Trump’s PAC collected $75 million this year, but so far the group has not put money into pushing for the 2020 ballot reviews he touts
By Josh Dawsey and Rosalind S. Helderman,
Jabin Botsford The Washington Post
Former president Donald Trump’s political PAC raised about $75 million in the first half of this year as he trumpeted the false notion that the 2020 election was stolen from him, but the group has not devoted funds to help finance the ongoing ballot review in Arizona or to push for similar endeavors in other states, according to people familiar with the finances.
Instead, the Save America leadership PAC — which has few limits on how it can spend its money — has paid for some of the former president’s travel, legal costs and staff, along with other expenses, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the group’s inner workings. The PAC has held onto much of its cash.
Even as he assiduously tracks attempts by his allies to cast doubt on the integrity of last year’s election, Trump has been uninterested in personally bankrolling the efforts, relying on other entities and supporters to fund the endeavors, they said.
The tactic allows Trump to build up a war chest to use in the 2022 midterms on behalf of candidates he favors — and to stockpile cash for another potential White House run, an unprecedented maneuver for a former president.
In the meantime, the months-long audit of Maricopa County’s ballots in Arizona — which is expected to cost millions — is being paid for primarily by nonprofit entities that do not disclose their donors and private individuals such as former Overstock chief executive Patrick Byrne. A lawsuit seeking a similar audit in Fulton County, Ga., has been financed by small donations, according to the group that brought the claim.
A spokeswoman for Trump did not answer questions on whether the group is considering putting money into the ballot review efforts. The group will have to publicly disclose its fundraising and spending for the first half of the year by July 31.
Since leaving office, Trump has repeatedly pushed for various states to overturn the election results, sending out a blizzard of statements with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. He has consulted with state officials in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia, and has described state ballot reviews as the key to prove he won the 2020 election. And his political group has repeatedly urged donors to give by claiming that Trump is working to protect their vote — fundraising pitches that his advisers say remain the most lucrative.
“We need you to join the fight to SECURE OUR ELECTIONS!” reads one Facebook ad.
On Saturday, Trump is scheduled to speak in Phoenix at an event called the “Protect our Elections Rally,” hosted by a group founded by conservative activist Charlie Kirk. The former president has repeatedly made false claims of irregularities in the Arizona vote, asserting in a statement this month that it amounted “to hundreds of thousands of votes or, many times what is necessary for us to have won.”
“There was no victory here, or in any other of the Swing States either,” he added in one of the statements put out by the Save America PAC.
Trump launched the group after the election, and it quickly raised $31.5 million last year as he blasted the integrity of the vote, but had spent little of its haul by Jan. 1, according to its public disclosure for that period.
The Washington Post
Trump supporters gather before his appearance at the Lorain County Fairgrounds on June 26 in Wellington, Ohio.
Trump has told some advisers that he wants to keep a large bank account to show strength for a potential 2024 campaign. He continues to tell advisers that he will probably run for president again, though some in his orbit suspect he will not. Some advisers have also urged him to save the money for travel next year to barnstorm the country on behalf of candidates he has endorsed.
“That is probably the most lucrative thing he’s had in terms of cash flow since the Plaza casino in Atlantic City,” said Tim O’Brien, a Trump biographer and frequent critic. “This is just as lucrative. He has recognized because of what happened after the election — he can make money as a candidate.”
Besides fundraising, Trump has begun renting the massive trove of data that his campaign amassed to other candidates he supports in exchange for a share of their fundraising revenue, according to people familiar with the deal. That could ultimately prove another valuable cash flow for him.
A Trump adviser said he had not ruled out spending money on ballot review efforts in states such as Arizona and Georgia “at some point down the road.”
Organizers of the Arizona ballot review have not revealed the full costs of the intensive process that is now in its third month, but they acknowledged it is likely to climb into the millions. The Republican-led state Senate agreed to put $150,000 in taxpayer dollars into the effort, but the remainder of the cost is being covered by private donations.
Nonprofits have sprung up that are devoted to financing the Arizona endeavor, which Trump allies claim will show irregularities in the vote, which narrowly gave the win to President Biden. Those assertions have been repeatedly disputed by election officials and failed in court.
Among those fundraising for the audit are Voices and Votes, a group founded by One America News network host Christina Bobb, who frequently uses her on-air reports about the audit to encourage viewers to donate.
Byrne, who attended a chaotic Oval Office meeting with Trump in December to discuss ways to overturn the election, founded another group, the America Project, which Byrne said has raised $1.2 million to help pay for the Arizona review. Byrne also told The Washington Post that he personally donated an additional $500,000. Because the group is not required to disclose information about its donors or spending, it is not possible to corroborate those assertions.
Phelan M. Ebenhack for The Washington Post
Trump supporters wait to enter a rally on July 3 in Sarasota, Fla.
Supporters of a different group — Election Integrity Funds for the American Republic, which has been promoted by Michigan attorney Matthew DePerno — have in recent weeks taken to the social media platform Telegram, popular among Trump allies, to allege that Byrne had not followed through on his funding promises. They pushed allies to donate to their group instead. Byrne has strongly denied those claims.
In an email, DePerno said he had no formal role with the group but said he had raised $276,900 through it for the Arizona audit “in just a couple of days.” DePerno said that when he started raising money for the organization, others “wrongly assumed” that if he was raising money, then Byrne was not. But he said he has never said anything negative about Byrne.
“People and the media should have focused on the good work I was doing, not twisting it into a negative,” he wrote.
Additional details about the financing of the Arizona audit could emerge in coming weeks. Last week, an Arizona judge found that records and correspondence related to Cyber Ninjas, the private contractor hired to conduct the audit, should be considered public documents under state law, including information related to audit funding. The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by the group American Oversight.
The litigation is ongoing, but in denying a motion by the Senate to dismiss the case, Judge Michael Kemp wrote, “It is difficult to conceive of a case with a more compelling public interest demanding public disclosure and public scrutiny.”
Trump supporters have been agitating to mimic the Arizona effort in multiple places.
In Pennsylvania, for instance, state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R), a Trump ally who has repeatedly questioned the election outcome, sent letters on July 7 to three Pennsylvania jurisdictions — the city of Philadelphia, as well as the Republican-leaning counties of York and Tioga — requesting that they turn over to the legislature a long list of voting-related items, including all of their voting machines, tabulators and ballots from the 2020 election.
Citing his role as chairman of the state Senate’s Intergovernmental Operations Committee, which he wrote has the power to subpoena documents from government agencies, Mastriano told the counties that if they did not provide a plan to comply with his request by July 31, subpoenas could be forthcoming.
State officials have warned that turning over voting equipment could result in counties footing the bill to replace them. York and Tioga counties have already told Mastriano they do not plan to comply voluntarily. Philadelphia has not yet responded.
Mastriano has not said who would pay for the audit if he is able to obtain the information he is seeking from the three localities.
Trump allies have also been seeking an audit in Georgia, though so far unsuccessfully. Activists who have been hoping a judge in Fulton County would order that they be given access to ballots and equipment have so far instead settled for examining computerized images of ballots, which are accessible in Georgia via a public records request.
Garland Favorito, who leads the activist group that brought the lawsuit, has said his effort is being funded entirely by small-dollar donors to his organization, and he has received no other outside funding.
Amy Gardner contributed to this report.