Facing multiple intensifying investigations, former President Donald J. Trump has quietly begun diverting more of the money he raises away from his 2024 presidential campaign and towards a political action committee that he has used to pay his personal legal fees.
The change, which went unannounced except in the fine print of his online disclosures, raises new questions about how Mr. Trump is paying for his mounting legal bills — which could run into the millions of dollars — as he prepares for at least two criminal trials. and whether his PAC, Save America, is facing a financial crisis.
When Mr. Trump started his 2024 campaign in November, for every dollar raised online, 99 cents went to his campaign and one cent went to Save America.
But internet archives show that he adjusted that split sometime in February or March. Now his campaign’s share has been reduced to 90 percent of donations and 10 percent will go to Save America.
The effect of that change is potentially significant: Based on fundraising figures announced by his campaign, the fine print maneuver may have already diverted at least $1.5 million to Save America.
And the group’s existence has enabled Mr. Trump to have his small backers pay for his legal fees, rather than paying for them himself.
Steven Cheung, a spokesperson for Mr Trump, has not responded to detailed questions about why the Trump operation has changed the way the funds he raises are distributed. Save America technically owns its supporters’ list of email addresses and phone numbers — one of the former president’s most prized assets — and the campaign essentially pays the PAC for access to that list, he explained.
“Because the campaign aims to ensure that every dollar donated to President Trump is spent in the most cost-effective way, a fair market analysis was conducted to determine that renting email lists would be more efficient by dividing fundraising between change the two entities. ”, said Mr. Cheung in a written statement.
The different rules governing what political action committees and candidate campaign committees can pay are both dizzying and somewhat contentious. But in general, a PAC cannot spend money directly on the candidate’s campaign, and a campaign committee cannot pay directly for things that personally benefit the candidate.
For more than a year before Trump ran for 2024, Save America paid bills related to various investigations into the former president and his allies. In February 2022, the PAC announced it had $122 million in its treasury.
By the start of 2023, the PAC’s available cash had fallen to $18 million, filings show. The rest was spent on staff salaries, on the costs of Mr Trump’s political activities last year — including some spending on other candidates and groups — and in other ways. That included the $60 million transferred to MAGA Inc., a super-PAC that supports Mr. Trump. And more than $16 million went toward paying legal bills.
Mr. Trump’s rivals do not share their online revenues in the same way with an affiliate PAC. The websites of former Vice President Mike Pence, former Ambassador Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina send all proceeds to their campaign committees. The same goes for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Vivek Ramaswamy.
“I think in this particular situation, particularly because of the use of the leadership PAC to pay for legal fees and potentially other expenses that would constitute illegal personal use of campaign funds, there is an unusual incentive for the leadership PAC to take in more than usual. would,” said Adav Noti, senior vice president and legal director of Campaign Legal Center.
Leading up to Mr. Trump’s latest campaign, his legal bills exploded. Save America spent $1.9 million in the first half of 2022 on what it identified as legal fees. That figure rose to nearly $14.6 million in the second half of last year, federal data shows.
In late 2022, a Trump adviser said Save America PAC had set aside about $20 million to cover legal costs.
Since then, Trump has been indicted twice, once by a Manhattan grand jury on charges stemming from a porn star hush money payment, and once by a federal grand jury in Florida on charges including espionage violations arising from Trump’s possession of classified materials and government files long after he left office.
A prominent attorney, Todd Blanche, left his white-collar law firm in April to join the former president’s legal team and is now representing him on both cases, and Mr. Trump recently met with half a dozen attorneys in Florida.
Mr. Trump’s legal troubles are closely intertwined with his political campaign and fundraising efforts. His campaign store sells an “I Stand With Trump” T-shirt with the date of his Manhattan indictment (“03.30.2023”) for $36; it recently added a second shirt with his Florida indictment date (“06.08.2023”) for $38. Half of the featured items on the store’s landing page show a fake photo and the words “not guilty.”
And Mr. Trump’s usual legal strategy — delay, delay, delay — could prove costly, as overlapping teams of white-collar lawyers defend him in the federal case and criminal case in Manhattan, as well as the Georgia investigation, where Mr. could face charges again this summer for his role in trying to overturn the 2020 election. He also faces an intensification of the investigation by Special Prosecutor Jack Smith into his attempts to stay in power after losing the election.
It remains unclear whether Mr. Trump will try to use his campaign funds to pay lawyers should he get into trouble with the Political Action Committee — and whether such a move would violate spending rules.
“He can use the campaign to pay legal bills arising from the activities of candidates or office holders – and of course some of the current legal issues fall into that category, some don’t, and some are in a gray area,” said Mr. said Noti. “It really depends on what we’re talking about.”
Jason Torchinsky, a Republican election lawyer, said he believed Trump was prohibited from using Save America donations to pay for his personal legal fees now that he is a candidate, arguing that doing so would be “an excessive contribution” according to the precedent of the Federal Election Commission. And he said Mr. Trump couldn’t use campaign money at all because it would qualify as personal use.
There are signs that Mr Trump’s campaign is keeping a close eye on spending.
He has mostly attended events organized by other groups, as opposed to organizing his own large-scale political rallies, which have been the lifeblood of his two previous presidential candidacy and are one of his favorite parts of campaigning. Those rallies are expensive, costing at least $150,000 and usually over $400,000.
Mr. Trump has held just one large-scale rally in his seven-month run, with a second scheduled for July 1 in South Carolina, his first in an early nomination state. (A meeting in Iowa on May 13 was canceled following a tornado warning, though the weather cleared and Mr. DeSantis was clearly holding an impromptu event nearby.)
People familiar with the Trump campaign’s plans have said the lack of rallies was as much about managing resources as getting Mr. Trump to interact with voters in a more traditional way. The people also suggested that more large-scale events could be coming in the fall, as the primary race warms up.
But the surge in fundraising that Trump experienced after his first indictment in late March and again in June is expected to obscure a broader slowdown in fundraising. His campaign announced that he raised $12 million the first week after his first indictment and $7 million the week after his second. He will then disclose the state of his PAC and campaign finances in federal filings in July.
Mr. Trump is unusually reliant on online fundraising. He has only held one major fundraising event advertised as such by his team: the event in Bedminster on the night of his indictment. It grossed $2 million.