The Republican National Committee is paying for former President Donald Trump’s personal legal bills, which is legal, politically savvy and deeply informative about the future of the Republican Party. The RNC is not spending this up to $1.6 million on competitive federal or state races. It is not spending this money to push policy proposals. It is spending this money to pay for lawyers that Trump had to hire to defend himself in criminal and civil fraud investigations that do not relate to his time as president.
Members of the RNC executive committee overwhelmingly voted to foot the legal bills of a self-proclaimed billionaire whose company is being investigated for possible fraud.
Why would the RNC do this? Because the former president — who lost the last presidential election, was impeached twice and appears to have incited an attempted "self-coup" — is the favored cause of the RNC. Members of the RNC executive committee, who The Washington Post reported overwhelmingly voted to foot the legal bills of a self-proclaimed billionaire whose company is being investigated for possible fraud, believe this is where their money is best spent. (Trump has not been accused of wrongdoing.)
In the movie “All the President’s Men,” the man known as Deep Throat whispers to reporter Bob Woodward, “Follow the money.” Woodward and his fellow Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein then investigate the Watergate scandal and in so doing bring down the presidency of Richard Nixon. Over more than four decades, this phrase has become a useful shorthand to explain that if people really want to know what is going on in politics, and even uncover political corruption, they should look at money flowing to, and around, politicians.
But sometimes that money flows out in the open, right before our eyes, and it is easy to track and draw lines between politicians, those they owe and those who owe them. The RNC paying Trump’s bill is an example.
The promised payments represent the continuation of the RNC’s strategy to be the party of Trump, nothing more and nothing less. In 2020, the GOP opted not to introduce a new party platform. Instead, its focus was to re-elect Trump. That desire to put Trump back in the Oval Office explains this decision, as well. Trump, of course, is not a candidate, yet. But that does not matter for this unconventional relationship.
The RNC’s decision to help Trump’s bottom line didn’t begin with payments to Trump’s lawyers. Thanks, in part, to RNC patronage, Trump-owned properties raked in millions. Do you have a meeting, retreat or fundraising event? Are you a member of the RNC? You may, as a matter of pure coincidence, choose to hold that event at a Trump property.
The RNC’s decision to spend its money for Trump’s benefit is, naturally, driven by money. Trump is a fundraising boon for the RNC. He brings with him money the party will need not just in 2024, when it may attempt to put Trump back in the White House, but money it will need ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
The current Supreme Court is plenty hostile to campaign finance restrictions.
So what is the solution to all this? One option is to add restrictions to the federal election laws. Federal law prohibits candidates from spending campaign money on personal expenses, including legal expenses such as these. Should the law also prohibit political parties from paying for the personal expenses of candidates, or even noncandidates, as Trump is now? This brings up plenty of legal and administrative hurdles. Let’s remember that the current Supreme Court is plenty hostile to campaign finance restrictions. Even if Congress could craft and pass the proper law, it is unlikely that the Supreme Court would let it stand.
Perhaps the better solution is to do nothing. Maybe it is better to see, out in the open, who is paying for what. With the current arrangement, investigative reporters don’t need to find a confidential source to whisper information and implore them to “follow the money.” We don’t even need investigative reporters. As long as these funds are disclosed, the public can draw its own conclusions.