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Why Trump’s PAC is almost broke

The former president’s legal woes are costing his team — literally.

Donald Trump speaking at a rally.
Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a political rally while campaigning for the GOP nomination in the 2024 election at Erie Insurance Arena on July 29, 2023, in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Former President Donald Trump’s legal woes are continuing to pile up, and they’re costing his team – literally.

In the first half of this year, Trump’s joint fundraising committee — an entity that allows multiple candidates or organizations to raise money collectively — has burned through over $52 million, or nearly all of the $53.9 million it raised in the same timeframe, according to recent FEC filings. Additionally, Trump’s Save America leadership PAC — an organization that receives some funds from the joint fundraising committee, and that has fewer limits on how money can be spent — began 2022 with about $105 million cash on hand, and now only has roughly $3.6 million.

A major source of the groups’ expenses is legal fees for Trump and his former aides as they face multiple investigations. In addition to fielding numerous civil lawsuits, Trump has been indicted twice and could be indicted at least two more times. A July filing from Trump’s Save America PAC revealed that it had spent roughly $21 million on legal fees in the last six months, or over 70 percent of its expenditures, per CNN.

These costs, and his myriad legal problems, have yet to hurt Trump’s standing in the Republican primary; in fact, his polling may be improving. A recent New York Times/Siena poll has Trump continuing to dominate the Republican field, with 54 percent of likely GOP voters choosing him as their top choice and just 17 percent saying the same of his closest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The lawsuits may hurt Trump among swing voters, however, and surveys have been much tighter for the general election: Another recent NYT/Siena poll shows Biden and Trump both receiving 43 percent of voters’ support, for example.

Trump’s legal issues are a pricey distraction

Trump’s legal problems, which could grow in the next few weeks, are proving to be an expensive distraction for his campaign.

Already, Trump has been indicted twice: first in a New York case involving the falsifying of business records, and then in another federal case involving the improper retention of sensitive documents. In the coming months, he could be indicted at least two more times: in a Georgia case regarding his role in attempting to overturn the state’s 2020 election results, and in a federal case similarly concerning his efforts to stay in power.

These cases could prove to be an ongoing drain on his funds and those of allied PACs both throughout the Republican primary and the general election. Trump’s Save America PAC, in the last year, has paid more than three dozen law firms, filings show. Earlier this spring, Trump was also found liable for sexually abusing writer E. Jean Carroll after she alleged that he had raped her in the 1990s. Tacopina, Seigel & Deoreo, one of the firms that defended Trump in the Carroll case, were among those who were paid by the Save America PAC. According to the New York Times, Trump’s team is also in the process of launching a legal defense fund called the Patriot Legal Defense Fund that’s intended to help cover the costs his associates may face related to different investigations.

Trump’s legal costs come as his chief opponent, DeSantis, had a strong fundraising haul in the last quarter. Never Back Down, the main super PAC backing DeSantis, reported having $97 million cash on hand at the end of June, compared to nearly $31 million that pro-Trump super PAC Make America Great Again Inc. had on hand at the same time.

Despite strong fundraising numbers, DeSantis is still trailing Trump by high margins and has struggled to pick up momentum in his campaign. As Vox’s Nicole Narea explained, a combination of poor retail politics, the odd decision of picking a high-profile feud with Disney, and an uneven policy rollout have contributed to this floundering thus far. The funding DeSantis has been able to secure, though, indicates that he’ll have some runway to continue trying to make his pitch to voters in a bid to cut into Trump’s lead.

Thus far, Trump’s legal issues and their associated costs haven’t yet affected his support among Republican primary voters. As a former president and celebrity business magnate, Trump hasn’t needed to spend to introduce himself to voters in the way GOP presidential candidates like North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum have, and Trump has an enduring following that has stuck with him throughout his legal and political difficulties.

In fact, the campaign has seen a fundraising bump following each of Trump’s indictments as voters have rallied around him and argued that he’s the subject of political persecution. Maintaining his base seems as if it will be of little concern. Whether Trump can expand on it in a general election, with many swing voters negatively viewing his legal problems, though, remains to be seen.

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