Reprinted with permission from ProPublica
The number of federal political committees that have spent money in the first half of 2021 at Trump Organization properties has dropped dramatically from the same period two years ago, Federal Election Commission filings show. Those continuing to spend: a smaller circle of loyal supporters of former President Donald Trump and candidates jockeying for his favor in contested Republican primaries.
During the first six months of 2021, 27 federal committees have reported spending $348,000 at Trump Organization properties, with the Republican National Committee accounting for more than half the total. That's a steep decline from the 177 committees that did so during the 2019-2020 election cycle or the 78 committees that spent more than $1.6 million at Mar-a-Lago, the Trump International Hotel in Washington and other company sites in the first half of 2019, filings show.
Of course, that spending came in the run-up to a presidential election in which Trump was the incumbent. The biggest spenders in 2019 were the RNC and Trump's own political committees raising money to support his campaign.
While the RNC is the top spender so far in 2021, many of the other PACs that used Trump properties as venues for fundraising events and other activities appear to have stopped their spending. The National Republican Congressional Committee, the fundraising arm of House Republicans, has not reported spending any money at Trump properties through May of this year after spending $32,532 during the previous election cycle. (National party committees will file reports covering activity in June on July 20, which may show some spending at Trump's facilities.)
Those that have spent money at Trump properties this year represent some of the former president's most fervent loyalists, including Reps. Mo Brooks of Alabama, who is running for an open Senate seat, and Ronny Jackson of Texas, who previously was the White House physician. Overall, 13 of the 23 committees spending this year are connected to current members of the House or Senate.
"Republican candidates are in a delicate moment, I think, because of uncertainty surrounding Trump's future power," said Abby Wood, a professor of law, political science and public policy at the University of Southern California, in an email. "Trump's power in the next election is much less certain than it was from the vantage point of folks spending money (and enriching him) at his properties in 2019."
The drop in political spending comes at a precarious time for the Trump Organization, which in early July was hit with 10 felony charges brought by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., as well as additional charges against Allen Weisselberg, the organization's chief financial officer. Both Weisselberg and the company have pleaded not guilty to the charges, but the impact of the investigation and the fallout of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol appear to have damaged the company's business prospects. The Washington Post described the company as at its "lowest point in decades."
The other spenders include congressional candidates advertising their ties to Trump, such as Lynda Blanchard, who is one of Brooks' opponents for the GOP nomination in the Alabama Senate race, and Josh Mandel, who's running for an open Senate seat in Ohio. Brooks, Blanchard and Mandel have each paid to use Mar-a-Lago, Trump's property in Palm Beach, Florida, while Jackson paid for an event at the Trump hotel in Washington.
"It is my intention to do fundraisers at Mar-a-Lago as often as I can, so long as they help generate positive cash flow for my Senate campaign for America First policies," Brooks said in a statement. "I personally thank President Trump for allowing me to use Mar-a-Lago and hope he will continue to be so generous in the future."
The campaigns of Blanchard, Jackson, and Mandel, along with the RNC and the Trump Organization, did not respond to requests for comment. The RNC has spent more money for events at other locations this year, including $529,000 for a donor event at the Four Seasons Resort in Palm Beach in April.
Mar-a-Lago, a private club that also doubles as the former president's residence, has been the leading recipient of federal political committee spending among Trump properties, bringing in at least $283,000 this year, much of it for hosting an RNC donor retreat in May. In addition to getting the venue and Florida weather, politicians holding events at the club stand a good chance of having Trump make an appearance.
The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and the BLT Prime restaurant located there, have seen a significant drop-off in political spending compared to the first half of 2019. Two years ago, the D.C. hotel and restaurant brought in more than $518,000, according to FEC records. This year, without Trump in the White House nearby, the total is less than $15,000.
"Given Trump is no longer president and there is less need to curry favor with him, congressional incumbents and party committees may choose less expensive venues," said Paul Herrnson, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut.