Trump’s Fund-Raising in First Weeks of ’24 Race Is Relatively Weak
Donald J. Trump’s knack for generating millions of dollars simply by emailing or texting supporters has helped him maintain a firm grip on the Republican Party since the 2016 presidential race.
But in the first weeks of his third presidential campaign, he notched a less-than-stellar fund-raising haul, yet another signal that his hold on some conservatives may be loosening.
Mr. Trump’s campaign said Tuesday that he had raised $9.5 million from Nov. 15, when he announced he was running again for the White House, through the end of 2022.
That amounted to an average of $201,600 a day, a fraction of the sums that established front-runners from past elections — in both parties — have collected in their opening weeks, according to federal campaign finance reports.
In 2015, when former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida opened his campaign as the front-runner for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination, he averaged $762,000 a day in his first weeks as a candidate. That same year, when Hillary Clinton announced her presidential bid, she averaged $594,400 a day in her first campaign finance reporting period.
Steve Cheung, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, said that Mr. Trump remained the party’s best fund-raiser, and he pointed to the $80 million collected last year by the former president’s Save America Joint Fundraising Committee. That total for the calendar year includes the $9.5 million that was raised for Mr. Trump’s campaign through the joint fund-raising committee.
“The campaign built out a second-to-none operation both on the national level and in early states since announcing,” Mr. Cheung said. “The president will wage an aggressive and fully funded campaign to take our country back from Joe Biden and Democrats who seek to destroy our country.”
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The super PAC supporting Mr. Trump’s campaign, MAGA Inc., reported having $54.1 million on hand at the end of the year. The super PAC will hold its first fund-raiser of the year at the end of February at Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s South Florida resort, which Mr. Trump is also expected to attend, according to two people familiar with the planning.
Mr. Trump’s poor fund-raising could be tied to the curious timing of his announcement. Starting a presidential campaign just after the 2022 midterms and just ahead of the holiday season might have limited his ability to keep the attention of online donors, who have for years fueled his political operation.
Russ Schriefer, a strategist for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign — which raised an average of $633,900 a day during its first reporting period of the 2012 race — noted that previous presidential front-runners had spent months, if not years, carefully considering the timing of their announcements and ensuring that their launches would be paired with strong initial fund-raising reports. Mr. Trump’s start, by contrast, appeared more ad hoc, he said.
“The rules that applied to Mitt or Hillary or Jeb just don’t seem to apply to Trump,” Mr. Schriefer said.
But inopportune timing would be a peculiar explanation for an experienced candidate seeking to return to the world’s most powerful political office. The quirks of the calendar may be only part of the explanation.
Mr. Trump’s standing among Republicans dipped in public opinion polls in November and December, which coincided with the opening of his campaign. He was also roundly criticized after hosting a private dinner — a week after his campaign announcement — with Kanye West, who has been denounced for making antisemitic statements, and Nick Fuentes, an outspoken antisemite and prominent young white supremacist.
Mr. Trump had also failed to deliver the “red wave” that he and others had promised voters in the midterm elections. Voters rejected many of the handpicked candidates he had encouraged to promote false claims that he had won the 2020 presidential race.
Mr. Trump’s political future may be complicated by several investigations into his conduct, involving events before he was a candidate in 2016 and his efforts to thwart the peaceful transfer of power after he lost in November 2020.
“It looks like the Trump money machine has gone from a Ferrari engine to a lawn mower engine,” said Mike Murphy, one of the architects of Mr. Bush’s 2016 campaign bid. “He’s still got a knuckle of support, but in every metric of support, he’s slowly and steadily declining.”
The former president’s fund-raising effort could rev back up if he returned to Facebook, which his political operation has long used to solicit donations. Mr. Trump’s account, which had 34 million followers, was suspended after the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, but Meta, the platform owner, said last week that it would reinstate the former president’s access.
Mr. Trump raised money almost exclusively through the Save America Joint Fundraising Committee. While just $3.8 million of that cash was transferred to Mr. Trump’s presidential account, Mr. Cheung, the campaign spokesman, said all of the money would support the former president’s White House bid.
Mr. Trump’s campaign and joint fund-raising committee had about $6.8 million on hand to start the year, according to the federal campaign finance reports.
Adav Noti, the legal director of the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group, said Mr. Trump’s campaign had spearheaded a new use of joint fund-raising committees, which have previously been simply used as umbrella groups to disburse money immediately to campaigns.
“The Trump campaign pioneered this use of J.F.C. as the primary spending committee for the campaigns,” Mr. Noti said.
The Trump joint fund-raising committee has also transferred money to a separate committee known as Save America, which has been used to support Mr. Trump’s political activities. That committee had $18.3 million on hand at the end of the year.
Mr. Trump’s campaign account paid seven companies and consultants for political help, including Jamestown Associates, his longtime ad-making firm. Compass Legal has been engaged as the campaign’s legal firm.
The campaign’s payroll included 21 people, including Lynne Patton, a former Trump administration official, and Walt Nauta, the former White House Navy valet.
Mr. Nauta, who also went to work for Mr. Trump after leaving the White House, is among the Trump aides of interest to the Justice Department in connection with the investigation into the storage of more than 300 classified documents, and hundreds of other presidential records, at Mar-a-Lago.
The Trump campaign paid $30,000 to the firm owned by Boris Epshteyn, a legal adviser to Mr. Trump who has positioned himself as in-house counsel on some matters, and reported an additional $20,000 owed to Mr. Epshteyn’s company.
And there were, as there have been with every filing since he became a candidate in 2015, payments to Mr. Trump’s clubs. That means Mr. Trump’s campaign effectively paid Mr. Trump’s clubs for meals, rent and other expenses.
There was a $1,122 fee to his Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., as well as $68,700 to Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach resort and residence, for catering and rent, both apparently for Mr. Trump’s Nov. 15 kickoff. There were also two separate meal reimbursement charges of $48.44 to the club.
The Save America Joint Fundraising Committee appeared to have handled the spending related to Mr. Trump’s fund-raising, including roughly $260,000 on fees to WinRed, a company that processes online donations for Republicans, and more than $1 million to the email company Open Sesame.
Beth Hansen, a Republican strategist and former manager of John Kasich’s campaigns for governor of Ohio as well as president, described Mr. Trump’s fund-raising totals in an interview as “anemic” for a former president.
She said the sluggish pace appeared to reflect that Mr. Trump had become less appealing to voters.
“The brand that he has was so attractive to people who were sick and tired of the status quo and sick and tired of being told they’re wrong,” Ms. Hansen said. “I just don’t think we’re there anymore as a country. And he can’t move away from it — his brand is too strong.”
Neil Vigdor and Rachel Shorey contributed reporting.