Trump on pace to drain legal funds by July, with only $27 million left

Bill Allison | (TNS) Bloomberg News

Donald Trump will likely drain his war chest for legal fees this summer, leaving the GOP front-runner crunched for cash just as his presidential campaign ramps up spending for an expected rematch with President Joe Biden.

Trump spent $51.2 million in 2023 on legal expenses, and can tap another $26.6 million stashed in an allied super political action committee that he can use to pay his lawyers. But as his four criminal cases ramp up, those funds are expected to run out at a critical time — around July, when the Republican National Convention triggers the official start to the general election campaign.

That leaves Trump with only a few — unappealing — options to keep paying for his defense.

He could compel the Republican National Committee, which faces its own cash woes, to pay his bills, leaving the group with less money to support his campaign. He could siphon off more money from his army of small-dollar donors to his leadership PAC, Save America, which is financing his defense in multiple criminal and civil proceedings. Trump already diverts 10% of online contributions made to his reelection toward Save America for legal bills — a move which accounted for $9.9 million in 2023.

To pay his legal fees, Trump is relying on federal laws governing leadership PACs, which allow politicians to raise money that can support travel, fundraising and other political expenses.

Trump’s legal bills have been a drag on what has otherwise been a strong fundraising operation. His campaign and allied groups last year collectively spent $13.6 million more than they raised, thanks to a large nest egg of donations to Save America from 2021 and 2022, before he was actively campaigning. That fundraising buffer has nearly been depleted.

Save America has largely been able to pay for tens of millions of dollars in legal fees because of refunds of money it had previously transferred to Make America Great Again Inc., the super PAC supporting Trump’s bid.

MAGA Inc., which has the ability to raise unlimited sums, used 71 cents of every dollar it raised in 2023 to help Trump pay his lawyers. It also spent $43.8 million to support Trump’s campaign and attack his rivals thanks to $54 million in cash it stockpiled in 2022.

The super PAC’s money in 2023 came from deep-pocketed donors, including investor Timothy Mellon, Crownquest Operating LLC’s Timothy Dunn and Home Depot Inc. co-founder Bernie Marcus. MAGA Inc. is permitted to refund $26.6 million more to Save America, but can’t transfer any more after that.

“Our mission is straightforward – maximize the Republican Party’s resources to get President Trump elected,” Chris LaCivita, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, said in a statement.

MAGA Inc. and the RNC did not respond to requests to comment.

The RNC, which previously covered some of Trump’s legal bills during and after his first term, could also fund his trial costs, though it would drain cash that otherwise would be used to win elections.

The RNC is better equipped to bring in large amounts of money, compared to Save America, which can only accept donations as big as $5,000. Donors can give the RNC $123,900 for an account that can only be spent for legal expenses, plus another $41,300 that can be used for any purpose, including influencing elections.

A mid-summer cash crunch for Trump, who is on the cusp of the nomination, would hit the RNC just as it is spending millions to boost Republicans nationwide. The RNC is already behind on raising money, starting the year with just $8 million, compared to the Democratic National Committee, which had $21 million in the bank.

Money problems at the RNC have been sore point for Trump, who has recommended ousting chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, partly because of dissatisfaction over fundraising. Trump has endorsed North Carolina Republican Party Chair Michael Whatley and daughter-in-law Lara Trump to lead the national party, a move that would tighten his grip on the RNC.

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