For all of his golden toilets, former President Donald Trump is notoriously stingy—with his personal funds as well as the hundreds of millions of dollars he’s extracted from his supporters over the years. And that’s all the more reason why government watchdogs are raising the alarm about a new campaign finance filing that shows, one month ahead of the midterm elections, an eye-popping $20 million political donation from Trump.
The contribution—Trump’s largest ever by far—went from his Save America leadership PAC on Oct. 3 to a new Trump-aligned super PAC, called Make America Great Again Inc. That same day, an old pro-Trump super PAC threw another $8.9 million behind the new group.
Super PACs can spend unlimited amounts of money to support candidates, so on its face, the donation could be said to be a generous contribution from Trump to the MAGA cause during a critical election. But as a number of campaign finance experts explained, the specifics here suggest Trump is really trying to get around laws that would otherwise prevent him from spending his personal stash on a 2024 presidential run.
Paul S. Ryan, a veteran campaign finance lawyer now serving as deputy executive director at the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation, said that was “the only plausible explanation.”
“The only thing Trump cannot do with the millions and millions of dollars he’s raised into his leadership PAC is support himself. The only plausible explanation for this move is to convert that money to be spent on his own campaign,” Ryan told The Daily Beast.
Jordan Libowitz, communications director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, made the same observation.
“Trump can use Save America money for pretty much whatever he wants—except backing his own campaign,” Libowitz said. “If he wanted to use it to help Republicans in the midterms, he would just do that. Trump is always about Trump. This looks like a way for him to move the money to help his candidacy before he declares.”
When Trump created Save America after the 2020 election, he established it as a leadership PAC, which has benefits and drawbacks. For Trump, the obvious benefits would be the lax regulations on spending—leadership PACs are notorious as “slush funds” for personal expenses. Trump could take the millions he raised and spend them on his businesses, his pals, and his wife’s preferred luxury designer, for instance.
But the big drawback for Trump, as he prepares his 2024 comeback, is that he can’t use leadership PAC money to fund his own political activity. That’s a lot of money—a total $138 million raised so far—with about $70 million still just sitting there in his flagship fundraising account.
However, one thing Trump could do with that money is spend unlimited amounts of it helping out his allies. In fact, Save America could act exactly like a super PAC in that regard. Which, according to Documented deputy executive director Brendan Fischer, suggests Trump’s team is trying to “manufacture deniability” so they can spend the money later backing Trump’s 2024 presidential run.
“Once Trump becomes a candidate, it would clearly be…