After a long hiatus, Donald Trump is once again contributing cash to Republicans not named Donald Trump.
The Republican National Committee filed a financial report last weekend revealing a $1 million October contribution from Trump Make America Great Again, the joint fundraising juggernaut split between the RNC and two PACs belonging to the former president. It was TMAGA's first significant contribution to the Republican Party since Trump left office-the last was for funds raised ahead of the Jan. 5 special elections in Georgia.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, RNC spokesperson Emma Vaughn said the transfer from the joint fundraising committee (JFC) was "standard practice."
"This is standard operating procedure when dealing with a joint fundraising agreement that is no longer in use. Based on a prior agreement, the RNC is transferring its funds from the JFC to the RNC based on standard practice and to suggest anything otherwise is gross misreporting," Vaughn said.
When asked, Vaughn would not say whether the committee was going to terminate, or if the groups were preserving the relationship. Former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had offloaded the cash in her old JFC by the same point in 2017, and filed to shut down the committee; TMAGA still sits on $13 million, and has not dissolved its joint fundraising agreement.
Dan Weiner, former counsel at the Federal Election Commission and a campaign finance expert at the Brennan Center for Justice, called the relationship "unusual."
Weiner nodded to TMAGA's fundraising off of Trump-$30 million in the first half of the year, according to federal records-a large share of it in recurring donations raised on the back of Trump's election lies. And, he said, while the recent transfer could align with a wind-down, a sustained partnership suggests something else, part of "the ongoing dance between the party and their de facto leader."
"It's not a pattern you would typically expect several years out from a supposedly wide open primary. So this is unusual," Weiner told The Daily Beast. "But it's also the first time since the emergence of our modern campaign finance system where we've had a former president take so many steps towards actively seeking his party's nomination."
Trump's fundraising has not always been in lock step with the RNC this year.
Most notably, the national Republican Party has, until now, seen almost zero financial support this year from Trump committees. After 17 Republicans broke with the MAGA fold to vote in favor of impeachment, Trump took steps to shut the RNC out of his money game-for the specific fear that the party would use money raised in his name to fund re-election campaigns for Republicans who turned against him, according to Politico. The concern was so deep that at one point he threatened to sue the RNC if the party continued to use his name and likeness in fundraising efforts without his consent. (The RNC shrugged off the threat, and Trump backed down.)
And within weeks of his second impeachment, Trump had overhauled his 2020 "death star" fundraising machine. He built firewalls around his committees to retain ultimate control over cash flow, allowing him to wield his massive war chest-and fundraising power-as leverage over Republicans who had crossed him, or who may do so in the future.
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And while the ex-president has over the course of the year rewarded loyal candidates with endorsements, he has at the same time threatened repeatedly to sabotage Republicans at the ballot box, warning the GOP as recently as this month that he may ask supporters to boycott the midterms if the party doesn't bear the torch of his election grievances.
But one year out from the midterms, Trump has begun to shift where it matters most to him: spending money. While he doled out a smattering of small contributions to select candidates over the summer, the TMAGA transfer to the central party-which fans money out to Republicans across the country-is a pipeline to broad financial support, including for NeverTrump candidates he despises.
His Save America JFC has also begun to ramp up its Facebook and Google spending, including multiple Facebook ad buys in mid-November explicitly asking supporters to back Republican candidates broadly in the 2022 midterm elections.
"Your participation is essential to our ability to develop a winning strategy in YOUR STATE. Without your response, we might FAIL to win the majority in 2022," the ads say. They link out to a survey which includes questions about congressional districts and asks supporters to sign up for a fundraising list.
By comparison, Trump's mid-year campaign finance reports revealed no donations to any political committees not under his control. In fact, those filings showed just one outside contribution-a $1 million gift this June to America First Policies Institute, a recently created nonprofit aligned with the "official" Trump-backing super PAC. A few weeks later AFPI signed on to support Trump's lawsuit against social media companies.
But in 2020, the RNC had been hooked on Trump money. Two powerhouse Trump-affiliated committees funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to party committees, but over the last 11 months those transfers essentially stopped.
The first of the committees-TMAGA, which largely targeted small-dollar recurring donors-had in 2020 distributed more than $370 million between Trump and the RNC. But until its recent transfer, the committee had made just two RNC contributions after President Joe Biden's inauguration. They came on the same day, Feb. 22, for a total $130,000-piddling compared to the nearly $70 million the committee transferred to Trump just three days prior.
The second committee-Trump Victory, a joint fundraising vehicle between Trump, the RNC, and a number of state parties-has been far quieter. After distributing roughly $312 million in the last election cycle, Trump Victory has reported only one outside contribution this year, an $8,500 transfer to the Republican Party of Minnesota in early February, and through the first half of 2021 had -$15,000 in receipts, according to data with the Federal Election Commission.
Instead, Trump's apparatus has looked inward, cycling tens of millions of dollars between his Save America leadership PAC and his former campaign committee, redubbed Make America Great Again. The most recently available filings, from July, show the ex-president's committees sitting on a combined $102 million.
Still, according to the Washington Post, the RNC continues to support the former president in unconventional ways. On Monday, the Post reported the committee had chipped in for Trump's legal expenses in the ongoing New York-based investigation into his business practices. The first of those RNC payments came on Oct. 6; two days later, TMAGA made its first sizable RNC contribution of the year.
A Trump spokesperson did not reply to a request for comment.
But the former president's support can come with costs. Some of his fundraising efforts have even created new chaos within the GOP, as he continues to attack insufficiently loyal officials backed by the party.
While addressing a crowd of Republican megadonors assembled at an April fundraiser for the Senate Republican campaign committee at his Mar a Lago club, Trump slammed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as a "stone cold loser."
During a recent fundraiser for the House Republican campaign arm, Trump used his speech to rip into the 13 Republican incumbents who voted for Biden's bipartisan infrastructure package. (He hedged after catching blowback from the party.)
Trump himself has shown only limited financial support for Republican candidates, and with a narrow scope. In July and August, his leadership PAC made $5,000 contributions to select congressional candidates, many of whom regularly voice tributes to the former president. He personally endorsed one of them, former Trump White House aide turned Ohio Republican House candidate Max Miller, who would reportedly play show tunes to calm the then-president and has been accused of domestic abuse.
Last Friday, Miller announced he was switching races after Ohio legislators carved up the state in redistricting. He now faces a tougher challenge in a more Democratic-friendly district, though it is still unclear if he will first have to contend with a strong primary opponent. Trump reiterated his endorsement on Tuesday.
"Saving America starts with saving the GOP from RINOs, sellouts, and known losers," Trump said in a release. "My great Trump-endorsed candidate in Ohio, Max Miller, is doing both."
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