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Trump in ‘full sprint’ to close Biden’s money lead as legal bills mount

Donald Trump is in a “full sprint” to narrow President Biden’s substantial fundraising advantage, and talked to or met with big-money donors almost every day this week ahead of a blowout gala in Palm Beach on Saturday night, people familiar with his efforts said.

Trump’s team is aware that it is behind and wants to catch up quickly, according to one of the people familiar with its fundraising who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to detail private activities.

Trump’s fundraising team has been asked to secure as many checks as possible as soon as possible to boost the former president’s numbers. Republican officials are eager to narrow the gap so they can compete with Biden’s field effort and advertising campaigns. They hope to ensure that GOP candidates win up and down the ticket. But Trump’s legal woes are placing a strain on several of his political committees.

This weekend’s dinner in Palm Beach will raise $50.5 million, the Republican National Committee said Saturday night. The former president told donors during a call Friday afternoon that this weekend’s event would bring in double the $25 million Democrats said they raised during a recent New York fundraiser with Biden and former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, according to two people familiar with Trump’s remarks on the Friday call.

The Trump campaign and RNC said this week that they raised more than $65.6 million in March and ended the month with about $93 million on hand, a dramatic improvement over their February results.

But Trump’s fundraising machine remains far behind Biden’s, which had an earlier start in fundraising from wealthy donors through shared accounts with national and state parties. Biden brought in more than $90 million in March. The broader Biden effort ended the month with $192 million in cash on hand, more than double what Trump controlled.

The Biden team’s cash advantage and the splashy media coverage of the Democrats’ $25 million New York haul increased the pressure on Republican donors to show that they can quickly raise enough to compete, according to two people familiar with the party’s fundraising efforts.

Trump is closely tracking who is attending the fundraiser Saturday, who has given the maximum and how much has been raised, according to a person who spoke to him recently. His advisers regularly brief him on the attendees. “He is focused on this fundraiser,” one person familiar with his thinking said. “He has a lot of friends in Palm Beach, and he’s saying, are they giving?”

In recent weeks, Trump has spent time meeting with donors almost every day, people close to the former president said.

“Our digital online fundraising continues to skyrocket, our major donor investments are climbing, and Democrats are running scared of the fundraising prowess of President Trump,” Trump campaign communications director Steven Cheung said in a statement. Trump allies said Saturday’s haul would break records for a single political fundraising event.

The Trump 47 victory committee can raise up to $814,600 under a joint fundraising agreement negotiated by the campaign and the RNC. The first $6,600 from each check goes to the Trump campaign, the next $5,000 to the leadership PAC that has been covering legal bills for Trump and some of his associates, and the next $413,000 to the RNC. The remaining dollars from each donation up to the $814,600 maximum are allocated sequentially to the local Republican parties in at least 39 states, according to FEC filings and donor forms obtained by The Washington Post.

“Momentum brings more momentum,” said one person familiar with the party’s fundraising efforts who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal party dynamics. “For the joint fundraising committee for Trump to come right behind [the Democrats’ New York event] and raise well over 50 percent more — that sends a message to Republican donors who may be trying to decide how much they’re going to play this year that they’ve turned this thing around rapidly.”

Biden’s team said Friday it was not worried about Trump’s major Palm Beach fundraiser, which includes many donors who will max out their ability to give for the rest of the cycle — though they can still give unlimited sums to third-party groups supporting Trump.

“This thing this weekend is a handful of billionaires figuring out how to pay his legal bills, and we’ve got millions of grass-roots donors who are powering our campaign,” said Rob Flaherty, a Biden deputy campaign manager.

Biden’s New York event did not require top-level donors to max out, with the most expensive tickets going for $500,000 rather than the $929,600 maximum contribution possible to a committee funding Biden’s reelection. About 165,000 small-dollar supporters donated to participate either virtually or in person, a Biden official said.

The Biden campaign now finds itself well ahead of where Obama’s reelection effort was at the same point in 2012. Biden claimed 704,000 unique donors in March, compared with 567,000 donors in March 2012 for Obama. Overall, 1.6 million people have given to the Biden effort so far, 40 percent of whom are new this cycle, his campaign said. That number represents about 1 out of every 50 people who voted for Biden in 2020.

Donors raising money for Trump want to capitalize as quickly as possible on the perceived weaknesses of Biden’s candidacy and the current political environment where Trump is edging out his opponent in recent swing state polls, according to several people familiar with the party’s high-dollar push.

During the contested GOP primary, Republicans were at a disadvantage as they watched the Democrats rake in large checks through a constellation of groups including the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

Billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson is hosting Saturday’s Trump fundraiser at his home, according to a person familiar with the gathering. Some of the country’s biggest political donors, including former Small Business Administration head Linda McMahon, hotelier Steve Wynn and businessman Robert Bigelow, are listed as co-chairs on an invitation obtained by The Post. Former Georgia Senate candidate Kelly Loeffler, sugar magnate Jose “Pepe” Fanjul and real estate investor Steve Witkoff are also among the co-chairs.

The fundraiser will also feature some of Trump’s former primary rivals. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) are listed as “special guests.” Some attendees have given the maximum allowed contribution of $814,600 for a seat at Trump’s table.

Now that the RNC and Trump campaign have joined forces, “the finance side of the table is as unified as I have ever seen it since the reelection campaign of president George W. Bush,” said Brian Ballard, a top Florida lobbyist who is helping Trump raise money.

But Trump’s campaign finance reports in recent months have shown the tremendous strain that his legal troubles are placing on his broader fundraising effort. Reports filed in January showed that two of Trump’s committees, the Save America leadership PAC and the Make America Great Again PAC, spent $55.6 million on legal bills in 2023 as Trump fights felony charges in four criminal cases.

In February, Trump’s campaign raised nearly $11 million and had $33.5 million in cash on hand — significantly less than the $71 million in cash that the Biden campaign had in its treasury at the end of the period. The RNC has lagged behind the Democratic National Committee in fundraising — reporting $11.3 million in cash at the end of the month to the DNC’s $26.6 million.

In February, the Save America PAC spent more than it raised — with the majority of its money going to legal costs. Before Trump joined forces with the RNC to raise money through the new joint fundraising committee, he was leaning heavily on his own small-dollar donors to help pay his legal bills through his own committees. For each dollar raised into his joint fundraising account, he would divert 90 cents to his campaign committee and 10 cents to the Save America leadership PAC.

Trump has recently lured back some of the billionaires who backed away from supporting him because of his legal woes and role in the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol. Trump campaign aides have said that the RNC will not pay any of Trump’s legal fees — a promise meant in part to assuage high-dollar donors who want to ensure their donations are used primarily to defeat Biden.

Marianne Levine contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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