risk is obvious. If in three or four weeks from now he’s not doing better in the polls, there are going to be big pressures inside the [RNC] building to help out Senate and congressional races. There will be cross-pressures to take that money and use it.”
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus on Sunday dismissed the notion that resources could be withheld from Trump, noting that the party’s victory program works to help the ticket as a whole.
“There is no moving the turnout operation or the absentee ballot program away from Donald Trump and in someone — some senator’s favor,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “It doesn’t work that way.”
It seems unlikely that Trump will reverse course and finance a costly field program at this point in the race. The billionaire has dismissed many traditional campaign tactics as a waste of money, relying instead on his vast social media reach and the intense media coverage of his raucous rallies.
Clinton has built a massive organization in pursuit of the presidency, with 705 staff members on the payroll last month. Trump’s campaign had just 82 individuals on the payroll in July, up from 76 in June, FEC reports show.
The Democratic nominee raced through $108 million by the end of July on TV ad production and airtime, according to federal filings. Meanwhile, the Trump campaign launched its first general election TV ad last week, saying it planned to spend $4.8 million on a 10-day ad buy in Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida.
“We have said all along that between Donald’s coverage and online presence and the digital advertising we’re doing, we think that has a significant presence,” Mnuchin said. “I do think you will see us ramping up with less than 80 days to go. We are spending what we need to be effective. ”
This month, the GOP nominee announced he had nearly matched Clinton’s fundraising for the first time, a development that sparked worries inside her campaign. Trump officials said they raised $82 million in conjunction with two RNC joint fundraising committees in July, just shy of the $90 million that Clinton collected in cooperation with the Democratic Party.
But Trump does not appear to be harvesting as much cash from his joint fundraising committees as Clinton is from hers. His campaign said that it raised $64 million with the RNC through online donations and direct mail in July, ostensibly mostly small contributions that would be directed to his committee, rather than the party.
But Trump’s campaign reported just $36 million in receipts last month. That included $14.5 million transferred from the joint fundraising committees and a $2 million donation from Trump himself, who has now given a total of $52 million to finance his White House bid.
It is unclear why more money was not transferred from the joint fundraising committees, which are not scheduled to file their next finance reports until Oct. 15.
Mnuchin said the campaign had ample cash on hand. “We were not focused on clearing out on every single penny at the end of month,” he said.
Meanwhile, Clinton raised $62.3 million for her campaign in July, including more than $30 million raised through two joint fundraising committees. She tore through $49 million of her funds in July — nearly three times more than the $18.4 million Trump spent.
Nearly half of Trump’s spending, $8.4 million, was directed to one company: Giles-Parscale, a Web-design firm whose president, Brad Parscale, serves as the Trump campaign’s digital director. The San Antonio-based company, which got its foothold designing websites for the Trump Organization in 2011, has been paid $12.5 million overall, largely to place digital ads.
Other large sums spent by the Trump campaign in July went to travel ($3.2 million) and merchandise ($1.8 million). The campaign doled out $773,000 to reimburse various Trump-owned companies for expenses. In all, nearly $7.7 million has been paid out to Trump companies or Trump family members to cover campaign expenditures, filings show.
While Trump’s payroll remained a fraction of Clinton’s last month, he continued to pay one former staff member: ousted campaign manager Corey Lewandowski received his regular $20,000 monthly fee on July 6 — two weeks after he was jettisoned and had been hired by CNN as a political commentator. Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said that the July payment was for Lewandowski’s work in June before he left the campaign.
Altogether, since the beginning of the 2016 campaign, Trump’s campaign has spent $89.5 million on his bid, while Clinton’s operation has invested almost $319 million.
The two candidates headed into the final three months of the 2016 race in starkly different financial positions.
Clinton’s campaign had more than $58 million in the bank, while Priorities USA Action, the main super PAC flanking her bid, boasted nearly $39 million on hand.
Trump’s committee had more than $38 million in reserves, while two of his biggest super PACs reported less than $4 million between them as August began.
Rollins said he is deeply concerned about the financial disparity in outside money and hopes to organize a meeting this week with the other pro-Trump groups to see if they can pool their resources.
“The campaign has to say, ‘Please, give these guys money,’ because I need big money and I need it quick,” he said. “There is no reason we can’t all do it collectively, but we have to do it quick.”