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‘Self-Funded’ Trump Propped Up by Super PAC Megadonors

Public Citizen News / March-April 2019

By Alan Zibel

This article appeared in the March/April 2019 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.

As a candidate, Donald Trump claimed to fund his presidential campaign from his own pocket and avoid big money donors. As president, he is doing the opposite.

Trump’s advisers have put together a sprawling political operation that continually collects money from the wealthiest Americans, many of whom have interests before the Trump administration.

A Public Citizen analysis of the largest contributors to Trump’s political operation found that six groups funded by ultrawealthy donors concentrated in the gambling, finance, real estate and energy sectors raised more than $54 million to support Trump and his agenda from his inauguration through mid-October 2018.

These six groups, including America First Action and Trump Victory, are fueled with contributions from corporate CEOs, retired executives and other wealthy people, as well as from dark money groups that do not disclose their donors.

Public Citizen’s deep dive into Federal Election Commission data found that since the start of 2017, the six pro-Trump groups had raised $54.4 million from 136 megacontributors who donated at least $100,000 each, with an average contribution of nearly $400,000. The analysis excludes Trump’s official campaign committee, which is subject to the federal $2,700 cap on individual donations.

This money was used to promote Trump’s agenda, support Republican candidates and attack their opponents during the 2018 midterms. These groups are now mobilizing to support Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.

The six groups raised more than $150 million from all donors, including smaller ones, to aid Trump and Republicans as of late 2018 according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The groups are on track to far exceed what major donors spent to reelect President Barack Obama in 2012. That year, Priorities USA Action, the super PAC endorsed by Obama, raised $79.1 million. Of that money, $73 million came from 125 donors contributing at least $100,000 each.

Public Citizen’s report got under the skin of the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action. A spokeswoman dismissed it, telling The Washington Post that Public Citizen is “a radical left-wing anti-Trump group.”

In response, Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said, “Trump’s super PAC is mad that we exposed the core lie of his presidency: Not only is he not taking on the rigged political and economic system, he is abusing and corrupting it in ways never seen before in America.”

Public Citizen has long championed a constitutional amendment to overturn the disastrous U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision as well as supported public financing of campaigns to end the massive influx of corporate and special interest money into our elections.