Donald Trump has broken the mold in many ways with his presidential campaign, with plenty of room for argument about whether that is a good or bad development. (In fact, the style of argument is one of the political molds he has broken... arguably.) However, it appears that his claim of breaking the political chains through self-funding his campaign does not hold up to scrutiny.
A study of his Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings shows that a significant amount of Trump's campaign funds originates from donors, contrary to his claims. Trump has made repeated assertions that his campaign is self-funded, similar to his quote at a Las Vegas rally in October that "I'm self-funding my own campaign" and "I don't think I get enough credit for self-funding."
His self-funding line was repeated as recently as in the scrappy and contentious GOP presidential debate held in Columbia, South Carolina, on February 13th (ironically held at the Peace Center). FactCheck.org disputes Trump’s claims, pointing out that his 2015 year-end filing in January shows $19.4 million in campaign income, with $12.6 million of that coming in via candidate loans. Thus, approximately one-third of his campaign funds have arrived via donations. The year-end filing shows $1.6 million in itemized individual contributions and another $4.9 million in unitemized ones.
It is also important to remember that as the bulk of Trump's campaign contribution is in loans instead of donations, he can potentially get that back. There is no rule that says his spending has to come specifically from either donations or his own funds. As of the end of 2015, the campaign had spent $12.4 million, meaning that a bit over half of the expenses to date could be covered by contributions from donors.
98% of those disbursements were for operating expenses, while the remainder was covered by individual refunds (for example, refunding individual or in-kind donations that surpass legal limits), or transfers to authorized committees (generally to state committees to cover ballot access fees in their states). Those transfers for ballot fees were slightly over $173,000 as of the end of 2015.
The most recent FEC filing covering January spending continues that trend. Contributions through January 31 outside of loans total almost $7.75 million, with $1.87 million in itemized and $5.63 million in unitemized donations. The campaign raked in close to $1 million in January alone, and with the Republican field finally starting to narrow (five as of this writing thanks to Jeb Bush's departure from the race), it's entirely possible that an even greater percentage of available donations will come Trump's way.
Spending ramped up dramatically over January to almost $11.5 million, almost doubling the total to date and pushing expenditures up to $24 million. As we head into the all-important Super Tuesday primaries on March 1, expect Trump's spending to increase even more. The self-funded component of his campaign will likely take on a greater percentage of his campaign expenses, but it is still misleading to call his campaign completely self-funded.
As the winner of nearly all of the Republican Presidential battles so far, there is no doubt Trump is winning in a way few people have envisioned. But according to his last filing, the billionaire has contributed only $250,318 to his campaign. Does that sound “Huuuuuge” to you? Unless Trump intends to refund all donations and pay all his campaign expenses out of loans (a scenario beyond unlikely), his campaign does indeed depend on donor support.
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