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Does Donald Trump Even Have $45 Million To Repay His ‘Loans’?

A few weeks ago, the Trump campaign tried to quash rumors of its financial demise by announcing that Trump would write off the $45 million in loans he had used to “self-fund” his campaign.

After that statement, a far-too-small-handful of political journalists responded: Show us the money.

Why? As The National Memo has reported, since Trump began bragging about his financial independence, “self-funding” doesn’t really mean self-funding. It’s a talking point: Trump can repay his loans with donations from supporters at any time before the Republican convention and walk away from this campaign having pulled off the most cost-efficient advertising campaign in history.

So far, that seems to be the case. According to NBC News, whose Ari Melber has tracked the promise in recent days, the FEC maintains that Trump hasn’t converted any of his loans into donations, and the Trump campaign itself is refusing to release any documentation that would prove Trump has donated his campaign anything.

Campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks told NBC that the paperwork “will be filed with the next regularly scheduled FEC report [on July 20],” but declined to provide any documentation proving that claim.

Of course, that’s what she did last time.

In the meantime, what about the rest of Trump’s campaign? His fundraising efforts may have just broken federal law, and it is currently tens of millions of dollars in debt on top of what Trump has promised to pay. By all financial measures, billionaire Donald Trump can’t afford his own ego trip.

 

Photo:  Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a speech at the Alumisourse Building in Monessen, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Louis Ruediger

Is Losing the Election Part of Trump’s Plan?

What’s Donald Trump really up to? Is he using the election of 2016 to enrich himself, with no intention of assuming the burdens of the presidency? Many wonder. If that’s the plan, he’s going about it the right way.

This may sound like political science fiction, but think. Success in such terms would entail two things: commanding maximum public attention and offending vast numbers of voters he would need to actually get elected. That’s what he’s been doing.

The two work together.

Vanity Fair reported speculation that the Trump endgame may involve establishing a family-run “mini-media conglomerate” — a kind of CNN or Fox News. Trump is already a media phenomenon with an enthusiastic audience. His campaign, meanwhile, has been featuring his wife, his children and a son-in-law as prominent co-stars.

The article said that Trump is sore about providing so much free content to the aforementioned media outlets without his getting a cut of the profits. (So much free airtime would be a source of joy for the conventional politician seeing election as the goal.)

Trump already controls a TV production company. Making the leap to Trump News Network, or whatever it might be called, would not seem so outlandish. The bigger the audience Trump builds dominating the news cycles, the more advertisers will pay for his product. And maintaining that high level of attention requires continually saying inflammatory things that turn off the larger electorate.

Suspicions began growing early on that Trump’s candidacy is a brand-building scheme and little more. Recall how every ludicrous thing out of his mouth — mocking John McCain for becoming a prisoner of war, smearing Latinos and savaging fellow Republicans — was deemed a campaign killer. His candidacy had to collapse. But it didn’t. Trump won more and more support from the so-called Republican base despite (or because of) his vulgarity and disregard for conservative principles that were never widely popular to begin with.

When Trump became the presumptive nominee, the political sophisticates assumed he’d clean up his act and behave in a dignified, presidential manner. He’s done neither.

The Republican Party unwittingly created the conditions for a Trump candidacy. Its leaders have sat quietly for decades as a right-wing media — run by personalities flogging their own wares — normalized crazy political rhetoric. They probably figured that come Election Day, they could easily herd the fired-up base to the proper stalls. And they misread its strong support for Social Security, Medicare and other government programs.

That Trump has almost no campaign funds fits the theory he’s not in it to win it. His people insisted he’s never needed that kind of money. His arresting personality would do the job. Then came the sinking poll numbers.

Trump raised $5.4 million last month and spent over a million of it at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, on private jet service provided by his Tag Air and at other family-owned enterprises. He put in $2.2 million of his own money, but that was just a loan.

Trump’s dumping of campaign manager Corey Lewandowski can be interpreted as a logical response to evidence that he’s wearing thin among likely voters. But there’s no taking anything at face value in the Trumpian house of funny mirrors. It may reflect the family’s concern that it’s losing audience share.

The Republican Party has provided the vehicle for Trump’s joy ride. If at the end he returns a smoking wreck to the counter, not his problem. He’ll be fine, he keeps telling us.

For party leaders, another story. They will need much time for reflection, starting with how they got so royally set up.

 

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a speech during a campaign event at the Trump Soho Hotel in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., June 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Trump Doubles Monthly Campaign Fundraising, Lags Clinton

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s campaign raised $3.1 million from donors in May, more than doubling previous monthly hauls as he began soliciting donations to battle Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

But with spending that outpaced inflows, the New York real estate magnate’s campaign began June with just $1.29 million in cash, putting it well-behind Clinton’s $42 million war chest, according to federal disclosures filed late on Monday.

Clinton’s campaign raised $26 million in May.

The figures underscore the huge money advantage Clinton is hoping to enjoy leading into the Nov. 8 election, one that could allow her a large staff and millions of dollars of television and digital ads in battleground states.

Trump, who has self-funded most of his campaign and only held his first general election fundraiser on May 26th, is betting he can run a race that builds on his low-spending, insurgent primary operation.

Trump’s surrogates, however, have said the cash is now “pouring in” for the general election. For months the biggest cash injections into Trump‘s campaign coffers were from his personal bank accounts. He has loaned his campaign $46 million since launching last year.

Trump may still have several hurdles to cross before convincing deep-pocketed donors to write the kind of checks that would make him competitive with Clinton’s campaign bank account.

Trump donors, allies and other Republican operatives continue to express concerns about his campaign operation, which has been dogged by internal battles, a threadbare campaign infrastructure of about 30 paid staffers, and a barely existent fundraising apparatus.

On Monday, Trump fired his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who had been tasked with overseeing the campaign’s fundraising arm. [L1N19C0MC]

The primary Super PAC supporting Trump, Great America PAC, reported raising $1.4 million in May – accounting for most of the $2.5 million the group has raised this year. The PAC had $500,971 cash remaining at the beginning of June.

Clinton’s cash advantage has been fueled in part by the Super PAC supporting her. Priorities USA raised $12 million in the last month, ending May with a $52 million in cash. Three unions, AFT Solidarity, Liuna Building America and International Union of Operating Engineers, each gave $1 million.

The group has largely been tasked with attacking Trump. And so far, they have spent more than $5.7 million this year on television ads alone attacking the Republican.

(Reporting by Grant Smith and Michelle Conlin in New York and Ginger Gibson in Washington; Writing by Ginger Gibson; Editing by Michael Perry)

A combination photo shows Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump (L) in Palm Beach, Florida and Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (R) in Miami, Florida at their respective Super Tuesday primaries campaign events on March 1, 2016. REUTERS/Scott Audette (L), Javier Galeano (R) 

Decoding Trump’s Disastrous May Campaign Finance Report

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