Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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Trump’s legal bills appear to be piling up for donors, according to election expenses report

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s fundraising slowed in the last three months of 2023 and his legal fees appeared to drag on the finances behind his election effort, according to fresh disclosures submitted to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Trump’s election campaign reported raising $19 million US during the last three months of 2023, down from under $25 million in the third quarter. The total lagged the $33 million reported by Democrat Joe Biden, who has announced his intention to seek a second term.

Trump’s campaign ended last year with about $33 million in the bank, compared with nearly $46 million for Biden’s campaign.

The largest super PAC supporting the former president, a group known as MAGA Inc, sent $30 million during the second half of the year to a separate Trump group known as Save America, which has been paying the former leader’s legal bills. That was more than twice what it had sent in the first half of 2023.

A man in a suit and tie speaks at a podium and extends his arms out, in front of a pair of flags.
Republican presidential candidate and former president Donald Trump is shown speaking to reporters on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

Trump was hit with 91 felony charges across four separate criminal indictments between March and August of last year.

The $30 million transfer is also a sizable portion of the $48 million MAGA Inc raised in the second half of the year, meaning less money for MAGA Inc to spend backing Trump’s election efforts.

Save America’s legal spending accelerated in the second half of 2023, when it reported spending more than $25 million on legal expenses, according to a Reuters analysis of its latest filing. In the first half of the year, the committee reported spending around $22 million on legal matters.

Online donors to Trump are told that 10 per cent of their contribution will go to Save America, according to multiple reports from U.S. media outlets.

U.S. politicians have traditionally had wide latitude to spend money raised through leadership PACs like Save America. Although U.S. law prohibits candidates from using campaign money on personal expenses, the FEC, which enforces campaign finance law, has not clarified whether the ban applies to leadership PACs.

Generally, politicians cannot spend campaign money on legal expenses unless they are tied to a campaign, but many of the investigations involving Trump relate to his conduct as president and as a political candidate.

Those issues could take years to resolve. Trump appointed all six Republican commissioners on the 12-member FEC panel during his presidency.

Trump being treated unfairly, says major donor

Hotelier Robert Bigelow told Reuters on Tuesday he gave Trump $1 million for his legal fees and agreed to donate another $20 million to a pro-Trump outside group for campaign purposes.

“I gave him $1 million towards his legal fees a few weeks ago. I made a promise to give him $20 million more, that will be to the super PAC,” the Nevada-based owner of Budget Suites of America said in an interview.

Bigelow said he felt Trump was being unfairly targeted in the criminal cases and that his sympathy towards the former president had motivated the donation.

Trump last week received an $83 million verdict in a civil defamation case brought by writer E. Jean Carroll, and a judge is set to rule at any time on the New York Attorney General’s request for $370 million in penalties for his misrepresentations to banks about his net worth, a case where there was already been a finding of fraud on one of the major counts.

While those judgments will be appealed, Trump has also seen turnover in his legal representation. Lawyer Joseph Tacopina said last month he was withdrawing from representing Trump in two of the former president’s ongoing legal battles.

WATCH l Trump fundraising off legal woes, his sense of persecution:

Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton speaks with Josh Wingrove and Melody Barnes about Trump’s defamation trial and more.

Get the latest on, the CBC News App, and CBC News Network for breaking news and analysis.

Trial dates in question

Trump faces a March 4 date in federal court on a four-count criminal indictment alleging he conspired to defraud the U.S. by preventing Congress from certifying Biden’s 2020 election victory, but the courts are considering whether Trump is immune from criminal prosecution for acts while he was president.

Three federal judges heard arguments on that topic last month, and have yet to rule. It is possible the issue could then go to the entire federal appeals board and on to the Supreme Court for a final opinion, making the March 4 date highly unlikely. 

On March 25, he faces a New York trial date on charges he falsified business records to cover up hush-money payments over alleged extramarital affairs he didn’t want to become public knowledge during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump’s potential presidential immunity does not come into play for a scheduled May 20 trial on allegations he unlawfully retained government documents after leaving the presidency in early 2021. But the pace of pre-trial rulings has called into question whether that start date will be kept.

Trump also faces a 13-count indictment that details alleged acts he undertook to reverse his 2020 election defeat in Georgia. A date has yet to be set for that trial.

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