Former President Donald Trump continues to rake in huge piles of cash, but very little of that money has gone toward the causes for which donors believe they are giving. At the heart of various fundraising projects are misleading solicitations that appear primarily to target desperate and loyal middle and lower-income Trump supporters.
Between November 3, and January 31, Trump reportedly raised tens of millions from voters on the claim that the money would fuel the legal warfare needed to contest the election results. According to Bloomberg, however, by December 4 the total spent on overturning the election was just $8.8 million.
At the start of 2021, Save America, a leadership PAC created after the November election, emerged with $31 million cash on hand, a Federal Election Commission filing shows. Most of that money, $30.4 million, was transferred from the Trump Make America Great Again Committee.
Save America accounts for just a small slice of what Trump and the GOP hold in an array of political committee accounts.
“His presidential campaign committee still has $10.7 million in the bank,” campaign reporter Adam Brewster explains. “Mr. Trump’s joint fundraising committees with the Republican National Committee, Trump Make America Great Again Committee and Trump Victory, have about $63 million cash on hand—although the former president isn’t entitled to all of that money.”
The fine print in some fundraising emails stated that a donor would have to give over $8,000 before any funds went to an account created to finance election challenges, including recounts and lawsuits over alleged fraud. As a result, large sums would go instead to Trump’s Save America PAC. Trump supporters were encouraged to sign up for recurring donations to “protect the results and keep fighting even after Election Day.”
Trump’s leadership PAC received 60 percent of each donation, while the RNC took the other 40 percent. Until Trump’s PAC share reached the legal contribution limit of $5,000, nothing would go to Trump’s official “recount” fund, according to a Reuters review of the legal language in the solicitations.
“That means that, before a dollar goes into the recount fund, Save America would receive $5,000 and the RNC around $3,300. Donations to the recount committee are legally limited to $2,800,” Reuters reported. “If a Trump donor gave $500, for instance, $300 would go to Trump’s Save America PAC, $200 would to the RNC—and nothing would go to his election defense fund.”
Trump also aggressively fundraised on the Georgia Senate runoff elections, imploring his supporters to give to “STOP Socialist Dems” cold. “But the fine print shows that most of the proceeds are going toward Trump’s newly launched PAC,” reported Alex Isenstadt in Politico on December 14, “which he plans to use to fund his future political activities.” Isenstadt said only a fraction would end up in the coffers of the Republican National Committee, which poured millions into the runoffs.
As was the case with “Election Defense Fund” solicitations, the fine print here stated 25 percent of each contribution went to the RNC, and 75 percent of each contribution first went to Save America, up to $5,000, with the rest of the 75 percent going to the Trump campaign, up to $2,800 for an individual donor and $5,000 for a PAC donor.
What exactly is Trump’s Save America PAC? “The money in the Save America PAC, unlike money contributed to a standard campaign committee, can be used to benefit Trump in innumerable ways,” explained the Washington Post’s Philip Bump. “Memberships to golf clubs. Travel. Rallies. Even payments directly to Trump himself, as long as he declares it income.”
Save America has been at odds with its stated purpose from the outset, as money donated to the PAC could not “be used to support Mr. Trump’s own campaign or the cost of litigation arising from his campaign,” according to Brendan Fischer. Fischer is an expert in campaign finance and government ethics at the Campaign Legal Center. “In the weeks following the November 3 election, President Trump asked donors to give to his ‘election defense fund,’ but in reality, the money raised flowed to Trump’s leadership PAC, which never paid for any post-election litigation and legally could not even do so,” Fischer told American Greatness.
“One of the only restrictions on Trump’s leadership PAC is that it cannot be used to support Trump’s own campaign, including the costs of litigation arising out of his campaign,” he added. “In short, Trump raised tens of millions of dollars on a claim that his PAC would do something that it was legally prohibited from doing all along.”
Nevertheless, the money-making machine rolls on.
“No more money for RINOS. They do nothing but hurt the Republican Party and our great voting base—they will never lead us to Greatness,” Trump told supporters in a statement on March 8. “Send your donation to Save America PAC at DonaldJTrump.com. We will bring it all back stronger than ever before!” That news followed Trump’s legal counsel sending a cease-and-desist letter to top GOP campaign committees demanding they stop using his name for fundraising without his approval.
At the center of this is a cast of familiar characters: Jason Miller, Bill Stepien, Brad Parscale. All of them close confidants of Jared Kushner, and all with intimate knowledge of the operation that covertly spent nearly a billion dollars in campaign cash on anything but the campaign during the 2020 election cycle. Although it emerged in late November with a surplus of $7 million, Republican voters were told the Trump campaign desperately needed cash and grassroots organizers struggled to get the resources they required.
It is difficult to overstate the impropriety of Trump’s leadership PAC fundraising. The $8,000 “Election Defense Fund” threshold meant that those solicitations preyed directly upon working-class constituents, as only wealthier donors could easily clear that figure to actually contribute to anything election-related. Indeed, the former president pulled in vast sums of money from crucial small donors—something he appears to be aware of and is willing to use as leverage against the GOP.
The “why,” “how,” and “what” comes into view as a nebulous labyrinth of shell companies, fronts, PACs, and vendors served by an army of cronies. The latest fundraising apparatus appears to be a proposed Trump-branded social media network, which Jason Miller told Fox News will launch “in probably about two or three months.” If the Save America PAC is any indicator, users should think twice before allowing Trump’s team to harvest their data, and always remember to read the fine print.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story provided an unverified fundraising total for Trump’s legal defense campaign. We’ve removed the number and reworded the story.