WASHINGTON – The campaign of President Donald Trump was so focused on not overspending that it turned down a $3 million request to help get out the vote in Georgia, and it appears to have headed into election night with tens of millions of dollars left unspent in the bank.
“Trying not to win, I guess,” said one top Republican fundraiser who spoke to HuffPost on condition of anonymity. The fundraiser added that campaign manager Bill Stepien turned down spending extra money in Georgia, believing Trump would win there comfortably, and seemed overly concerned about the budget. “Bill was hellbent to not wind up in debt, but what the fuck?”
Trump wound up losing Georgia by 12,000 votes to Democrat Joe Biden, now the president-elect. It was the first time since 1992 that a Democratic presidential candidate won the state.
The Trump campaign denied it left money unspent. “We didn’t have millions of uncommitted dollars in the bank on Election Day, and anyone who says otherwise has no idea what the situation was,” deputy campaign manager Justin Clark said. “Every dollar we had was matched to an outstanding expense.”
Stepien, meanwhile, called the allegation he rejected the get-out-the-vote request “false,” and another top campaign official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said no such request was made.
“Door-knocking funding is generally [a Republican National Committee] expenditure, not the campaign. But when the RNC asked for assistance for that kind of thing, the campaign agreed every time. The RNC never communicated to the campaign that there was a request for Georgia door-knocking money,” the official said.
Determining precisely when money was available to the campaign is impossible using Federal Election Commission filings because so much of Trump’s money came from small-dollar donors. Their contributions are listed in the aggregate and not broken out by amount and date until a donor’s cumulative total reaches a $200 threshold.
But a HuffPost review of itemized donations to the Trump campaign and the Trump Make America Great Again Committee — the two entities that collected the most small-dollar donations for Trump’s reelection — in the latest FEC filings Thursday showed that the majority of them were made on or before Nov. 3.
That means a large chunk of the money the Trump operation has in the bank now, and which the campaign points to as proof of Trump’s continued hold on the Republican voting base, actually came in before the election.
Of the 524,023 small-dollar donations recorded by the Trump campaign between Oct. 15 and Nov. 23, only 182,938 — 35% ― came in after Election Day. And of the 928,981 contributions to Trump MAGA, 447,014, or 48%, came in after Nov. 3.
Those two committees accounted for $109 million of the $119 million held by Trump’s three fundraising entities as of Nov. 23. The Republican National Committee had an additional $59 million.
It’s unclear why the Trump campaign would leave any money unspent, particularly since polls showed that the president was likely to lose.
“We raise the money to spend the money,” said Jennifer Horn, a former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party and a Trump critic. “There’s no heroism to having the money in the bank after the election if you lose.”
One possible explanation may be Trump himself. Although federal law does not permit candidates to use leftover campaign money for their personal use, that is not Trump’s understanding of it.
Trump was infuriated in 2016 when he learned that he was obliged under the law to set up a transition office and pay employees to prepare for a possible victory, even though he could use campaign funds for that purpose. “He saw it as his money,” one top aide on that earlier run told HuffPost on condition of anonymity.
The Trump campaign boasted in a press release Thursday evening that $207.5 million had been raised across the various Trump committees and the RNC since Nov. 3, but declined to reveal how much of that had been raised after Nov. 23, the closing date for the latest FEC filings.
Trump’s campaign has aggressively solicited money from its small-donor list in recent weeks, with multiple emails and text messages per day.
Of the resulting donations, 75% of the first $6,667 goes to Trump’s “Save America” committee. And because it was created last month as a so-called “leadership” PAC, rather than a campaign committee, Trump can use the money pretty much however he wants — including for personal expenses such as travel and meals and even a salary for himself. Or even to make hush money payments.