The New York Times called it “the worst financial and organizational disadvantage of any major party nominee in recent history.”
At the beginning of June, Donald Trump’s campaign had just $1.3 million in cash-on-hand, after paying for the previous month’s campaign expenses. Hillary Clinton had $43 million. Trump raised just $3 million in May. Clinton raised $26 million.
An FEC fundraising report published yesterday from the Trump campaign answered the one question that has hovered over Donald Trump’s fundraising operation for a year:
Where is it?
Turns out… nowhere. When Trump pledged early on to “self-fund” his entire campaign, he either didn’t believe he would make it this far, or he knew he was lying at the time. Even if Trump’s cartoonish claims about his net worth are true, he doesn’t have nearly enough cash to fund an entire election effort on his own. In 2012, including super PAC spending, both presidential candidates spent around a billion dollars on their campaigns.
Trump, for the past few months, has bragged endlessly about loaning (not donating) his campaign tens of millions of dollars, all while insulting the GOP donor class and their money. (He has also paid his own companies over $6 million for campaign expenses thus far.)
“Every single person that gave every single dollar is expecting something for that money, every single person. And that’s not good for the country,” Trump said on MSNBC in July, referring to Jeb Bush’s super PAC fundraising, as reported by Politico. He added, “Somebody that’s reliant on all of these lobbyists and special interests and donors, they have no power to make a decision, because they feel obligated to all these people.”
Now, after spending a year repeating that message against a backdrop of increasingly unappetizing religious tests, immigration bans, and overt policy cluelessness, most Republican donors don’t want to touch Trump with a 10-foot pole.
Trump has had a valid point this entire election: The way we fund our elections corrupts our politicians and distorts our political process. Political scientists have shown that Congress’ legislative priorities reflect those of wealthy donors, not average constituents.
But Trump’s messaging in relation to that fundamental flaw — isolating himself from donors and convincing supporters that not only did he not need their money, he didn’t even want it — has created a struggling campaign fueled on hot air and anger alone. Trump says he’ll use “free media” to fill the fundraising gap, but the media has increasingly treated this general election candidate like the serious threat to our system that he really is.
That leaves Trump between a rock and a hard place: He hasn’t released his tax returns, and every email “ask” further undermines his claims that he is a billionaire able to completely self-fund his campaign (though he never has). He could beg at the feet of GOP elites, turning his back on early campaign messaging. Or he could spend hundreds of millions of dollars of his own money in “loans” to his campaign, which he could try to pay himself back eventually with donor money.
But one thing is for sure: As it stands, Donald Trump’s campaign is far too cash poor to compete financially in any major way with Hillary Clinton.
Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses an audience at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, June 15, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry