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Trump Was Outraised by Hundreds of Millions in 2016. That Won’t Happen Again in 2020

The Republican incumbent is approaching 2020 with a massive cash advantage.

Caricature of President Donald Trump

Caricature of President Donald Trump. (Image: DonkeyHotey/flickr/cc)

While some Democrats are spending more money than they are raising to stand out in a crowded presidential primary, President Donald Trump continues to expand his robust fundraising machine.

Trump enters the final quarter of 2019 with $83 million cash on hand, far more than the $61 million then-President Barack Obama had in the bank at this point in 2011 during his record-breaking fundraising effort to keep the White House. 

Meanwhile, the 2020 Democrat with the most cash on hand — Bernie Sanders — has $33.7 million. Polling leaders Elizabeth Warren ($25.7 million) and Joe Biden ($9 million) have far less than the president. 

If these trends continue, the upcoming election won’t be a repeat of 2016, when Hillary Clinton’s campaign had $773 million behind it compared to Trump’s $449 million. Instead, the Republican incumbent is approaching 2020 with a massive cash advantage

Crediting Trump’s monster $41 million third-quarter haul in part to Democrats’ impeachment push, the Trump campaign has momentum with both coveted small donors and wealthy financiers. 

OpenSecrets estimates that roughly 59 percent of Trump’s fundraising to date — around $97 million — has come from small donors giving $200 or less. That includes money transferred from Trump’s two joint fundraising committees, which route contributions to the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee accounts. 

Trump brought in just 38 percent of his campaign cash from small donors in the third quarter, dropping his overall percentage. That’s because his small-dollar joint fundraising committee spent nearly $15 million on operating costs to pay for merchandise, direct mail services and WinRed online fundraising fees, among other things, rather than transfer the money to the campaign. 

Still, the president’s small donor support is unprecedented for a Republican presidential candidate. For reference, Mitt Romney brought in just 18 percent of his money from small donors in 2012. Republican candidates generally don’t do well with bite-sized contributions — the only ones who do happen to be top Trump allies, such as Lindsey Graham in the Senate and Devin Nunes in the House.

Trump unofficially launched his 2020 campaign within a month of taking office. It was an unprecedented move at the time, but it paid off. The Trump campaign has been running Facebook and Google ads for years in order to harvest contact information from supporters, building a massive database of potential donors it can draw from at a moment’s notice with an email or text message. The president continues to outspend his Democratic opponents on digital ads in 2019.

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The Trump campaign complements its small donor army with a battalion of wealthy supporters.

A stunning 648 individual Trump donors reached the $5,600 contribution limit for the 2020 cycle in the third quarter.

Trump Victory, the big-dollar joint fundraising committee, reported bringing in nearly $28 million in the third quarter, just $1 million shy of its previous three-month haul. It reported taking in bundled contributions from three Trump tied lobbyists — Brian Ballard ($295,000), Jeff Miller ($255,000) and Jason Osborne ($360,000).

The joint fundraising committee is allowed to cover the cost of fundraisers by using donor money, potentially cutting costs for the campaign. As some wealthy donors give upwards of $700,000 to the committee, there is more than enough left over to pay for catering and other fundraising expenses. Like other Trump campaign groups, the committee tends to generously funnel cash to Trump properties, to the tune of more than $377,000 from July through September.

Together, Trump’s joint fundraising committees transferred $26.6 million to Trump’s campaign and another $31.7 million to various RNC accounts in the third quarter.

Now the undisputed leader of the Republican Party, Trump has almost singlehandedly willed the RNC to its best fundraising figures — $54 million cash on hand through October — in recent years. The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, has just $8.3 million cash on hand and is now asking 2020 Democrats to raise money for the party long before the primary is over.

The Trump campaign said it received a fundraising bump due to Democrats’ embrace of impeachment. The Center for Public Integrity found that the campaign did indeed capitalize on impeachment, reporting an uptick in fundraising shortly after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) endorsed an inquiry. The deep-pocketed RNC is trying to take advantage of impeachment, too, airing ads to target House Democrats in red districts who threw their support behind the inquiry.

Researchers Doug Weber and Alex Baumgart contributed to this report.

Karl Evers-Hillstrom

Karl Evers-Hillstrom is a money-in-politics reporter for the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C.

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