Could Donald Trump hoodwink his donors by reimbursing himself with their contributions? Legally, he can.
As the Republican Party's presumptive nominee enters his general election campaign with one of the worst financial positions of any presidential candidate in recent memory, he may be hurting his fundraising efforts by so far refusing to forgive $45.7 million worth of personal loans to his own campaign.
The move would be necessary to allay concerns among stalwart Republican donors that Trump could later use their contributions to help pay down the money he lended to his campaign. On May 12, Trump promised not to use contributions to pay himself back, but he has yet to make that promise legally binding, according to his campaign’s latest Federal Electoral Commission filing submitted late Monday.
Candles: $1.91 million pic.twitter.com/OgQ8L8tqZe
— Virgil Texas (@virgiltexas) June 21, 2016
Charlie Spies, a former Republican National Committee lawyer who heads a Washington political law practice, explains.
“Last month, he said he would be making clear that he did not plan to use donor money to pay himself back. The way to do that would be to file it to the FEC. He is still showing more than $45 million worth of debt,” Spies told International Business Times on Tuesday. “This is causing sophisticated donors to hold off on contributing because they don’t want their money to go towards paying himself back.”
Recipients of payments from Trump campaign with “Trump” in name, through May 31. Doesn’t include Mar-a-Lago/planes. pic.twitter.com/JF6skaWYGF
— Derek Willis (@derekwillis) June 21, 2016
Adding to the concern is that Trump has been giving campaign business to his family of companies, lending money to his campaign that winds up as revenue in his own business operations. As of May 31, Trump has, for example, reported paying more than $700,000 to Trump Tower Commercial on Fifth Avenue in New York City, where much of his campaign activity has taken place. More than $130,000 has gone to Trump Restaurants, while more than $100,000 has gone to his own company that manages payrolls in the Trump Organization.
Trump has been saying for much of the primary and caucuses season that his campaign has been self-funded, but regulatory filings show that as of the end of last month, more than 70 percent of the $63.3 million Trump has spent in this election cycle is in loans from his personal wealth, not donations.
Until Trump formally forgives that loan in a legally binding fashion (by reporting the loan forgiven in an FEC filing), he could legally claw back at least some of the money he’s spent — only some, because so far his fundraising lags so far behind Hillary Clinton’s that he might not get enough donations to square up what he’s loaned to himself.
In May, Trump raised only $3.1 million in the same month he cinched the Republican nomination, forcing him to loan himself an additional $2 million to cover costs. Clinton raised more than $26 million last month, according to her FEC reports.
Trump began June with just $1.3 million in cash on hand. If money talks, Trump is whispering right now.