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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Trump’s legal bills drain millions more from his political committees

Former president Donald Trump at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on Monday.  (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
By Maeve Reston and Clara Ence Morse Washington Post

Donald Trump is picking up his fundraising pace even as he fights criminal charges in four cases and appeals a nearly half-billion dollar civil fraud judgment against him in New York. But his legal expenses continue to be a tremendous burden on his campaign and its allied groups, the latest campaign finance records show, accounting for 26% of the spending in March by his political committees.

New Federal Election Commission filings released Saturday show that Save America leadership PAC, a Trump-aligned group he has used to pay some of his lawyers, took in $5 million during March and racked up $4.6 million in legal bills for Trump and some of his associates. Throughout this election cycle, Save America has spent the most on legal bills among the groups in Trump’s orbit.

Trump’s political committees have spent at least $16.7 million on legal bills so far this year, and owe another $900,000 to various firms as of the end of March, bringing his overall legal fees since starting his campaign to around $86 million.

Those costs have continued to siphon money away from the main super PAC supporting Trump, MAGA Inc., which agreed to refund $60 million to Save America last year. They transferred $52.25 million in “contribution refunds” back to the leadership PAC in 12 installments that began last May. MAGA Inc. made another transfer of $5 million back to the leadership PAC in March, accounting for almost all of Save America’s money flowing in, new reports show.

FEC reports do not require candidates or their leadership PACs to disclose what legal matters each lawyer or law firm handled when they report payments to those firms.

Still, there are signs that Trump’s efforts to portray his legal troubles as unjust attacks are convincing grass-roots donors to keep giving to his campaign. The FEC data show that at one key moment in the civil fraud case, for example – March 22, when he was being asked to post a bond of several hundred-million dollars to keep New York authorities from seizing his assets – donations to his campaign spiked. A New York appeals court panel later said that former president Donald Trump would be allowed to post a reduced bond of $175 million.

On March 22, Trump wrote an all-caps post on his Truth Social platform claiming that he had almost $500 million in cash, “a substantial amount of which I intended to use in my campaign for president.” He claimed in the post that the judge in the case was trying to take that money away from him. (Trump’s attorneys had said in a March 18 court filing that he was unable to finance an appeal bond of more than $450 million to cover the judgment in the business fraud case.)

It was his best fundraising day since his mug shot was taken in Fulton County, Ga., in August. In the last half of March, after clinching the Republican nomination, Trump has averaged over $1.2 million a day via the online fundraising platform WinRed.

Campaign finance records filed this week show that the joint Trump fundraising effort with the Republican National Committee is raking in big checks, with key donors giving the maximum of more than $800,000.

But the GOP nominee’s available cash at the end of March still trailed far behind what Biden and allied Democratic groups had stashed.

MAGA Inc., the Trump-aligned super PAC, netted large checks from some of the Republican Party’s biggest donors. Robert Bigelow gave another $4.1 million to the super PAC – bringing the total he has donated to MAGA Inc. to $9.2 million. Linda McMahon, who headed the Small Business Administration during the Trump administration and now chairs the America First Policy Institute, gave $5 million to the group. MAGA Inc. said it had about $33 million in cash on hand at the end of March after it refunded $5 million to Save America.

Here are some other key takeaways from the latest filings:

• Nicole Shanahan’s personal wealth was one of her chief assets when Robert F. Kennedy Jr. chose her as his running mate for his long-shot independent bid for the White House. FEC records show that Shanahan helped to replenish Kennedy’s campaign treasury a day after joining the ticket on March 26 – donating $2 million to the campaign. The money is a much-needed infusion that could bolster Kennedy’s efforts to get on the ballot in as many states as possible. As a candidate, Shanahan can donate an unlimited amount of money to the campaign.

Before joining the ticket, Shanahan had donated the maximum of $6,600 to Kennedy’s campaign. Her venture firm, Planeta Management LLC gave $500,000 in July to Common Sense PAC, another outside group supporting Kennedy. Planeta Management LLC also gave $4 million in January to American Values 2024, a super PAC supporting Kennedy – money that helped pay for a pro-Kennedy ad during the Super Bowl.

• Reports filed to the FEC this week showed the Democrats extending their fundraising advantage well beyond the presidential race to many key areas in the battle for control of the House and Senate.

The Republican National Committee, which was struggling to raise cash throughout the GOP primary, doubled its cash on hand, ending March with $22 million in cash. But the Democratic National Committee still has double that amount in its war chest – reporting $45.2 million in cash at the end of March.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which is focused on House races, had nearly $56 million in cash on hand at the end of March, significantly less than the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which had $71.1 million in cash.

The other influential groups involved in the competitive House races are also raising money at a fast clip on both sides of the aisle. The GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC reported that it had nearly $68.6 million in cash to spend on key races at the end of March, while the House Majority PAC reported $63.2 million in cash remaining at the end of the period in filings on Saturday.

Though Senate Republicans are facing a much more favorable map and managed to recruit several wealthy contenders in key races, some of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents are amassing huge war chests. That group includes Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.), who had nearly $12.7 million in cash at the end of March; and Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), who had nearly $16 million in cash at the end of the period. Both are defending seats in states that Trump won in 2016 and 2020.

Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada, a state that Democrats narrowly carried in the 2016 and 2020 presidential races, reported more than $13.2 million in cash at the end of March, preparing her for a difficult race in November. Sam Brown, a retired Army captain who is the front-runner in the GOP race, had about $2.3 million in cash at the end of March. His Republican rival, former ambassador Jeff Gunter, reported nearly $2.6 million in his campaign treasury after loaning his campaign $2.7 million.