'Highly Sophisticated Killers' No More. Trump Embraces Big Donors | KUOW News and Information

'Highly Sophisticated Killers' No More. Trump Embraces Big Donors

May 18, 2016
Originally published on May 19, 2016 12:12 pm

After months of bashing the Republican National Committee and big fundraisers, Donald Trump is getting on board.

"These are highly sophisticated killers, and when they give $5 million, or $2 million or $1 million to Jeb [Bush], they have him just like a puppet," Trump said at the Iowa State Fair last year. "He'll do whatever they want. He is their puppet."

But now the de facto GOP nominee has inked two joint fundraising agreements with the RNC and 11 state parties on Tuesday to start taking in enormous checks from big donors.

The shift comes as Republicans are preparing to go into November with Trump at the top of the ticket. The proceeds will be used to "expand the robust ground, data, and digital operation we have in place to elect Republicans up and down the ballot," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement.

This is about big donors

The fundraising agreements are a big shift for Trump. In his announcement speech last year, he boasted that "I'm really rich" and didn't need big donors to fund his campaign. Donors to Trump Victory, the bigger of the two joint fundraising committees, can give as much as $449,400. That's far in excess of the $2,700 limit for individual contributions to candidates for a primary or general election campaign. Needless to say, there's a very small group of political donors who give at that level and they typically need to be courted before signing those checks.

This could be the quick infusion of cash the Trump campaign needs

So far, Trump has eschewed traditional fundraising, preferring instead to fund his campaign with nearly $36 million in out-of-pocket loans and $12 million in mostly small online donations from supporters. As of Trump's most recent fundraising report, his campaign had just $2 million in the bank at the end of March. Now that he's the party's standard-bearer, Trump will need hundreds of millions of dollars to support a national campaign.

A single fundraising event for Trump Victory could net tens of millions of dollars. While only the first $2,700 of each donation to Trump Victory will go directly to Trump's campaign, it's possible the state parties will transfer some of the money back to Trump. And, as Priebus noted, much of the money will go into party-building efforts such as voter contact and digital operations that will benefit Trump and all down-ballot Republican candidates.

But Hillary Clinton is far ahead in the money race

While it's been common practice in past elections to wait until there was a clear nominee before starting these kinds of joint fundraising committees, Hillary Clinton launched a similar effort, the Hillary Victory Fund, in 2015 and has already raised $60 million through that vehicle in addition to the nearly $170 million her campaign has raised directly.

The biggest question: Will big donors give to Trump?

Sheldon Adelson, the casino owner who is among the GOP's biggest donors, could give more than $100 million to back Trump. Because of contribution limits, much of Adelson's giving is likely to be concentrated in pro-Trump superPACs that can't coordinate with Trump or the RNC. Other donors, including the influential Koch brothers, are focusing their efforts on congressional races rather than the presidential contest.

"Just because they have an entity that's allowed to take over $400,000 per contributor doesn't mean that there's any contributors out there who are going to give money to this," said Charlie Spies, a Washington lawyer who worked on superPACs affiliated with Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney.

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Donald Trump is officially giving up his status as the presidential candidate who pays his own way. The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee have agreed to set up two joint fundraising committees to raise money from the big donors Trump used to scorn. NPR's Peter Overby has the story.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: The two new committees are Trump Victory and the Trump Make America Great Again Committee. What they do is take contributions that far exceed the legal limits and then divvy up the money to meet those limits.

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ: Joint fundraising committees are not technically an end run around the contribution limits.

OVERBY: This is Sheila Krumholz. She's director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign money. With a joint fundraising committee, she says...

KRUMHOLZ: One single donor can deliver hundreds of thousands of dollars.

OVERBY: To be exact, a donor can deliver $449,400 to Trump Victory. Fifty-four-hundred - less than 1 percent - goes to the Trump campaign itself. The rest goes to the Republican National Committee and eleven state party committees that are willing to share.

It wasn't so long ago that Trump paid for most of his campaign himself. The campaign says he's writing off the primary season loans - $36 million worth. He used the self-financing as a weapon, flaying his rivals over the money they'd raised and the rich donors they've courted. Last August at the Iowa State Fair, he talked about Jeb Bush and the rich donors who gave more than $120 million to help him.


DONALD TRUMP: These are not people that are doing it because they like the color of his hair. Believe me. These are highly sophisticated killers, and when they give $5 million or 2 million or a million to Jeb, they have him just like a puppet. He'll do whatever they want. He is their puppet.

OVERBY: This afternoon the Trump campaign didn't reply to NPR's request for comment, and the Republican National Committee said a spokesperson wasn't available. Now Trump's facing Hillary Clinton, and on fundraising, he's late to the big game. Clinton's campaign created a joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee last September. Thirty-two state party committees are also participating. So far, it's raised more than $60 million from the Democrats' wealthiest donors.

Some Republican donors are rallying to Trump. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has pledged $100 million. But after nearly a years of contemptuous language from the candidate, the party's high net worth supporters haven't rushed to embrace him. This may be a problem for the joint fundraising committee. Charles Spies worked on superPACs for Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney.

CHARLES SPIES: Just because they have an entity that's allowed to take over $400,000 per contributor doesn't mean that there's any contributors out there who are going to give money to this.

OVERBY: Donors who are out there need to move fast. The ballpark estimate for team Trump in the general election is well on the far side of a billion dollars. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.