Silent Eye by DJ Lu, Bogota
Silent Eye by DJ Lu, Bogota

The Myth of Trump’s Self-Financed Campaign

Notes for the “Lies, Half Truths and Electioneering Deceptions that Become True if Repeated Often Enough” file, because I know we all keep such lists:

It’s a popular talking point, both with the presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and his supporters, the self-styled Trump Army, that he’s self-financed his campaign thus far with millions of his own dollars. But it’s mostly a myth, a claim that’s dubious at best and intentionally misleading at worst, if not an outright lie, that through the primary at least, managed to work its way into the narrative — everywhere. Most annoyingly in social media “debates” that I wish I could avoid.

Strictly speaking the vast majority of his ‘own’ money used in the campaign is in the form of loans, NOT contributions. It’s a very important distinction. And a distinction that isn’t really news. How Trump’s financing has been classified legally has been regularly reported since his rise to the top of the sorry GOP primary field became more of an inevitability.

According to FEC filings as of May, “his own money” in the form of actual contributions amounted to $317,000. A far cry from the figure of $50 million he himself regularly cites.

For background’s sake, from the Wall Street Journal (4 May):

For his part, Mr. Trump lent his campaign $36 million of the $47 million he spent on the primaries through March, with the rest coming mostly from small donations.

In this 13 May NBC News story ‘Trump Campaign Could Use New Donations to Pay Donald Trump $36M for Loan‘, Trump conceded that money he’s put into the campaign is in fact a loan but also said he won’t be paying himself back. At that stage however the funds were still officially loans, not contributions:

After this article was published Friday, Trump said he is ruling out the possibility, telling MSNBC, “I have absolutely no intention of paying myself back for the nearly $50 million dollars I have loaned to the campaign.” Trump’s estimate appears to include additional money he loaned the campaign that has yet to be filed with the FEC, and he told MNSBC all of the loans are “a contribution made in order to ‘Make America Great Again.'”

The Trump campaign has not actually converted the loans into a contribution, according to the FEC. After this article was published Friday, aides told msnbc they expect to make that formal change “in the near future.”

Legally, Trump has the option of recouping any or all of the money he spent on the primaries.

That is because Trump almost never directly donates funds to his campaign. He has only spent about $317,000 of his own money outright.

The rest of his personal spending is structured as a loan to the campaign, which now owes Trump $35.9 million.

A follow-up a week later by NBC showed that the status hasn’t changed as per a FEC report filed on 21 May.

Donald Trump insists he personally funded his primary campaign, but a new report filed by his presidential campaign tells a different story.

Trump has now spent a total of $43 million, according to his filing with the Federal Election Commission made available Saturday, and all of it is still structured as a loan to the campaign. That means he can be legally reimbursed for his spending, with new campaign donations, until August.

That same story includes an image of an invitation to a joint Republican National Committee fundraiser in Los Angeles scheduled for 25 May, the first Trump was to attend. The invite specifically notes that the first $2,700 raised would go to Trump’s primary campaign. (In case it disappears, I posted a larger version of the invite here.)

Then there was this earlier piece in the New York Time from 5 February, ‘Donald Trump’s Campaign, Billed as Self-Funded, Risks Little of His Fortune‘, which highlights some of the ways in which he’s purchasing some goods and services for his campaign from his own companies, essentially buying from and paying himself.

Mr. Trump’s campaign spent just $12.4 million in 2015, according to disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission, millions less than any of his leading rivals for the Republican nomination. More than half of Mr. Trump’s total spending was covered by checks from his supporters, who have thronged to his stump speeches and bought millions of dollars’ worth of “Make America Great Again” hats and T-shirts.

About $2.7 million more was paid to at least seven companies Mr. Trump owns or to people who work for his real estate and branding empire, repaying them for services provided to his campaign. That total included more than $2 million for flights on his own planes and helicopter, a quarter of a million dollars to his Fifth Avenue office tower, and even $66,000 to Keith Schiller, his bodyguard and the head of security at the Trump Organization.

While the convoluted accounting is required by law — so that Mr. Trump’s companies do not make illegal corporate contributions directly to his campaign — it also means that Mr. Trump is in effect taking millions of dollars out of one pocket and depositing it into another.

That practice of depositing from one pocket to another hasn’t changed. More recently, the NYT reported on 22 June:

According to documents submitted to the Federal Election Commission, Mr. Trump, whose campaign has just $1.3 million cash on hand, paid at least $1.1 million to his businesses and family members in May for expenses associated with events and travel costs. The total represents nearly a fifth of the $6 million that his campaign spent in the month.


In May, the biggest-ticket item was Mr. Trump’s use of the Mar-a-Lago Club, his Florida resort, which was paid $423,000. The campaign paid $350,000 to TAG Air for his private airplanes, $125,000 to Trump Restaurants and more than $170,000 to Trump Tower, the Manhattan skyscraper that houses the campaign’s headquarters.

The news a few days ago that Trump began the month with just $2.1 million in the bank, significantly less than a typical candidate for congress, inspired the Twitter hashtag #TrumpSoBroke.

But it did little to allay the fears of prominent donors about his debt, and his decision thus far to not forgive $45.7 million in personal loans to the campaign in FEC filings. From a 21 June AP story:

The situation has some donors spooked, said Charlie Spies, a Republican elections attorney who has worked with major contributors and was helping Trump opponent Jeb Bush.

“Why would donors give money when the first dollars go to help a billionaire buy products from his own company?” Spies asked.


Today’s Pic du Jour, the site’s 902nd straight? The stencil ‘Silent Eye’ by Bogota-based street artist DJ Lu, snapped in the Colombian capital on 5 August 2015.




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