Trump Campaign Sets Record for Small-Donor Money

Daily Report for Executives provides in-depth coverage of unfolding legislative, regulatory, and judicial news from the nation’s capital, the states, and around the world. This daily news service...

By Kenneth P. Doyle

President Donald Trump, a billionaire who started his race for the White House saying he would fund his own campaign, ended up raising more money from small campaign donors than any previous presidential candidate, including Barack Obama, according to an analysis from the nonprofit Campaign Finance Institute.

Trump raised an unprecedented $238.6 million from small donors who gave a total of $200 or less, a CFI analysis of Federal Election Commission disclosure reports found. That broke the previous record of $218 million from small donors raised by then-President Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012. Trump also raised more in this category than the combined small-donor total raised by top candidates in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary race, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Even more remarkable was the proportion of Trump’s small-donor support. Contributors giving less than $200 each provided 58 percent of his total campaign funding of just under $409 million, the new analysis found. In 2012, Obama received only 28 percent of his total campaign money from such small donors, the CFI noted.

‘Party Support Key.’

Trump was able to cash in on his media attention and grassroots support after he won the Republican nomination last summer and began to get help from the party with online and direct-mail fundraising, CFI spokesman Brendan Glavin speculated.

The Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint fundraising entity set up by the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) last May, raised $236.7 million by the end of 2016, according to FEC figures. More than 75 percent of the total was in “unitemized contributions” of $200 or less.

“Party support was really key,” to Trump’s ability to transform his appeal to supporters into campaign cash, Glavin told Bloomberg BNA in a phone interview.

A review of FEC figures by Bloomberg BNA suggested the joint fundraising committee spent heavily on its fundraising, with much of its nearly $100 million in operating expenditures going for contributor list rentals, direct mail costs, and payments for T-shirts and other items sold to Trump supporters.

After financing half of his primary election campaign out of his own pocket, Trump relied heavily on the RNC for the general election effort, which was fueled mainly by small donors, CFI said.

Trump, Clinton Even in General Election Funding

Trump’s campaign raised a total of just under $100 million through June 30, including $50 million in self-financing. The campaign went on to raise another $309 million after June 30, with 64 percent of the total coming through joint fundraising committees in partnership with the RNC and other party committees.

Clinton raised nearly three times as much as Trump before June 30, but then raised only slightly more than Trump during the general election campaign, the CFI noted. Clinton’s campaign receipts totaled $336.3 million after June 30, with nearly half of the total coming through joint fundraising committees.

The CFI noted that its small-donor figures represent donors who gave $200 or less over a full two-year cycle. Many of the Obama, Sanders and Clinton donors started with small contributions but gave more than once, eventually triggering the $201 disclosure threshold. Because Trump raised most of his money over four months, fewer of his donors had this experience, the CFI suggested.

“Even this caveat, however, does not negate the fact that his small donor numbers were record shattering,” the CFI said in a summary of its analysis.

Problems Flagged by FEC

The record pace of fundraising created accounting problems for the Trump-RNC joint fundraising committee. Recent FEC “requests for additional information” sent to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee indicate that the committee raised thousands of dollars in cash contributions and corporate contributions not allowed by federal campaign finance law.

Responses to the FEC by the Trump fundraising committee said its acceptance of these improper contributions was inadvertent and steps are being taken to comply with contribution restrictions.

For example, a Feb. 21 message to the FEC from the committee’s treasurer, Bradley Crate, indicated the committee was refunding contributions from nearly 50 limited liability companies (LLCs) that were received shortly before last November’s election. Crate said the committee would keep money from 21 LLCs eligible to make federal campaign contributions under some circumstances. According to FEC rules, some LLCs can make campaign contributions in certain situations.

In an earlier message to the FEC, Crate acknowledged that the Trump fundraising committee received some anonymous cash contributions that didn’t comply with FEC rules.

“Any anonymous contributions exceeding $50 have been disgorged to a charity,” Crate’s message said. He was responding to an FEC inquiry about $16,070 in anonymous contributions listed by the fundraising committee in a quarterly report filed last October.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Try Daily Report for Executives