It comes as no surprise that a campaign which held a rally that was most likely the source of a large uptick of COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma and lost millions due to a failed Republican National Convention venue change would be tumultuous behind the scenes. But a report from the New York Times details just how chaotic the Trump campaign’s finances have been, particularly for a reelection effort which began the day after the inauguration.
Though the campaign raised a total of $1.1 billion since the beginning of 2019 and did not have to spend money in a primary, over $800 million, or close to 73 percent, of their funds have been exhausted. Similar to the trajectory of the president’s business career, an early excess of cash appears to have been wasted due to questionable spending. “The campaign assembled a big and well-paid staff and housed the team at a cavernous, well-appointed office in the Virginia suburbs; outsize legal bills were treated as campaign costs; and more than $100 million was spent on a television advertising blitz before the party convention, the point when most of the electorate historically begins to pay close attention to the race,” write Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman.
Much of the extravagant spending can reportedly be traced back to former campaign manager Brad Parscale, who was relieved of his role last month, but kept on in a more limited capacity. Parscale, who had the unusual perk of a car and driver while leading the campaign, spent some $350 million alone on fundraising operations. There were more Trump-specific purchases as well, including a six-figure purchase of magnet-lined pouches used to store the phones of donors during meetings so that they could not record and leak the president’s comments. “I ran the campaign the same way I did in 2016, which also included all of the marketing, strategy and expenses under the very close eye of the family,” Parscale told the New York Times, despite being the digital director, not the campaign manager, of the 2016 operation.
The new campaign manager, Bill Stepien, has taken a pay cut and has made attempts to stop the bleeding by reducing TV ad spending and nixing flashy ideas, including a proposal to spend $3 million on a NASCAR car with Trump’s name on it. It’s not yet clear if the campaign will add to the more than $1 million in TV ads it’s spent in Washington, D.C., where the president has no chance of winning but a very high chance of seeing his own messaging during the many hours he tunes in each day.
As the postmaster general faces allegations of running an illegal “straw-donor” plan to raise money for the president, the Times also reports on some curious Trump campaign spending:
Many of the specifics of Mr. Trump’s spending are opaque; since 2017, the campaign and the R.N.C. have routed $227 million through a single limited liability company linked to Trump campaign officials. That firm, American Made Media Consultants, has been used to place television and digital ads and was the subject of a recent Federal Election Commission complaint arguing it was used to disguise the final destination of spending, which has included paychecks to Lara Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle, the partners of Mr. Trump’s two adult sons …
The R.N.C. also paid a large legal bill of $666,667.66 to Reuters News & Media at the end of June. Both Reuters and the R.N.C. declined to discuss the payment. It was labeled “legal proceedings — IP resolution,” suggesting it was related to a potential litigation over intellectual property.
Meanwhile, the Biden campaign has emerged as a fundraising machine, with a record $365 million brought in last month. While the announcement of Kamala Harris as the VP pick provided a significant boost, much of the post-primary success has come from the campaign’s minimal footprint during the pandemic. One tactic, the Zoom fundraiser, has reportedly been a major success, taking less than 90 minutes and making up to $720,000 per session. The Trump campaign has not released its August numbers, and staffers have not managed to get the president on video calls with donors. According to the Times, “Aides say he doesn’t like them.”