The Trump Campaign Is Losing The Fundraising War—And Many Supporters Have Already ‘Maxed Out’

WINSTON SALEM, NC - SEPTEMBER 08: People sing the National Anthem during a campaign rally with President Donald Trump at Smith Reynolds Airport on September 8, 2020 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. The president als... WINSTON SALEM, NC - SEPTEMBER 08: People sing the National Anthem during a campaign rally with President Donald Trump at Smith Reynolds Airport on September 8, 2020 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. The president also made a campaign stop in South Florida on Tuesday. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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September 9, 2020 2:50 p.m.

As the President’s campaign struggles with a cash crunch following an incredibly expensive few months of campaigning, it’s also confronting a growing and related problem: More and more of its most dedicated donors have “maxed out” and are no longer eligible to give money. 

These donors, according to federal election records, are part of a growing list of Trump supporters who have met or exceeded the legal limit for contributions to a campaign in a given election period, $2,800. They represent one drawback to Trump’s decision to launch his reelection campaign immediately after taking office in 2017: Many of his most dedicated supporters began donating weekly or monthly then, rather than closer to the 2020 election.

In some cases, these donors kept giving beyond the legal limit, creating an additional headache for the Trump campaign.

A recent Federal Election Commission document listing the excess Trump contributions runs more than 850 pages of itemized donations to the Trump campaign, ten times the size of the Biden campaign’s list of maxed out donors

“A bunch of their core supporters from 2016 have maxed out,” observed Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer who’s regularly represented clients in Federal Election Commission proceedings. “And now, we’re at the point where he really needs more money.” 

The timing of the spike in maxed out donors and excess donations is unfortunate for the Trump campaign. In any other election year, its August fundraising haul would be great news for an incumbent president: Between the campaign itself, the Republican Party and their joint fundraising committees, Trump’s team brought in $210 million in August, the campaign announced Tuesday, a mammoth figure.

But it paled in comparison to the figure from the other side: Joe Biden and the Democratic Party brought in $364 million the same month — “a massive amount of cash,” Trump told supporters in an email last week, before asking for yet more money.

Kappel noted the only campaign he’s known to compete with Trump’s list of excess contributions is Bernie Sanders’ — although, given that Sanders’ list consists of hundreds of donors whose small-change contributions (often $2.70 at a time) ultimately crossed the line, that document was even longer. 

Also, unlike Trump, Sanders responded to the FEC’s notice of excess contributions by simply refunding donors who’d gone over the limit. Trump’s campaign, on the other hand, has informed the FEC in recent months that only some of the excess contributions were refunded. Others, the majority of them, were “redesignated to another election” and other committees, the campaign told election regulators.

Now, in the last mile of his reelection effort, Trump is looking for new money. The New York Times noted this week that the campaign, and the Republican National Committee, have spent eight figures on digital list acquisition — getting email addresses of potential new donors. 

The Trump campaign didn’t respond to TPM’s request for comment, but it has downplayed the cash shortage. 

Brad Parscale, the now-former campaign manager, told the Times he was proud of his achievements, and that “I built an unprecedented infrastructure with the Republican Party under this family’s leadership since 2016.” His successor, Bill Stepien, told the paper, “The most important thing I do every day is pay attention to the budget.”

On Tuesday, Stepien stressed the campaign’s ground game and the Trump “enthusiasm advantage” over Biden.

“The Trump campaign will have all the resources we need,” he said.

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