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Still No Evidence That Donald Trump Has ‘Self-Funded’ His Campaign

Donald Trump has contributed a total of $395,508 to his campaign, as of his latest Federal Election Commission filing in June.

The number Trump refers to when he talks about “self-funding” his campaign — usually $50 million, though the latest government figure is $45.7 million — is the amount he has loaned his campaign.

And though Donald claims to have converted these loans into outright contributions, there is no evidence that this is the case.

According to Lawrence Noble, general counsel of the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center, Trump must submit public documentation to the FEC at some point recording the conversion of his loans into contributions. Representatives of the FEC said Monday that they still have not received any such documentation from the Trump campaign.

The next FEC filing deadline, July 20, comes one day after Trump is scheduled to become the official Republican nominee for president. On Wednesday, we will have another opportunity to see whether Trump’s loans have been paid off — by himself, or by his supporters.

Though Noble noted that regulations on candidates loaning their campaigns money are fairly new, he said “it would probably be unprecedented” for a candidate to publicly go back on a pledge such as Trump’s.

The scam, were Trump to try it, would work like this: As long as his loans remain loans, not contributions, he can legally pay himself back with money from his campaign’s bank account until 20 days after the primary election ends — likely on Tuesday, when Trump becomes the official Republican nominee.

If he does pay himself back within those 20 days, we likely wouldn’t know until his campaign files its August financial report, in mid-September.

Taking into account the millions of dollars Trump has already paid to his own companies, family, and friends, were Trump to pay himself back millions of dollars in loans, he would become the first presidential candidate in modern history to legally profit off of a campaign.

I’ve been writing about this possible scam since March. In May, MSNBC’s Ari Melber reported on Trump’s loan situation, and in June, Trump publicly declared that he would not be paying himself back — and then followed up angrily on Twitter. Weeks after his public declaration, Trump has made no effort to assure supporters and donors and he won’t use their money to pay himself back.

Meanwhile, Trump has launched a frantic fundraising effort — holding high, high-dollar private fundraisers, pledging in fundraising emails to match supporter contributions dollar-for-dollar, and selecting Koch Brother favorite Mike Pence as his running mate.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request to comment.

 

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S., July 5, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

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

Donald Trump Can’t Decide How Much Money He Just Donated To His Campaign

A Thursday morning press release from Donald Trump’s campaign announced that he would be writing off the loans he has financed his campaign with for months. But the press release had an interesting little Trumpian quirk:

trump press release

Within a single statement, Trump claims to be donating himself “more than $50 million,” “nearly $50 million,” and “in excess of $50 million.”

The actual answer? At last count (through the end of May) Trump had loaned his campaign $45,703,185. And though the press release says he now considers these loans donations, Trump has a history of claiming to have donated to charity cases without actually doing so.

A Reuters report on the loan write-off quotes Gaylord Hughey, a Texas-based fundraiser supporting Trump, who called the move “unprecedented.” 

Actually, it’s extremely precedented. Rich people have been donating money to their campaigns since campaigns existed: Think of the Kennedys, or Ross Perot, or Mitt Romney, who in the 2008 Republican primary loaned (and later, donated) his campaign $44.6 million, nearly the same as Trump’s donation.

A small note: Even after writing off these loans, assuming he does, Trump hasn’t fully self-funded his primary campaign — he’s sold millions of dollars in merchandise and has accepted millions more in loans small and very, very large. He has tacitly accepted the help of super PACs and, after becoming the Republican nominee, has behaved the same as any other politician: He goes on fundraising tours, speaks at $25,000-a-plate dinners, wears funny cowboy hats, sends desperate emails, and changes his views on policy ideas — like defaulting on the national debt, an absolutely insane concept — that upset wealthy donors.

So no, Donald Trump never self-funded his campaign, and he still is not self-funding his campaign. Still, if in fact he does forgive $50 million $47 million in loans to himself, he deserves a great deal of credit.

Even for a “billionaire,” that’s a lot of money to throw away at a doomed campaign.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Greensboro, North Carolina on June 14, 2016.   REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Video: Donald Trump’s Facebook page

This Isn’t New: Donald Trump Has Been Profiting Off His Campaign For Months

Donald Trump’s spectacularly bad fundraising report for the month of May, published over the weekend, got a lot of attention. The press picked apart the document, reporting on the lavish amounts of money Trump has paid his own companies, his family’s companies, and his political allies.

“Trump’s campaign spends $6 million with Trump companies,” the Associated Press reported.

But if the media wanted to find evidence of possible wrongdoing, or at least of an extremely bizarre campaign finance regimen, they needn’t have waited until now: Trump, his family, and his associates have been profiting off of this campaign for months.

In February, the New York Times reported that, of the 12.4 million the Trump campaign had spent in 2015,

About $2.7 million more was paid to at least seven companies Mr. Trump owns or to people who work for his real estate and branding empire, repaying them for services provided to his campaign. That total included more than $2 million for flights on his own planes and helicopter, a quarter of a million dollars to his Fifth Avenue office tower, and even $66,000 to Keith Schiller, his bodyguard and the head of security at the Trump Organization.

We reported back in March that, in January, Trump had spent around six percent of total campaign expenditures on Trump businesses, and the salaries of Trump employees.

In May, Forbes reported that, through the end of March, Trump had paid Trump-owned businesses $4.3 million, or 10 percent of total campaign expenditures through that date.

And now, through May, we know that of the $63 million the Trump campaign has spent this election cycle, 10 percent has been spent on Trump-owned organizations, in keeping with the trend this whole time.

Trump’s campaign expenses happen to be with businesses he owns or is affiliated with. A look at the list of top Trump campaign vendors is telling: Aside from Rick Reed media, a GOP advertising group, most are in some way Trump-related.

Tag Air is the Trump-owned company that operates his private jet. $4.3 million.

Ace Specialties, who manufacture the “Make America Great Again” hats, is owned by Christl Mahfouz, who the Wall Street Journal reported in October serves on the board of the Eric J. Trump foundation. $4 million.

WizBang solutions is run by the Mike Ciletti, the former head of the Make America Great Again PAC, which the Trump campaign disavowed after pressure from the media. They do “printing and design services,” according to the Washington Post. Mike Ciletti is a close business associate of Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s recently-fired campaign manager. $2 million.

And on and on and on: You get the point. When Trump isn’t funneling donor dollars and his own loans to Trump organizations or employees, he’s spending them on the companies of close associates and friends.

And he can pay those “loans” back to himself using donor dollars, as long as he does it before the Republican National Convention in July. Can Donald Trump afford to lose the $45 million he has loaned his campaign so far? We can’t know for sure, especially without seeing his tax returns… Trump did wonder aloud, in May: “Do I want to sell a couple of buildings and self-fund? I don’t know that I want to do that necessarily.”

So, we’ll see. Keep your eyes on the FEC filings.

But now that Trump has dropped all pretense of “self-funding” his general election campaign, this whole branding scheme may get a bit more complicated. Trump loaned his campaign $11.5 million in March, his largest one-month loan. After that, his monthly contributions started decreasing: $7.5 million in April, and just $2.2 million in May.

May was the first month the Trump campaign took in more from donations ($3.1 million) than it did from Trump’s loans.

That’s meaningful. As Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, an election law expert at the Brennan Center for Justice, noted in a New York Times article published yesterday, “as soon as you start using campaign money that has come in from donors, not just the money that he has loaned to himself, and he uses it for something that he will personally keep, or his family will personally keep, that is what crosses the line.”

 

Photo: Republican U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, June 18, 2016. REUTERS/Nancy Wiechec