WASHINGTON – Donald Trump portrays himself as an indispensable cash resource for fellow Republicans up and down the ballot.
But while Trump is pulling in donor checks, an Associated Press review of campaign finance filings shows most of his fellow Republicans are still waiting for their cut. And the 2016 presidential nominee has a lot of work to do to if he wants to match the amount of financial aid Mitt Romney gave to his party four years ago.
“Typically you see the nominee lift everyone up,” said Chris Schrimpf, a spokesman for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, one of Trump’s defeated primary rivals. The state features a critical Senate race this year, but Trump has all but ignored the Ohio state party. “This time, if anything, everyone else is carrying his water.”
In July, the Republican National Committee received $18.1 million from joint fundraising efforts with Trump. But some $3 million covered postage for Trump-centred fundraising solicitations, and the national party transferred $4.5 million into convention and legal proceedings accounts, leaving at most $10.6 million that could be used to help Republicans – including Trump – win elections this fall, filings show.
At this time four years ago, Mitt Romney’s joint fundraising account transferred about $25 million to the RNC.
RNC chairman Reince Priebus defends Trump as a strong fundraising partner for Republicans. Trump has made the same argument.
“I’m the one that’s raising the money, and other people are getting to use the money that I raised,” Trump said in an Aug. 11 interview with Fox News, adding that he is “raising a lot of money for the Republican Party.”
The Trump campaign said that as of Aug. 1 his victory accounts contained $37 million to be disbursed to his campaign, the RNC and other partners. Trump’s national finance chairman Steven Mnuchin said it was a strategic decision not to transfer the money right away.
“It has been a major priority of Donald to fundraise for the party, and the money for field expenses helps not only him but the rest of the ticket,” Mnuchin said Monday.
Still, each day that money isn’t in action puts Republicans a little further behind. Election Day is fewer than 80 days away, and early voting in some states begins in a few weeks. Effective voter contact and turnout operations are time-consuming and costly.
Mnuchin said there is “plenty of money” available and no reason to move it out all at once. “We’re deploying money as we think we need to deploy money,” he said.
Beyond the RNC, Trump could be helping state parties directly. But he has been particularly stingy with the states that have the toughest Senate elections, such as Ohio and New Hampshire, where Sen. Rob Portman and Sen. Kelly Ayotte could be key to maintaining GOP control of the chamber.
Trump’s joint fundraising agreement overlooks those and other states, instead naming 11 partners that are somewhat head-scratching. Several of them, including West Virginia and Tennessee, don’t have a Senate race and are expected to vote Republican in the presidential, while Democrats are heavily favoured to win Senate races in others, like New York and Connecticut.
Mnuchin called the choice of benefactors a “strategic decision” and declined to explain it.
Regardless, the Trump Victory Committee hadn’t transferred money to any of his state allies as of July 31.
In another change from 2012, Trump is not helping raise money for the National Republican Senatorial Committee or the National Republican Congressional Committee; Romney’s joint fundraising account included both groups.
Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, is taking a broader approach to helping fellow Democrats. Her fundraising agreement spans 38 state and territory party groups. In July, the Democratic National Committee and those other partners received at least $20.3 million in transfers from Clinton’s joint accounts, federal filings show. That doesn’t include money used for the convention.
The Republican nominee has had a touchy relationship with his party, from threatening to quit the party and run as an independent to disparaging GOP stars.
Raising money for others could help smooth things over, and that may be a reason Trump frequently talks up his efforts. When he formed his fundraising partnership in late May, Trump told the AP he is only raising money because “the RNC really wanted to do it, and I want to show good spirit.”
Consistently claiming others as the focus of his fundraising also helps Trump obscure his change from a mostly self-funded primary candidate to one who raises money like everyone else.
The self-reliance talk has continued even though it’s no longer entirely true. At a rally Saturday in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Trump said: “I have no donors telling me what to do. I’m my donor.”
That same day, his July finance report showed he gave his campaign $2 million and raised more than $34.7 million from donors other than himself. That means he was about 5 per cent self-funded last month.
Associated Press polling editor Emily Swanson contributed to this story.