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Image: President Donald Trump makes a campaign stop at Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport on Nov. 1, 2020 in Opa Locka, Fla.
President Donald Trump makes a campaign stop at Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport on Nov. 1, 2020 in Opa Locka, Fla.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

After massive post-election haul, Trump has some striking options

Trump's operation has raised over $200 million since Election Day. But there's something donors may not know: some of it can go in Trump's pocket.


Earlier this week, there were some reports that Donald Trump and his political operation had raised $170 million since Election Day, largely through wildly dishonest claims. And while that appeared to be a staggering sum, it turns out that the total understated matters a bit. Politico summarized matters nicely:

President Donald Trump has been on a relentless, misleading and highly lucrative fundraising drive since losing reelection, telling supporters that they can help overturn the results if they donate while directing the bulk of the cash to his newest political group instead of the entities fighting in court.

As astonishing as the reporting was from several days ago, the Republican campaign announced last night that the Trump operation raised $207.5 million between Nov. 3 and Dec. 3, which is every bit as extraordinary as it sounds. After all, donors usually contribute heavily in the runup to Election Day, not the month after it.

But as Americans have no doubt noticed, this post-election period is anything but normal. On the contrary, the outgoing president has targeted his followers with a hyper-aggressive solicitation campaign, bombarding unsuspecting donors with a wildly misleading pitch: their money will go toward challenging election results Trump expects them to see as illegitimate.

The claims about the integrity of the United States' democracy is an ugly scam, but the fine print in the solicitations isn't much better: what these Republican donors probably don't realize is that their money probably isn't going to pay for pointless recounts and hapless lawsuits. Rather, most of the funds will go toward Trump's "Save America" PAC. (Contributions over $5,000 go to a "recount" account, but the vast majority of donations will be under that amount.)

Politico's report added that the outgoing president's new entity -- a leadership PAC -- is "a type of vehicle popular with both parties on Capitol Hill but long derided by watchdogs as essentially a type of slush fund, with few restrictions on how the money they raise can be spent."

And that's arguably what matters most when looking ahead. In the short term, Trump and his team are confronting a perverse set of incentives: the longer they lie to their base, the more money comes in from Trump's followers. This, naturally, encourages the incumbent to keep lying, keep fighting, keep denying reality, and keep pretending he won an election that he obviously lost. More baseless claims means more money in the bank.

But beyond the short term, what's worth considering is what in the world Trump intends to do with all of this money.

For the record, we know what he can't do with this pile of cash. The Republican could not, for example, legally use the money to finance a 2024 presidential operation. He also couldn't apply the funds to campaign-related litigation.

But other than that, Trump faces very few spending restrictions with this so-called "slush fund." He could direct it to GOP candidates running in upcoming election cycles. He could use it to finance travel and self-glorifying rallies. He could buy advertising for himself.

What's more, if the "Save America" PAC decides to pay Trump a salary, and it's declared as such, he can put some of that money in his pocket.

Finally, there's no reason to assume the cash grab will end anytime soon. The outgoing president continues to deceive his followers, and continues to press them for more contributions. It's likely this will grow a little more difficult once Trump exits the White House, but that's still 47 days away -- plenty of time to send out deceptive appeals -- and given the fealty of his base, many Trump supporters will likely keep contributing even after Joe Biden's inauguration.

Indeed, the operation has taken steps to make sure of it. The New York Times reported this week, "Donors on Mr. Trump's website are opted in with a prechecked box to make monthly contributions."

All of which leads to a difficult realization: Trump will soon leave office, but he isn't going away.