A steep drop in support from wealthy donors has left Donald Trump dependent on small-dollar contributors in the final stretch of the 2016 race, creating an acute cash gap that could hurt down-ticket Republicans fighting for their political lives.
Supporters sent the GOP presidential nominee contributions of $200 or less at a faster clip this month than they did in September. But the businessman was still vastly outraised by Democratic rival Hillary Clinton because of tepid backing from those who write big checks, new campaign finance reports show.
The number of six-figure contributions flowing to a joint fundraising committee that benefits the Republican Party fell sharply in the first 19 days of October, with just 34 donors giving $100,000 or more, down from 167 in September. A dozen pro-Trump super PACs together raised just about $2 million. And the candidate himself gave less than $31,000 to his campaign during that period, leaving him nowhere close to the $100 million or more that he has repeatedly claimed he will spend to finance his White House run.
On Friday, Trump scrambled to combat the perception that he was holding back resources, saying he was wiring his campaign $10 million, as the Wall Street Journal first reported. But he also declined to confirm that his donations would end up reaching $100 million, telling Fox News, “We’ll see what’s needed.”
Meanwhile, he and the GOP face a yawning financial disadvantage. Together with the national party and his allied super PACs, Trump brought in $795 million as of Oct. 19, compared with $1.3 billion raised for Clinton, campaign finance filings show.
The dearth of big-dollar donations hurts the Republican National Committee, which relies on the presidential nominee to pull in large contributions to finance its national get-out-the-vote operation.
Trump’s fundraising efforts have generated just $57.6 million in transfers to the national party this cycle, less than half of the $130.6 million that 2012 nominee Mitt Romney helped raise for the RNC by this point four years ago, filings show.
There is unlikely to be a big surge of cash coming in the final days. The Trump campaign did not set up a formal schedule of high-dollar fundraising events for the last two weeks of the race, while Clinton had 41 on the books, The Washington Post reported this week.
RNC spokeswoman Lindsay Walker said party leaders continue to raise money for the entire ticket. She described the field organization as “fully funded,” with more than 3,100 paid staffers on the ground.
But veteran Republicans are worried.
“I think it’s going to have a severe impact in tight races where there won’t be the necessary funds to complete the organizational effort to ID voters and get them to the polls,” said Fred Malek, the finance chairman of the Republican Governors Association. “In tight races, it’s going to be pivotal.”
Lisa Spies, a longtime party fundraiser who worked on Romney’s campaign, said Trump’s failure to win over major donors will damage the entire party.
“His lack of a serious finance operation, combined with unexpectedly low personal funding, have not only left his campaign underfinanced, but also hurt the RNC’s efforts,” she said, adding that “the reduced ground game is impacting all Republicans.”
Trump campaign officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Meanwhile, Trump’s outside allies are disorganized and underfunded. Altogether, pro-Trump super PACs have raised $60 million — less than one-third of the $188 million collected by pro-Clinton groups. Financial support for pro-Trump groups nearly collapsed this month as his billionaire backers showed little interest in plowing more money into the race.
The biggest haul was reported by Great America PAC, which pulled in just $1.9 million, including $100,000 from Wisconsin shipping magnate Richard Uihlein. The super PAC has raised an additional $3.5 million since Oct. 19, said co-chairman Eric Beach.
But Rebuilding America Now, a group founded by Trump friend Thomas Barrack, collected just $215,000 in October. And it appears that the Committee for American Sovereignty, which aimed to raise $20 million before the Republican convention in July, will amass barely half a million dollars in all after collecting $47,000 this month.
“It’s just gotten worse,” said GOP strategist Doug Watts, who serves as the group’s national executive director. The main problem, he said, has been mixed signals from Trump’s campaign about whether supporters should give to super PACs — and if so, which ones.
There was “a sense among people that if they didn’t have a clear understanding of who, how and when to contribute, they just weren’t going to do it,” Watts said.
There were no signs of further donations in October from Trump’s biggest benefactors, Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who so far have given more than $11 million to super PACs and the party to support him.
Also absent on the finance reports this month: the family of hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, whose members contributed $13.5 million to supporting Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the primaries but have given just $3.4 million for Trump to date.
And after spending $2 million on ads hitting Clinton this month, Wisconsin roofing billionaire Diane Hendricks turned her focus to her home state Senate race. Her super PAC, Reform America Fund, spent $2.2 million in the past 10 days hammering Democratic candidate Russ Feingold.
Dallas banker Andy Beal, who put $2 million into a super PAC to support Trump earlier this fall, said he decided not to spend any more money after his research showed that the ads did not have much impact. He said he is worried that unfair media coverage is distorting the image that the public has of the real estate developer, whom he has known for about a decade.
“People are afraid of Donald Trump when they shouldn’t be,” Beal said. “Donald is a good guy.”
As the race has entered the final stretch, Trump has turned to his loyal base of supporters for financial resources, pelting them with email appeals and text messages asking them to contribute funds.
“We need your help raising $1 million,” read an Oct. 1 email signed by Trump. “And because this is so important, I am going to EXTEND our TRIPLE-MATCH opportunity for the next 24 hours.” Any donations of $75 of more, he would “proudly triple match.”
In the 19 days that followed, small donors gave nearly $35 million in contributions of $200 or less to support his campaign, more than half of the $61 million he raised in October.
Trump put in just $30,681.67 himself, all in-kind payroll donations — less than the $50,479 that Clinton gave in-kind to her campaign during the same period.
But the GOP nominee assured his supporters Friday that he was “putting up tremendous amounts of money.”
“I’m spending money like crazy,” he said at a rally in Manchester, N.H. “I’ll probably have over maybe close to or over $100 million of my money spent on the campaign. But there’s something nice about that.
“Unless I lose,” he added, “in which case I say, ‘What was that all about?’ ”
Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.