Trump's legal woes are costing his political operation millions of dollars

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump’s legal woes may not be eating into his lead among GOP primary voters, but they’re costing his political operation millions of dollars.

Trump’s Save America PAC has spent more than $20 million on legal fees alone — doling out payments to more than 40 different law firms — in the first six months of 2023, according to new campaign finance reports filed Monday with the Federal Election Commission.

Legal expenditures accounted for two-thirds of the PAC’s total spending from January through June.

Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The PAC has been covering Trump’s legal expenses and those of his associates who have been drawn into the multiple investigations probing Trump’s conduct in and out of office. Trump is the focus of investigations into the Jan. 6 riot and efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and he’s been indicted over his handling of classified documents and hush money payments from when he was a presidential candidate in 2016.

Not all of the legal spending likely went to those investigations — candidates and political action committees have other needs too — but Trump’s PAC has been paying lawyers representing people involved in these investigations for some time.

The legal bills piled up for the PAC, which clawed back more than $12 million it had previously given to an allied super PAC to help cover the costs.

And that spending has made a significant dent in the group’s bottom line — while it started the year with more than $18 million banked away, it ended June with less than $4 million in cash on hand.

Save America is an entirely different group than the ones directly funding his presidential campaign. Trump typically fundraises for the two groups in tandem, sending the vast majority of dollars raised directly to his presidential campaign and a small portion to Save America.

But the massive spending shows both the financial and political toll Trump’s legal woes are taking on his orbit.

Ahead of Trump’s announcement in late 2022 that he was running for president again, Save America gave tens of millions from what it had raised during the post-presidency period to a super PAC, MAGA Inc., to help immediately fill the outside group’s coffers so it could begin spending to boost Trump. That cash infusion has helped MAGA Inc. become one of the top ad spenders in the presidential race.

But the new fundraising reports filed Monday show that MAGA Inc. ultimately gave back more than $12 million in four payments in May and June. The New York Times reported Saturday that Save America explicitly requested a refund.

Trump super PAC still spends millions

That transfer to Save America accounted for roughly one-third of MAGA Inc.’s spending over the first six months of the year, according to the super PAC’s campaign finance report. Much of the group’s other spending — $22 million — went to TV ad buys in support of Trump’s candidacy. The group also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on polling, fundraising, events and research.

MAGA Inc. spent more than it raised in the first six months of the year, raising over $14.6 million. But the super PAC also had plenty to spend on boosting Trump, reporting $30.8 million in its campaign account as of June 30.

The super PAC’s top donor over the first six months of 2023 was Patricia Duggan of Clearwater, Fla., a prominent Scientologist who gave the group $5 million. Casino magnate Phil Ruffin gave $2 million; Woody Johnson, chairman of the New York Jets and U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom during the Trump administration, gave $1 million; and Charles Kushner, the father of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, also gave $1 million. Trump pardoned Charles Kushner at the end of his term.

One other donor of note: Bernie Moreno, a Republican who is running for Senate in Ohio again and whom Trump praised on social media but stopped short of fully endorsing.

Pro-DeSantis group stockpiles cash 

While the pro-Trump super PAC spent more than it took in during the first six months of the year, the super PAC backing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has continued to stockpile cash for the primary fight.

Never Back Down reported more than $96.8 million in its campaign account as of June 30 — roughly three times the $30.8 million that MAGA Inc. had on hand at the same time.

The filings showed the bulk of the money Never Back Down raised, $82.5 million, came from one source: DeSantis’ Florida political committee. Monday’s filing is the first time that transfer has been publicly disclosed, although it had been previously reported by news outlets.

Two individuals who have given to DeSantis world before were the committee’s largest donors: Robert Bigelow and Stefan Brodie. Bigelow gave over $20 million to Never Back Down and previously donated to DeSantis’ gubernatorial re-election campaign. Brodie gave money to help fund DeSantis’ inauguration to a second term and gave $2 million to Never Back Down.

Venture capitalist Doug Leone also gave $2 million to the group. Leone was formerly a Trump supporter, but publicly renounced support for the former president following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, founders of the shipping supply company Uline and major conservative donors, each gave $1 million to Never Back Down.

The group reported spending nearly $33.8 million in the first six months of the year, including roughly $10 million on media and more than $4 million on an expansive canvassing operation.

Outside groups try to boost lower-tier candidates

Outside groups backing other candidates also filed finance reports Monday, with a group supporting South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott — Trust in the Mission PAC — bringing in over $19 million, and a group backing former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley — SFA Fund Inc. — bringing in $18.7 million, far more than groups backing other candidates.

Trust in the Mission notably received $25,000 from one of Scott’s former colleagues — Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a Republican who retired from the Senate earlier this year.

Best of America PAC, a group backing North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s presidential bid, hauled over $11 million, with $2 million coming from one of Burgum’s family members.

A group backing former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson — America Strong and Free Action — raised $2.3 million, with $1 million of that coming from Warren Stephens, a Little Rock-based billionaire who has previously given to Republican groups.

But the group spent more than half of that, mainly on digital marketing and polling, even as Hutchinson has struggled to climb above 1% in polls of the Republican field.