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Trump’s campaign cycles $6M into Trump companies

Julie Bykowicz
Associated Press

Washington — Donald Trump is one of the wealthiest people to ever run for president, but his campaign appears to be flat broke. What’s more, fundraising reports show he’s used about $6 million in campaign money to pay his own companies and family members.

By any measure, Trump’s fundraising is falling far short of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

Together, Trump and the Republican National Committee brought in about $18.6 million in May, including another loan from the candidate. Clinton and the Democratic National Committee raised more than double that. His campaign started June with $1.3 million in the bank; hers, with $42 million.

The billionaire businessman’s financial woes were enough to inspire the mocking Twitter hashtag “TrumpSoPoor” on Tuesday and, far more seriously, give already reluctant donors a fresh batch of reasons to withhold their money.

Trump’s campaign expenses are hardly inspiring confidence among people whose money he’s pursuing. The spending includes a $423,000 May payment to Mar-a-Lago, the private club in Florida that serves as his vacation home, and enough Trump-branded bottled water to fill a bathtub.

Clinton ribbed Trump on Tuesday, tweeting to followers: “What is Trump spending his meager campaign resources on? Why, himself, of course.”

A presidential campaign is expensive — about $1 billion in recent years. That money pays for crucial candidate outreach, including costly television advertising and identifying, persuading and getting voters to the polls in November.

Trump began this month with $1.3 million in the bank, less campaign cash than many congressional candidates and even behind several of the Republican presidential candidates he defeated. The $3 million he collected in May donations is about one-tenth what Clinton raised.

Trump waves off criticism of his fundraising, saying he only began in earnest May 25 despite having become the presumptive nominee weeks earlier. He largely financed his successful primary bid through personal loans but now is leaning heavily on the Republican National Committee for help.

“To date, the campaign’s fundraising has been incredible, and we continue to see a tremendous outpouring of support for Mr. Trump and money to the Republican Party,” his campaign said in a statement Tuesday.

Both Trump and the party say he can write checks if donations don’t pick up. But there are signs he is taking fundraising more seriously.

He made his first emailed pitch for donations on Tuesday, writing that he would match up to $2 million in contributions. “This is the first fundraising email I have ever sent on behalf of my campaign,” Trump wrote. “That’s right. THE FIRST ONE.”

That more-engaged approach can’t come too soon for Republican financiers.

“There’s a lot of reluctance,” said Spencer Zwick, who was Mitt Romney’s chief fundraiser four years ago. “Some are saying the finance organization is highly disorganized.”

Trump’s defenders, including New York donor Anthony Scaramucci, say a major part of his appeal is that he’s a “non-politician” who does things differently.

That extends to his propensity to mix business with politics.

Finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission detail a campaign unafraid to co-mingle political and business endeavors in an unprecedented way.

Wealthy political candidates in the past, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and presidential contender Steve Forbes, walled off their campaigns from the companies bearing their names.

Not so for Trump. Through the end of May, his campaign had plowed about $6 million back into Trump corporate products and services, a review of federal filings shows. That’s nearly 10 percent of his expenditures.

There’s nothing illegal about it. Regulations do require companies — even ones owned by the candidate — to charge fair-market value so as not to run afoul of a ban on corporate campaign contributions.

They also require some complicated record-keeping.

For instance, FEC reports show the campaign making about $400,000 in payments to Trump. But that’s a campaign finance accounting quirk. What’s actually happened is that Trump donated $400,000 in campaign office space and some salaries of company employees who have been working on his presidential bid.

Yet Trump’s companies also charge his campaign for goods and services, putting him at risk of appearing to be a self-dealer. That’s why Forbes and Bloomberg avoided the issue altogether, former aides said.

“You just never want to have to worry about any blurred lines with personal, corporate, in-kind and contributor money,” said Bill Dal Col, who ran Forbes’ unsuccessful 1996 and 2000 White House campaigns.

One more complication: The $46 million worth of loans Trump made to his campaign can be repaid with donor money, even though he insists he won’t do that.

The situation has some donors spooked, said Charlie Spies, a Republican elections attorney who has worked with major contributors and was helping Trump opponent Jeb Bush.

“Why would donors give money when the first dollars go to help a billionaire buy products from his own company?” Spies asked.

The biggest payment to a Trump company is $4.6 million to TAG Air, the holding company of his airplanes.

His campaign headquarters is at Trump Tower in New York. The campaign has paid about $520,000 in rent and utilities to Trump Tower Commercial LLC and to Trump Corporation.

For events, he often uses his own properties. The campaign paid out $26,000 in January to rent a facility at Trump National Doral, his golf course in Miami. He’d held an event in the gold-accented ballroom there in late October. The campaign spent another $11,000 on Trump’s hotel in Chicago.

Campaign snapshots

Trump called ‘reckless’

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that Republican rival Donald Trump would send the U.S. economy back into recession, warning his “reckless” approach would hurt workers still trying to recover from the 2008 economic turbulence.

Trump later appeared to embrace one of Clinton’s attack lines, writing on Twitter: “I am ‘the king of debt.’ That has been great for me as a businessman, but is bad for the country. I made a fortune off of debt, will fix U.S.”

Vote your conscience

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Tuesday he agrees that delegates to the Republican national convention should be free to vote their conscience, even if that means not supporting presumptive nominee Donald Trump.

Walker is a former presidential candidate and a delegate to the convention next month. He told reporters that he will follow Wisconsin Republican Party rules and cast his ballot for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the first round because Cruz won the state primary.

But he also left open the possibility that the rules could change between now and the convention next month, and gave credence to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s comments from last week that delegates should vote their conscience.

Mad Men-inspired name

A $35,000 payment for “web advertising” in Donald Trump’s most recent campaign finance filings is turning heads because of the firm’s name: Draper Sterling.

“Draper” and “Sterling” are the last names of two characters in the television show Mad Men, a fictional drama set primarily in the 1960s about an advertising firm called Sterling Cooper. The business was registered in late March at an address in the town of Londonderry, New Hampshire. Trump’s spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, did not respond to a request for comment about the firm’s work.