Dem 51
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Trump's Top Two Expenses Are Fundraising and Legal Fees

Usually politicians use their campaign contributions to, you know, campaign. They buy digital, radio, and TV ads. They open field offices and pay staff to work there. They buy and distribute lawn signs and posters. They fly from rally to rally. They spend money on registering voters and get-out-the-vote operations. They pay oppo teams. This is what Joe Biden does. But Donald Trump is not your standard politician in so many ways. One of the ways that "why is this one different from all the others" is that his top use of campaign money is for fundraising and number two is paying his legal fees. The people donating their last $10 to his campaign probably thought they were going to help buy him another 30-second radio ad. Uh uh. Actually spending money on campaigning is way down the list.

Politico went through all the public information about Trump's campaign finances since the beginning of the cycle and discovered several things. First, Trump's campaign finance structure is extremely complex, as shown in this chart.

Trump's campaign finance structure

There are multiple groups donors can give to, some of them joint with the RNC or other groups, and all with different legal rules about who can give, how much, what the funds can be used for, and how much has to be disclosed about donors. Trump has plenty of lawyers to make sure he gets this right. The main groups are:

This has all been carefully worked out by the lawyers to give Trump the maximum freedom and fewest restrictions. The rubes don't understand a word of it. Neither do we, so please don't ask.

The donations this cycle have been $244 million. Of that, the biggest chunk, $70 million, has gone to... raising more money. Given the high burn rate, it is important to keep the money rolling in. The joint committees are the primary vehicles for fundraising due to campaign finance laws.

The second biggest chunk of spending is $69 million for legal fees. While many of the lawyers defending Trump in his various civil and criminal cases may not be very good, they are not cheap. Most of this money came from Make America Great Again Inc., which was intentionally set up to be separate from the campaign committees to be free to pay for things not associated with the campaign—like legal fees. Needless to say, when Trump's supporters get an email from MAGA Inc. begging for money, they have no idea that none of it is going to help elect Trump. Probably the lawyers who created this complicated setup also get paid from MAGA Inc.

Finally, we come to spending item #3, actual campaigning, which got $66 million. That's not zero, but this is a very inefficient use of the donations, with only 31% going to campaigning. With Biden, half of the donations go to fundraising and half go to campaigning.

A conclusion here is that Trump is actually short of money. This is the reason there is so much buzz right now about Gov. Doug Burgum (R-ND) being on Trump's veep short list. He would certainly lock down North Dakota's three electoral votes, but the only other thing he could bring to the campaign is $$$ (and a bit of executive experience). Also, he has never shot his dog in the head, as others in the Dakotas sometimes do. In his youth, he formed a software company, made it successful, and sold it to Microsoft for a billion dollars. He could drop $100 million into Trump's campaign if he wanted to. That's a lot for a bucket of any warm liquid, but Burgum has probably checked out the actuarial tables and knows there is a roughly 20% chance Trump will die during a 4-year term. Of course, Trump eats badly, never exercises, and has a stressful life, but he also would have the best medical care in the entire world as president. In addition, as veep, Burgum would be next-in-line in 2028, despite what Ron DeSantis might have in mind.

Trump will have to choose soon. Does he want a pretty young woman who could bring in female voters (e.g., Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-NY), an angry young man who could rev up the base like no other veep (e.g., Sen. J.D. Vance, R-OH), or an older billionaire who brings in no voters, but lots of cash? We'll find out in a month or so. (V)

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