Donald Trump raised a minuscule fraction of the money Hillary Clinton received from Michigan donors in his first month as the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee, adding to fears among some Republicans about the condition of his campaign headed into the general election.
Clinton, who effectively clinched the Democratic nomination this month, raised $271,083 from Michigan donors in May and $27 million nationally in her primary battle with Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Trump raised $17,343 in Michigan and $3.1 million nationwide, according to a Detroit News analysis of federal campaign finance records filed Monday. The billionaire businessman also loaned his campaign $2.2 million after securing the likely GOP nomination in early May when Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich dropped out.
For the month, Clinton raised more than 15 times more from Michigan donors than Trump. Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist who trails Clinton in Democratic delegates, raised $232,549 in Michigan last month — 13 times more than Trump.
After expenses, Trump ended the month with $1.3 million in cash reserves, compared with $42 million for Clinton, who has built up a sizable war chest for a general election ground game and national advertising.
The fundraising gap, along with polls around the country suggesting a Clinton surge since late May, should be “a huge warning sign for Trump supporters,” said Charlie Spies, a Washington, D.C., attorney who helped organize super political action committees that supported GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 and Republican former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush this cycle.
“It’s a huge problem, and it has an implication not only for his likelihood of success, but also Republican candidates at all levels,” said Spies, a Michigan native with the Clark Hill PLC firm.
“At this point four years ago, Mitt Romney was well on his way to raising $500 million for the Romney Victory effort,” which included joint fundraising with the Republican National Committee and state parties.
But a Michigan Republican Party spokeswoman said state party leaders aren’t worried because Trump is an untraditional candidate.
“Mr. Trump has not been actively fundraising and has self-financed much of his campaign to date,” Michigan GOP Communications Director Sarah Anderson said Wednesday. “If he wanted to boost his numbers, he could do so easily by writing a check.
“The Clintons have a long and storied political career, giving them access to a huge political machine. Mr. Trump is a political outsider — something that has mass appeal to many voters, especially those who cannot afford to buy access to their politicians.”
Trump’s shortfall not hopeless
Trump and the Republican National Committee in late May launched a joint fundraising committee. The Trump Victory Fund, whose leaders include Michigan GOP mega donors Ron Weiser and C. Michael Kojaian, gave $3 million to the RNC in May but was not yet required to file its own finance report. The Romney Victory Fund, by comparison, reportedly contributed nearly $26 million to the RNC in May 2012.
“We haven’t had very long to get organized yet, and Trump has no organization of his own for fundraising,” Weiser said Wednesday, noting he initially has been working to find leaders in 14 states, Europe and Asia to raise money.
Weiser said he is not concerned by Trump’s fundraising disadvantage and thinks the joint committee will “do fine” as it seeks to raise money that could also be used to help congressional candidates. Democrats have targeted the Republican-held 1st and 7th districts as areas they could win.
“I think there’s plenty of time,” Weiser said, “but as we learned in the primary, money doesn’t necessarily win elections. It helps, but just ask Jeb Bush.”
Sluggish fundraising totals are not an insurmountable obstacle for Trump because of his unique ability to generate news coverage of his campaign, said Michigan GOP strategist Greg McNeilly, who acknowledged some Republicans are concerned by a Trump campaign that “appears very lackluster” by traditional measurements.
“It’s not helpful, of course, to raise less money than your opponent, and it’s not helpful to have not as disciplined and organized of a campaign as your opponent,” Grand Rapids-based McNeilly said. “But Donald Trump is that very unique and very rare candidate where he’s not as disadvantaged as conventional wisdom would suggest largely because of his ability to leverage earned media in a very compelling and lucrative way.”
But Democratic analysts say the lackluster fund-raising is a problem.
Trump’s personal brand and name identity worked in his favor during the primary, but he’ll need to build real infrastructure to win the general election, said Democratic strategist TJ Bucholz of Vanguard Public Affairs in Lansing.
“Now that he’s the presumptive nominee, we’re starting to get into a space where money matters and structure matters,” Bucholz said. “While Clinton seems to be gaining strength, Trump is in implosion mode right now.”
Sanders, who has not dropped out of the presidential race despite Clinton’s decisive delegate advantage heading into the Democratic nominating convention next month, continued to show signs of strong grassroots support in May. Sanders reported 7,100 individual contributions that averaged $32.75 each.
Clinton received 3,365 contributions from Michiganders but bested Sanders in total money raised here by averaging $80.55 per donation. Trump reported 51 contributions from Michigan averaging $340.07.
Scott Hagerstrom, Michigan director for the Trump campaign, did not respond to a request for comment.
Clinton’s Super PAC edge
Clinton also enjoyed a decisive advantage in support from political action committees that can raise large sums but cannot directly coordinate with campaigns.
Priorities USA, the main Super PAC backing Clinton, reported $525,000 from Michigan donors in May, including a $500,000 contribution from Jon Stryker of Kalamazoo, an heir to the Stryker Corp. medical devices fortune.
Great America, a Super PAC supporting Trump, reported raising $5,500 from Michigan donors for the month.
Trump said in early May he would create a “world-class finance organization” for his general election run. It has not yet materialized, and McNeilly said he doesn’t think Trump is holding enough fundraisers or doing enough to reach out directly to top donors who could contribute to his campaign.
“He’s not doing the hard work, so he’s not raising the money,” McNeilly said. “…I don’t blame donors at this point. It’s not your fault if you haven’t been asked.”
Spies said Trump may have turned off prospective donors by not using his latest filing to forgive personal loans he made to his campaign during the primary. The May fundraising report also shows Trump used about $6 million in campaign money to reimburse his own companies and family members, according to The Associated Press.
“Most donors that have the ability to give $2,700 or even more to a joint fundraising committee are sophisticated,” Spies said, “and don’t want to give money to Trump so he can pay himself back and line his pockets with payments to Trump companies.”