Sunday, May 29, 2016

Donations to Trump Campaign could go to Trump instead, especially now

I've had a long vendetta about candidates at any political level loaning money to their campaigns and the ethical morass it creates. As with most tough issues, there's a kernel of justification - a campaign needs money early and throughout the campaign, but the money often arrives too late to spend efficiently, sometimes even after the election. My own campaign in 2014 received a $1000 refund for mailing expenses after the election that we ended up donating to charities. If candidates are clear about what they're doing - that they're fronting the money they expect to raise during the campaign, and that they'll convert any unpaid post-election debt to a contribution rather than fundraise from wealthy interest, that's probably okay.

And then there's Trump.

The man who talks so proudly about his wealth and says he's not beholden to special interests because he's "self-funding" his campaign has almost exclusively loaned the money, $43 million as of the end of April, while donating only $317,000.* My opponent for a seat on a local water district board spent $500,000 of his own money in the campaign.

There's a huge difference between fronting the necessary funding for a campaign and self-funding it. Trump and his representatives say he intends to convert the loans into contributions. Then why not make them as donations to begin with? His promise not to pocket campaign contributions could be taken about as seriously as his promise in February 2015 to release his tax returns.

We're at a particularly interesting period because the law views this campaign as two elections:  one to choose the party nominees and the other to select the president. A part of campaign finance reform that has so far survived the Republican nominations to the Supreme Court says that in presidential elections, candidate loans automatically convert into contributions 20 days after the election, which would be the nominating conventions this summer and again after the November election.

As this NBC article points out, Trump is expressly fundraising for the primary campaign where there are very few expenses remaining now that he's won, but millions owed to him personally. Nineteen days after the Republican convention he can use these people's money to pay himself back. Obviously that wouldn't go over well, but a man who jokes that he can shoot people in public while remaining popular might think this issue from the summer would blow over by November.

The other interesting time will be the runup to the November election. Let's assume Trump loans more millions to his campaign but by mid-October realizes he has little chance of winning. If Trump is more interested in his own fortune than in losing slightly less badly, then his campaign will deliberately not spend everything, fundraise like hell through the election and maybe even a day or two afterwards for the die-hards, and then pay off Trump as much as possible. All this is 100% legal.

With an immediate stroke of the pen, Trump could prove all this wrong today by converting his existing loans to contributions, and only making contributions in the future. His failure to do that tells smart Republicans everything they need to know - the only ones who should be donating to the campaign now are the ones who are paying for access.

*The link above says $36 million, while the FEC website is updated to $43m but annoyingly doesn't provide a live link to that result. You can look up the latest here.


Aaron said...

along the same line:

Looks like he the campaign pays Trump companies for use of space, air transportation, etc. see

The interesting thing is that the Trump campaign has spent more money on Rick Reed Media than anywhere else - my guess is that they are doing the focus groups and producing Trump's tweets.

Russell Seitz said...

"My opponent for a seat on a local water district board spent $500,000 of his own money in the campaign."

How many gallons is that ?

Fernando Leanme said...

Trump may be making moves to avoid taxes? I can see moving a donation into say 2017 if he's expecting a large bill should he have to move his business into a trust.

Russell Seitz said...

Trump's warchest contains recycled tuition payments from his defunct " university"

The Atlantic put to rest doubts it was designed as a scam by quoting Trump U's “Private & Confidential” student recruiting playbook :

" Every university has admission standards and Trump University was no exception. The playbook spells out the one essential qualification in caps: “ALL PAYMENTS MUST BE RECEIVED IN FULL.” Basically, anyone with a valid credit card was “admitted” to Trump University. . . . If a member of the media happened to approach the registration table, Trump staffers were instructed not to talk to him or her under any circumstance. “Reporters are rarely on your side and they are not sympathetic,” the playbook advises. And: At one point, the playbook advises Trump staffers: “If a district attorney arrives on the scene, contact the appropriate media spokesperson immediately.”