Trump March fundraising hit by virus-sparked social distancing

Bill Allison

The coronavirus pandemic sharply cut into fund-raising for two committees that support President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, filings at the Federal Election Commission show, although he still holds a significant advantage over Democrat Joe Biden.

At $63 million, the March haul for Trump’s re-election effort was down 27% from February, and the two key groups also saw double-digit drops. Still, Trump Victory and Trump Make America Great Again brought in $136 million in the first quarter.

Social distancing and stay-at-home orders may have slowed his fundraising juggernaut, which started kicking into high gear in January as the Senate considered and ultimately acquitted Trump in the impeachment trial.

A Trump Unity sign on a trailer is shown parked at a protest in front of the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, April 15, 2020. Flag-waving, honking protesters drove past the Michigan Capitol on Wednesday to show their displeasure with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's orders to keep people at home and businesses locked during the new coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak.

With the contributions for the two committees, the president and the Republican National Committee brought in $212 million in the first quarter.

Trump’s re-election effort ended the quarter with $240 million cash on hand. That far outstrips the $26.2 million that the Democratic National Committee and Biden had at the end of February. The Democrats will report their first-quarter totals to the FEC on Monday.

In the first three months of the year, Trump Victory, which courts wealthy donors at events attended by the president or his top surrogates, took in $64 million, significantly more than the $31.7 million it raised in the previous quarter. But it took in about $10 million less in March than it did in February after it canceled scheduled fundraisers in March because of the pandemic.Donors who’ve been hard-hit by coronavirus were among the group’s big givers. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, each contributed $580,600 in February. Adelson’s seen a 26.6% decline in his net worth this year, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index.

TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, whose net worth has dropped 23.4%, gave $500,000, while his wife, Marlene, gave $355,000. Billionaire Steve Wynn, who stepped down from his casino business in 2018 amid sexual harassment allegations in 2018, gave $468,500. He’s down 11.9% this year. Phil Ruffin, who co-owns Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, gave $500,000.

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Wednesday, April 15, 2020, in Washington.

Robert Mercer, former co-chief executive officer of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, gave $355,200. In 2016, two key Trump campaign officials, Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon, had worked for a super-PAC Mercer funded. He was also an investor in Cambridge Analytica, the controversial data-mining and political consulting firm that harvested personal information of users of Facebook to use in its advocacy campaigns.

Other big donors include former Anheuser-Busch Chairman August Busch III, who gave $500,000, billionaire Ira Rennert, chariman and chief executive officer of Renco Metals, who gave $450,000, and U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler and her husband Jeffrey Sprecher, who each gave $290,300. The Loefflers’ quick sales of millions of dollars worth of stocks as the markets crashed when the pandemic began has become an issue for the Georgia Republican in her re-election campaign.

Trump Make America Great Again, the campaign’s digital fundraising arm, brought in $72.9 million in the first quarter after raising $54.6 million in the last three months of 2019. The committee targets grassroots contributors with frequent emails and texts as well as promoting Trump merchandise, including the iconic “Make America Great Again” caps.

Small-dollar donors, those whose aggregate contributions to the committee amount to $200 or less, supplied $50.8 million, or 70%, of the total. Contributions made through WinRed, the Republican version of ActBlue, dropped about 11% from February to March.

America First Action, Trump’s designated super-PAC, reported raising $9.4 million in the first quarter, with about a third of that, $3 million, coming from Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone Group Inc. Los Angeles-based developer Geoffrey Palmer gave $2 million and investment banker Warren Stephens gave $1 million.