US election 2020: Trump campaign struggling for cash after ‘stupidly burning through $1bn’

‘You could literally have 10 monkeys with flamethrowers go after the money, and they wouldn’t have burned through it as stupidly’

Via AP news wire,Alex Woodward
Tuesday 20 October 2020 06:22 BST
Biden V Trump: US election opinion polls

Donald Trump’s campaign and massive political enterprise has raised more than $1bn since he entered office, but the president and his allies have blown through millions of dollars on Super Bowl advertising, legal fees, “unnecessary overheard” and Trump-affiliated properties as it struggles to keep up with Joe Biden and Democratic fundraising.

The president spent $10m on a Super Bowl ad before he had a challenger, relied on his political organisation to cover legal fees tied to his impeachment, and gave nearly $275m to a limited liability company whose owners are not publicly disclosed, according to records reviewed by The Associated Press.

A look into his re-election campaign’s finances and ad spending arrives as monthly campaign finance reports are due on Tuesday, within two weeks of Election Day, the last review of the financial health of the campaigns before voting results are expected.

Casino mogul and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, recently poured $75m into Preserve America, a new pro-Trump super political action committee pumping anti-Joe Biden ads in battleground states.

The couple has given $176m to Republican candidates in the 2020 cycle, according to campaign finance records.

Despite last-ditch fundraising efforts, the Trump campaign has been forced to make prudent financial decisions in the days leading up to 3 November, as his Democratic rival and organisations have raised a record-breaking $383m within the last month.

That total broke past August’s fundraising figure, another record-breaker at $364m.

The campaign called it “the best month of online fundraising in American political history.”

More than half of September’s fundraising came from online donors, with an average contribution of $44.

With the president struggling in recent polls, and some states emerging as new battlegrounds, Republican fundraisers have sights set instead on securing Congressional seats against Democratic challengers while his campaign is out-raised by Mr Biden.

Mr Trump’s campaign "spent their money on unnecessary overhead, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous activity by the campaign staff and vanity ads way too early,” said Mike Murphy, a veteran Republican consultant who advised John McCain and Jeb Bush and is an outspoken Trump critic.

“You could literally have 10 monkeys with flamethrowers go after the money, and they wouldn’t have burned through it as stupidly," he told The Associated Press.

Campaign manager Bill Stepien has insisted that the campaign has "more than sufficient air cover, almost three times as much as 2016,” he told reporters Monday.

While the president relies on packed rallies for both media attention and a surrogate for more in-person events during the coronavirus pandemic, the campaign also has roughly 2,000 field staffers across the country knocking on doors and making calls for his campaign.

The former vice president and his allies have meanwhile are on pace to spend $142m into ads in the closing days of the campaign, outspending Republicans by more than two-to-one, according to data from ad tracking firm CMAG/Kantar.

On Monday, the firm Medium Buying reported Mr Trump was canceling ad buys in Wisconsin, as well as Minnesota, which he had hoped to flip, and Ohio, which went for Mr Trump in 2016 but has emerged as another battleground.

The cancellations are a reversal from earlier this year, when Mr Biden's campaign was strapped for cash and Mr Parscale compared the Trump campaign to a “Death Star” that was about to “start pressing FIRE for the first time.”

The ad campaign they unrolled over the next three months cost over $176m but did little to dent Mr Biden's lead in public opinion polling, according to The Associated Press.

Mr Trump is now in an unprecedented position for an incumbent, according to Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks advertising spending.

“Advertising obviously isn’t everything. But we do think ads matter for a couple percentage points in a presidential race," he told The Associate Press. “And it’s just not a good sign for the Trump campaign.”

A review of expenditures by Trump’s campaign, as well as the Republican National Committee, lays bare some of the profligate spending.

Since 2017, more than $39m has been paid to firms controlled by Mr Parscale, who was ousted as campaign manager over the summer.

An additional $273.2m was paid to American Made Media Consultants, a Delaware limited liability company, whose owners are not publicly disclosed.

Campaigns typically reveal their primary vendors in mandatory disclosures. But by routing money to Mr Parscale’s firms, as well as American Made Media Consultants, the president satisfied the basic disclosure requirements without detailing the ultimate recipients.

Other questionable expenditures by Mr Trump and the RNC that are included in campaign finance disclosures:

– Nearly $100,000 spent on copies of Donald Trump Jr.’s book Triggered, which helped propel it to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list.

– Over $7.4m spent at Trump-branded properties since 2017.

– At least $35.2m spent on Trump merchandise.

– $38.7m in legal and “compliance” fees. In addition to tapping the RNC and his campaign to pay legal costs during his impeachment proceedings, Mr Trump has also relied on his political operation to cover legal costs for some aides.

– At least $14.1m spent on the Republican National Convention. The event was supposed to have been held in Charlotte, North Carolina, but Mr Trump relocated it to Jacksonville, Florida, after a dispute with North Carolina's Democratic governor over coronavirus safety measures. The Florida event was ultimately cancelled, as well, with a mostly online convention taking its place.

– $912,000 spent on ads that ran on the personal Facebook pages of Mr Parscale and Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson.

– A $250,000 ad run during Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, which came after Mr Trump was booed by spectators when he attended Game 5.

– At least $218,000 for Trump surrogates to travel aboard private jets provided by campaign donors.

– $1.6 million on TV ads in Washington, DC, an overwhelmingly Democratic area where Mr Trump has little chance of winning but where he is a regular TV watcher.


Associated Press writer Andrew Milligan in New York contributed to this report.

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