Republican front-runner Donald Trump called on unlimited money groups backing his candidacy to drop their support on Friday— and demanded other candidates do the same.
“I am self-funding my campaign and therefore I will not be controlled by the donors, special interests and lobbyists who have corrupted our politics and politicians for far too long,” Trump said in a statement. “I have disavowed all Super PAC’s, requested the return of all donations made to said PAC’s, and I am calling on all Presidential candidates to do the same. The character of our country is only as strong as our leaders — the only special interest I am beholden to is the American people and together we will Make America Great Again!”
According to the campaign, Trump’s lawyers sent letters to all super PACs supportive of his candidacy informing them they were “not authorized to use Mr. Trump’s name and likeness” in fundraising materials.
The move came after The Washington Post raised questions about a Colorado-based super PAC’s ties to Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. That group, Make America Great Again PAC, announced on Thursday night that it would shut down to quiet concerns that it was too close to Trump, who has frequently highlighted his refusal to solicit large donations as a sign of independence. The announcement also also comes days after billionaire Carl Icahn, who has endorsed Trump, announced he would create a $150 million super PAC to fight “crippling dysfunction in Congress.”
Super PACs have become a major feature of the political landscape since the 2011 Citizens United decision paved the way for donors to put unlimited money behind candidates so long as they do so independently of their campaign. Groups supporting individual candidates have raised tens of millions of dollars — often from just a handful of ultra-wealthy donors. Right to Rise PAC, the main super PAC supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, led the field at the last filing period in June with more than $100 million raised. Trump has alleged Bush is a “puppet to his donors,” while Bush has challenged him to name any positions he has changed to match up with a financial supporter.
Trump’s campaign statement included references to “dark money,” a term normally referring to anonymous unlimited money donations to nonprofit groups — which have to spend the majority of their money on non-campaign activities — but it did not seem to in this case. The practice has come under closer scrutiny in recent weeks after a dark money group supporting Sen. Marco Rubio spent more than $8 million on ads supporting his candidacy. Bush, who also enjoys support from a dark money group, favors restricting such donations if elected, according to a spokesman. Trump has also condemned anonymous donors, but attended a Make America Great Again event in August that reportedly asked guests to contribute to a non-profit.
Republican politicians typically support allowing greater freedom to make unlimited contributions, while Democrats have long called for limits on outside spending. Sen. Bernie Sanders, in particular, has made undoing Citizens United a centerpiece of his campaign. Hillary Clinton has said she supports for a Constitutional amendment to overturn it as well. Even some conservatives have grown concerned about the scale of spending in recent campaigns, however. A CBS/New York Times poll in June found that 84% of Americans believed there was too much money in politics and 77% wanted restrictions on how much rich donors could contribute.