As President Donald Trump tries to delegitimize the results of a presidential contest in which he "got his ass kicked" by making unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and alleging that "the Left will try to STEAL this election," his campaign and the Republican Party are peppering the president's supporters with solicitations for cash—ostensibly to help defray the costs of legal battles, but a new analysis of the donation requests shows that "most of the money will go to other priorities."
Politico on Thursday reported that a significant amount of the money raised "won't go towards challenging election results," but will instead be used "to help set the stage for the president's next act."
"It's pretty dangerous to our democracy to use attacking our elections as a fundraising tool."
—Larry Noble, former FEC attorney
"Any small-dollar donations from Trump's grassroots donors won't be going to legal expenses at all," Reuters noted Wednesday. "A donor would have to give more than $8,000 before any money goes to the 'recount account' established to finance election challenges, including recounts and lawsuits over alleged improprieties."
This isn't the first time the president's fundraising disclosures have come under scrutiny. As Common Dreams reported last week, the fine print of a $60 million fundraising pitch from the Republican National Committee (RNC) noted that up to half of each contribution could be used to alleviate Trump's campaign debt.
However, after Bradley Crate, the president's campaign treasurer, created "Save America," a Trump leadership political action committee (PAC), on Monday, the disclosure language was modified.
As Reuters reported, Trump's recent "post-election fundraising emails, sometimes issued hourly over the last several days... send supporters to an 'Official Election Defense Fund' website that asks them to sign up for recurring donations to 'protect the results and keep fighting even after Election Day.'"
A substantial share of the money, however, is diverted to the Save America PAC and the RNC, both of which have "broad leeway in how they can use the funds... under Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules," the news outlet explained.
The fine print, according to Reuters,
shows that donations are split between "Save America," which gets 60% of the money, and the RNC, which gets the other 40%. None of the money flows to Trump's official "recount" committee fund until Trump's Save America share reaches the legal contribution limit of $5,000, according to the disclosures.
That means that, before a dollar goes into the recount fund, Save America would receive $5,000 and the RNC around $3,300. Donations to the recount committee are legally limited to $2,800.
Whereas the spending of campaign funds is regulated, "leadership PACs such as Save America carry few restrictions," the news outlet explained.
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Larry Noble, former general counsel at the FEC, told Reuters that Trump could use the Save America PAC to subsidize his political career in the aftermath of 2020.
"Trump's insistence that there was voter fraud and demands for recounts are helping create post-election unity among his base, and raise money the president can use to keep his political career afloat after January."
—Maggie Severns, Politico
"He's really making a big deal about the challenge to the election, and that may very well be why a lot of people may give without paying attention to, or understanding, what the political language is," Noble said. "It's pretty dangerous to our democracy to use attacking our elections as a fundraising tool."
As Politico put it, "Trump's insistence that there was voter fraud and demands for recounts are helping create post-election unity among his base, and raise money the president can use to keep his political career afloat after January."
The news outlet pointed out that "the RNC already had money set aside for recounts and other post-election legal proceedings that it may spend in the coming weeks," which is why Adav Noti, former counsel at the FEC, described Trump's efforts as "extremely misleading."
Trump "has always understood that money equals power, and now he wants to have a bunch of money and it's going to give him a seat at the table," Richard Painter, White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, told Politico. "That's what he's doing."
"He has these blocs of voters that other Republicans didn't have, and probably won't have in the future—and that's what he wants to raise this money to control," Painter added.
Given that "70% of Republicans don't think the election was free or fair," Trump is not the only political figure using baseless claims of electoral fraud as a fundraising strategy.
According to Politico, "QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene, who last week won election to Congress in Georgia... has in recent days repeatedly circulated a 'STOP THE BIDEN STEAL!' petition and fundraising link to her followers" on Parler, "the right-wing news media site billing itself as an alternative to Twitter."
The news outlet explained that, in addition to "plac[ing] his family members and former administration officials on payroll, and continu[ing] to host lavish events at his properties," Trump could use money from the Save America PAC to "promote candidates who were loyal to him and make donations to their campaigns... without tripping up campaign finance law."
Looking ahead to the pair of high-stakes runoff elections in Georgia that will determine which party controls the Senate—expected to rank among the most expensive races in U.S. history—GOP operatives are in disagreement over whether Trump will "channel the donations" into that political fight or "suck money and energy from their party’s biggest challenge in the coming months."
Either way, one thing is for sure about Trump, according to progressive critic Robert Reich: "A shameless grifter to the bitter end."