Trump's new political PAC fundraising in Georgia: GOP Senate candidates receiving a fraction of the money
President Donald Trump couldn’t make it any clearer: He needs his supporters to fork over cash for the all-important Georgia Senate runoff elections.
“We MUST defend Georgia from the Dems!” he wrote in one recent text message. “I need YOU to secure a WIN in Georgia,” he said in another. “Help us WIN both Senate races in Georgia & STOP Socialist Dems,” he pleaded a few days later.
There’s just one hitch: Trump’s new political machine is pocketing most of the dough — and the campaigns of the Georgia senators competing in the Jan. 5 are seeing very little of the money.
Trump’s aggressive fundraising blitz appears to be devoted to helping the party defend Georgia’s two Senate seats and, with them, the Senate majority. But the fine print shows that most of the proceeds are going toward Trump’s newly launched PAC, which he plans to use to fund his future political activities. Only a fraction is going to the Republican National Committee, which is investing $20 million into the runoffs.
A stampede of political figures from both parties are emailing their donors with links to donate directly to the Georgia candidates, but the president is not among them.
Trump’s fundraising ploy has rankled senior Republicans, who worry small-dollar donations are being redirected away from the runoffs. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has reached out to the White House and RNC to express its concern and to question the decision, according to two people familiar with the discussions.
The predicament has intensified broader concerns within the GOP that Trump will use his post-presidency to advance his own interests at the expense of the party. Trump has spent the last few weeks battering a pair of Republican governors who haven’t backed up his claims the presidency is being stolen from him, potentially imperiling their 2022 reelection prospects. He has repeatedly said Georgia's election system is rife with fraud, which could have the unintended consequence of chilling GOP turnout in the runoffs. And he has talked up a potential 2024 comeback bid, freezing the field of would-be future Republican presidential hopefuls.
“The reality is Donald Trump does not care about the future of the Republican Party, so if he can raise money off of the Georgia runoffs but keep the money for his own purposes, he will do so,” said Doug Heye, a veteran GOP strategist.
Trump’s approach has been in stark contrast with President-elect Joe Biden, who has raised $10 million for the runoffs through direct appeals to his grassroots donor network. Biden’s campaign last week sent out an email asking supporters to give $25 contributions, which would be split evenly between Georgia Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock and the Democratic National Committee.
When donors click on Trump’s emails and texts, they are directed to a site that urges donations of anything from $5 to $2,800. Lower down on the page, it notes that 75 percent of each donation goes to Trump’s political action committee, Save America, up to the first $5,000 given. Twenty-five percent then goes to the RNC, which paid for Trump's recent visit to the state.
Donors who give even more money can have their cash directed into a Trump legal fund or other accounts benefiting the RNC. But regardless of the amount given, none goes directly to the Georgia Senate candidates.
Georgia Republicans want more of Trump’s small-dollar fundraising to benefit David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. After Biden’s campaign announced the $10 million haul, Georgia Republicans took note and began asking each other why their candidates weren’t getting the same treatment. An email from the president to his donor list, they argue, could go a long way.
Some Republicans are eager for Trump to firmly declare that fundraising for Perdue and Loeffler needs to be the priority for the party — something they note he hasn’t done yet as he raises money for himself.
Republicans say the help is needed. The Democratic candidates are poised to outspend the Republican contenders on the TV airwaves $131 million to $86 million, according to the media tracking firm AdImpact. Republicans are relying on outside groups to make up the difference, but donations straight to Loeffler and Perdue are more efficient, because of federal guidelines that make it more expensive for outside groups to run commercials than candidates.
“Obviously you want to control the message as much as you possibly can, and with outside spending rates being as much as five-to-six times what the candidate [advertising] rate is, it becomes even more important,” said Georgia-based Republican strategist Chip Lake, who added that “outside group ad group spending for Perdue and Loeffler has been quite effective."
Trump advisers are deeply protective of the president’s coveted donor list, which is easily the biggest in Republican politics, and they say they have adopted an across-the-board policy of not allowing others to use it. The advisers reason that using the list for candidates other than the president could dilute the list's power. And they also contend that contributors have finite resources and that they needed the funds for Trump’s reelection campaign.
Trump aides say they’ve found other ways to help with fundraising, including having the president sign emails for candidates that those campaigns sent to their individual lists of supporters. The Trump team has also brought in top surrogates such as chief White House economist Larry Kudlow, who recently hosted an online fundraiser for Perdue and Loeffler.
The White House is expected to play a central role as the runoffs enter the final stretch. Vice President Mike Pence has made multiple visits to the state and other administration figures are likely to make appearances. Two senior officials on Trump’s reelection effort, Justin Clark and Nick Trainer, recently traveled to the state to meet with the Loeffler and Perdue campaigns.
Republicans close to the president say they've taken other steps to be helpful, including inviting the NRSC and Georgia Senate candidates to form a joint fundraising agreement with the RNC and the recount account for Trump's campaign. Senate GOP officials say they turned the offer down because some of the funds wouldn't be going to the Georgia races.
Trump advisers say it shouldn’t be surprising they’re using the runoffs to raise money, given that the president has frequently capitalized on headline-generating events to fill his coffers.
But Georgia Republicans are concerned that small donors may be deceived by Trump’s fundraising appeals. Givers who don’t read the fine print closely enough may think their dollars are going directly to Loeffler and Perdue when in fact it’s going to Trump.
“Money is speech, and if it can get to the right place it should be used. But if it’s going to [Trump's] leadership PAC and not being spent on the behalf of David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler I think that’s problematic,” said Martha Zoller, the chair of Georgia United Victory, a conservative super PAC that is planning to spend $6 million during the runoff.
A Trump campaign spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump's aggressive post-election fundraising blitz that has raised more than $200 million, according to campaign finance records. That means Trump is set to leave office with a massive fundraising database and a huge political bank account.
Senior Republicans say the question is whether they can get Trump to use his financial might to help candidates in the 2022 midterm elections — or whether the soon-to-be-former president will just use it for himself.
“The more that Trump can do to help the Republican Party with his tremendously successful online fundraising list is better for the party," said Eric Wilson, a veteran GOP digital strategist. “The fact that there are so many donors at the grassroots level still willing to give President Trump $5, $10, $25 donations just shows that power. There’s a huge potential to really just transform the party.