For days, President Donald Trump has been blasting his email list with urgent pleas for contributions to fund litigation challenging the results of last week’s election. The consensus among elections experts is that these lawsuits have no chance of changing the outcome of the election, which former Vice President Joe Biden clearly won. But that’s not stopping Trump. He’s not only damaging American’s faith in our elections, he’s also misleading his donors and will probably profit off the endeavor.
The fine print on Trump’s fundraising solicitations makes his intentions clear. The funds are going to a new Trump “leadership PAC” called Save America (60%) and the Republican National Committee campaign account (40%) — with funds only going to Trump and RNC legal expense accounts if a particular donor has already given the maximum allowable amounts to Save America ($5,000) and the RNC campaign account ($35,500). This looks like a good old-fashioned bait and switch. Leadership PACs like Save America are notorious slush funds, raising money under higher limits than candidate committees and subject to fewer restrictions on how the money is spent.
Donor money isn’t going to legal fight
These factors, taken together, compel me to say: Trump donors beware! President Trump is saying he needs your money for legal challenges to last week’s election outcome, but he’s showing you in the fine print that your money won’t be used for legal challenges. What will he do with your money? Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. During his 2016 campaign, Trump’s campaign paid his businesses more than $12 million. Since taking office in 2017, Trump’s campaign has continued paying his businesses millions more of his donors’ dollars, together with millions of taxpayer dollars paid to Trump’s businesses.
And though federal campaign finance law prohibits a candidate from pocketing campaign funds (the so-called “personal use” ban), this legal restriction does not apply to party committees like the RNC or leadership PACs like Save America. The Federal Election Commission should close the legal loophole that allows leadership PACs to be used as personal slush funds.
It’s worth noting that Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle may be angling to take over the RNC, the other committee benefiting from Trump’s current fundraising. The funds President Trump is raising today may very well be used to pay himself and his family members big salaries, and to further line his pockets with payments to his businesses, after he leaves office.
President Trump is contemplating running for president again in 2024, aides say. So when the election litigation fundraising well runs dry, he may ramp up his flirtation with a 2024 campaign to keep the money flowing. To be clear, it’s illegal to use a leadership PAC like Save America to run for federal office, but he would probably get away with years of teasing a run for office as many before him have.