WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump is facing a cash crunch as he tries to defend himself in court, lock down the Republican nomination and turn toward a general election rematch with an increasingly money-flush President Joe Biden.
Campaign finance records filed Wednesday show the main super PAC supporting Trump’s campaign, MAGA Inc., spent more than it raised in the last six months of 2023 — primarily by transferring back $30 million to Save America, the main vehicle for paying the former president’s prodigious legal fees. Similarly, Trump’s official campaign blew through more cash than it took in over the last three months of the year.
By comparison, Biden’s campaign ended the year with $46 million in cash, far more than the $33 million Trump’s campaign held before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Future Forward, the main super PAC backing Biden, held a little bit more in the bank than MAGA Inc., $24 million to $23.3 million, at the end of the year.
Democrats crowed Wednesday night that Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are stockpiling money for campaign purposes, rather than legal fights.
“While Donald Trump lights money on fire paying the tab on his various … expenses, Team Biden-Harris, powered by grassroots donors, is hard at work talking to the voters who will decide this election and building the campaign infrastructure to win in November,” Biden campaign spokesman TJ Ducklo said in a statement.
Of course, Trump’s legal troubles have been a boon for him in the Republican primary campaign, rallying GOP voters to his cause as he has, without evidence, accused Biden of using the Justice Department to target him and hamstring his campaign.
In that way, Trump is banking on the allegations he faces as a key part of his strategy to defeat Biden in November. They have proved to be an aid in fundraising and in dispatching Republican opponents.
The day Trump’s mug shot was released in August, following his arrest in the Georgia election interference case, he raised $4.2 million online, according to a fundraising report filed Wednesday by WinRed, the GOP’s main online fundraising platform. It was the most Trump raised online in a single day last year.
Now, Trump will hope his legal woes energize the GOP faithful for the general election and help him persuade persuadable voters to oust Biden.
Trump continues to be a master of small-dollar fundraising. While 18% of Biden’s fourth-quarter haul came from donors who have given the maximum amount to his campaign, only 6% of Trump’s cash came from donors who have given the $6,600 limit.
That means Trump is well-positioned to go back to the well for more contributions from donors who can still legally give.
Spokespeople for Trump and MAGA Inc. did not respond to requests for comment on their campaign finance filings Wednesday night.
Both candidates expanded their operations during the last quarter of the year as they began to transition from the start-up size of nascent campaigns into more robust general election machines. Trump had 78 people on payroll and Biden had 74 people, according to their campaign disclosures.
Inside Trump’s numbers
MAGA Inc., which as a super PAC can legally take in donations of unlimited size, raised $47.8 million from July 1 through Dec. 31, including $10 million in contributions from Timothy Mellon, who has also been a supporter of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential ambitions, and more than $5 million from former Trump administration Cabinet official Linda McMahon.
But the super PAC spent 55.4 million over the same period, leaving it with $23.3 million in the bank at the end of the year. The $30 million it spent on transfers to Save America — and, ultimately, Trump’s lawyers — is nearly 50% more than the $20.4 million it paid for ads in the final six months of 2023, according to an NBC News analysis of Wednesday’s campaign finance reports.
Trump’s campaign took in $19.1 million from October through December — less than 60% of the Biden campaign’s $33 million haul — and shelled out $23.6 million.
The campaign spent $97,000 of that for facility rentals and catering at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida. But the big-ticket items were $7.6 million for advertising, $3.7 million for legal consulting, $1.7 million apiece for air travel and staging events, and $1.6 million for payroll, according to the NBC News analysis.
Because the filings run only through the end of last year, it’s impossible to know how much Trump has raised and spent in the month since then. But he has added a series of high-dollar fundraising events to his calendar in recent days, including one this week near his Palm Beach home, and one at his Mar-a-Lago resort next month, according to an invitee.
Inside Biden’s numbers
Without a serious primary challenger, Biden has been able to focus his money on communicating to voters about himself and Trump. Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, who is running a long-shot bid for the party’s presidential nomination, lent his campaign $4 million last quarter and raised another $1 million from donors.
Biden spent $19.3 million over the final quarter of the year, with about $12 million of the total going toward making and placing ads. Combine that with $2 million for text message outreach to voters, and communications dominated Biden’s expenditures.
Aside from those costs, his biggest outlays were for payroll and payroll taxes, which amounted to about $3 million combined.
As an advantage of incumbency, Biden has been able to coordinate fundraising with his national party throughout the campaign season. The Democratic National Committee recently reported that it had $21 million on hand at the start of this year, and big donors have been piling money into state Democratic Party accounts via the Biden campaign fundraising operation, too.
Because there is a primary campaign on the GOP side, Trump has not been able to use the Republican National Committee — which ended the year with $8 million in the bank — as an arm of his campaign in the same way. The RNC is officially neutral in the primary campaign, although party Chair Ronna McDaniel has recently called on the GOP to unite around Trump, whom she described as the “eventual nominee.”