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Trump lags behind in small donations as GOP fundraising firm faces problems

by SuperiorInvest

Stefani Reynolds | AFP | fake images

From time to time, Matthew Hurtt receives worrying emails. The subject lines are slightly different: “Stop charging my account,” “Urgent!” and “Donation not approved,” but all the people who send them want the same thing: to prevent the Republican political contribution platform WinRed from making more automatic, recurring withdrawals from their accounts.

Hurtt is chairman of the Virginia-based Arlington County Republican Committee and says he has reviewed “a few dozen” such emails since the 2020 election. When WinRed processes a contribution to a Republican campaign, the charge appears on the donor's credit card or bank statement as a payment to “WINRED www.GOP.com, Arlington VA,” according to a statement provided by Hurtt and reviewed by CNBC.

As a result, people often mistakenly believe their money went to the Arlington County Republican Party, he said.

“Cancel account and stop billing my credit card,” Oklahoma resident Samie Elliot wrote in a January email that landed in Hurtt's inbox. She later explained that neither she nor her husband, both retired, recalled ever signing up to receive recurring monthly political donations and that these charges have been going on for at least a year.

Federal Election Commission records, however, paint a very different picture of the Elliots. According to campaign finance reports, WinRed processed $14,300 in political contributions from Elliot and her husband, Orin Elliot, between 2020 and the end of 2023.

All of these donations appear to have been small, recurring contributions. Exactly the kind Elliot said he didn't remember signing up for. Samie Elliot did not respond to requests for comment.

“Each of them has told me a similar story: elderly, sometimes dementia, and they don't remember donating month after month,” said Hurtt, who shared nine email exchanges with CNBC for this story.

“As the chairman of a county committee struggling to raise money, that infuriates me,” he said.

WinRed did not respond to requests for comment.

It's hard to overstate how important retired small donors like the Elliots are to Donald Trump's 2024 presidential campaign and to the entire Republican Party.

Donations from those who describe their occupations as “retired” accounted for about a third of all the money the Trump campaign raised for his 2020 re-election campaign, roughly $255 million, according to data from OpenSecrets.

For these donors, Trump's brand of apocalyptic, aggrieved, hyper-personal fundraising has been particularly effective.

“Older people are generally more vulnerable and often more easily fooled” by aggressive political fundraising appeals, according to Saurav Ghosh, director of federal campaign finance reform at the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center. The group filed an ethics complaint with the Federal Election Commission against WinRed in 2022.

“You see former President Trump, who is fundraising off of his accusations. He's fundraising off of Valentine's Day. These are the kind of emails an older person gets,” he said.

Today, five years after WinRed was founded and quickly became the dominant digital fundraising platform for Republican candidates, these same donors whose recurring monthly contributions fueled Trump's last presidential campaign do not appear to be giving at the same pace or in the same quantity. .

WinRed, meanwhile, has been sued nearly half a dozen times since its launch in 2019, with the lawsuits challenging Republicans' aggressive fundraising tactics, according to court records.

ActBlue and Democrats have faced some of the same criticism, but their share of rebates has at times been much lower than their Republican counterparts.

Trump's political operation, along with the Republican Party, refunded just over 10% of every dollar it raised through WinRed during the 2020 presidential election, according to The New York Times. That reimbursement rate was more than four times that of President Joe Biden's campaign and the surrounding political apparatus at the time, according to the Times.

Trump's small dollar donations fall

In 2019, Trump's campaign committee raised $72 million in donations of $200 or less, according to OpenSecrets.

That amount represented a portion of the more than $378 million that was raised from the time Trump ran for re-election in 2017 through Dec. 31, 2020, from small donors, according to the data. Much of that small-donor funding came in the 2020 election year, and the campaign raised more than $264 million over the course of those 12 months from people who donated $200 or less to Trump.

But several years later, from November 2022 to the end of last year, Trump's presidential campaign raised just $27 million in donations from those who gave $200 or less, according to the data.

That's a difference of $45 million and represents a 62.5% drop in small-dollar donations, from the year before the 2020 election to the year before the 2024 election.

A Trump campaign spokesperson pointed to CNBC to the help Trump received from outside groups while he was president, including a boost from the Republican National Committee, and said the campaign still receives support from small-dollar donors.

“Despite facing a crowded primary field this election cycle, President Trump continues to raise millions more from small donors than all of his primary opponents and Joe Biden, serving as a powerful testament to his unwavering and unwavering support.” precedents on the part of the American people. the Trump campaign spokesperson said.

Biden's campaign, with the help of joint fundraising committees, has raised just over $46 million so far this election cycle from donors who gave $200 or less, according to OpenSecrets.

The $45 million drop in small donations to Trump is likely due to several factors.

In 2019, Trump was the incumbent president who faced very little resistance, while in 2023 he had a dozen rivals for the Republican nomination, including former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley. Trump also had a fundraising advantage when he was president, as he filed his re-election papers a year after winning the 2016 race against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Another factor was how campaign committees raised and distributed funds.

In 2019, Trump was raising money through joint fundraising committees with the RNC. In 2023, he had no such deal and instead has a joint fundraising operation that raises money for both his campaign and a political action committee called Save America that helped pay around $50 million. in legal services.

There's also the possibility that donors will grow weary from the decline in Trump's small donations. Although Trump defeated Haley in every caucus and primary so far, the results suggest that a portion of Republicans are looking for an alternative to the former president.

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And the emails Hurtt receives in his Arlington office from angry donors suggest there is an element of donor exhaustion and frustration at play for Trump and the Republican Party as a whole.

“We are being charged for something we did NOT give our consent to purchase!!! This needs an immediate response!!!!,” reads an email from a desperate donor to the Arlington Republican committee.

After all, the Trump campaign still sends out the same type of fundraising emails and text messages multiple times a day, warning of doom and destruction unless the recipient gives money to show support for Trump.

Trump and WinRed's aggressive political fundraising style, as well as the results of some repeat donations from some donors, may no longer work as well.

“Trump donors have continued to give, even despite misleading fundraising appeals, donor dollars covering Trump's personal legal costs, and untold millions flowing to Trump's estates and family members.” “documented Brendan Fischer, deputy executive director of the campaign finance watchdog. he said in an email to CNBC. “Have donors finally had enough? Maybe.”

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