The Slatest

Donald Trump Is Not Self-Funding His Campaign Like He Wants You to Believe

Donald Trump at a press conference in Dubuque, Iowa.  

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

“I don’t need anybody’s money,” Donald Trump boasted in June during his rambling presidential announcement. “I’m using my own money. I’m not using the lobbyists. I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich.” Four months later, though, and Trump’s carefully crafted image as a self-funded politician is starting to look as suspect as the idea that he’s a self-made man.

The latest crack in the façade comes by way of the Washington Post, which did some digging and found a super PAC—fittingly, named Make America Great Again—that, in the paper’s words, is “viewed by people familiar with [Trump’s] campaign as the sanctioned outlet for wealthy donors” and “as operating with his blessing.”

The GOP front-runner’s camp responded the way it usually does to stories it doesn’t like—by pre-emptively threatening to sue the paper if it reported what it found. “Unlike other campaigns, we don’t have a quote-unquote designated super PAC that we tell people to give money to,” campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told the Post, later adding: “I want to be crystal clear, there is no sanctioned super PAC.”

Technically speaking, Lewandowski may be right: The paper didn’t find any direct evidence that Trump ever specifically asked anyone to donate to the PAC—as he’s allowed to do under Federal Election Commission rules as long as he doesn’t solicit donations greater than $5,000. Still, when it comes to campaign finance, technically true and actually true can be two different things—and the Post makes a convincing case that even if the candidate isn’t doing everything he can to help the group, Trump isn’t nearly as PAC-free as he’d like to be seen. Among the evidence, some of which had been previously reported:  

  • Trump attended at least two events organized by the group this summer, including one at the estate of Ivanka Trump’s in-laws (Lewandowski maintains that the gatherings were not official fundraisers, and called the party at the home of Ivanka’s in-laws “a family event”).
  • Ivanka Trump’s mother-in-law, Seryl Kushner, donated at least $100,000 to the group (a Kushner spokesman says Trump did not solicit the donation).
  • A political operative who works for the PAC has ties to Trump’s inner circle and has had business dealings with his official campaign—and, according to the Post’s sources, was seen at Trump HQ “repeatedly in May and June” (asked whether he knew the operative in question, Lewandowski went from “I don’t know him” to “I know of [him]” to hanging up).

It wouldn’t be the first time that Lewandowski got burned with a don’t-know-him response that turned out to be untrue, nor would it be the first time that Team Trump’s version of reality doesn’t align with the rest of the world’s.

The Post’s report comes only days after Trump revealed his most recent fundraising numbers, which contained their own surprise: The vast majority of the $3.7 million he raised during the previous three months came from people named something other than Donald J. Trump. In fact, the billionaire reported donating just $100,779 to his own campaign from the start of June through the end of September—a far cry from the more than $1.9 million he gave himself during the opening fundraising period of his candidacy, and nowhere near as much as you’d expect from a candidate who constantly reminds people that he doesn’t “need anybody’s money.”

Trump never swore off small-dollar donations, so in and of itself his (relatively impressive) outside haul is more unexpected than problematic. His campaign, though, was quick to brand all of those non-Trump Trump donations “unsolicited contributions”—despite the fact Trump’s website has a page for donations and his campaign has joined forced with conservative Newsmax Media to fundraise over email.

As should be clear by now, the Donald’s much more of a politician than his anti-establishment campaign would like you to believe.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the 2016 campaign.