With a one-paragraph memorandum on the day of his inauguration, Donald Trump took action that would redefine how presidential elections are waged.
“[P]lease accept this letter as my Form 2 for the 2020 election,” Trump wrote the Federal Election Commission on Jan. 20, 2017.
What’s a “Form 2”? Bureaucratic parlance for a politician declaring one’s candidacy. And doing so allowed Trump to legally raise campaign money for an election nearly four years away.
Raise money Trump has. Unlike any president in U.S. history. Starting the first day he took office — something no other president has done.
The result is a permanent presidential campaign in which the free world’s leader at times appears more occupied with running for re-election than running the country:
- Since his inauguration, Trump has conducted at least 57 political rallies — funded in part by his campaign and not official White House business. All but a half-dozen took place in states he won in 2016, allowing him to bolster his bases of support.
- During the 35-day partial federal government shutdown triggered by Trump’s desire to fund a wall on the southern border, Trump repeatedly solicited supporters with shutdown-themed fundraising messages. Come-ons included buying a “brick” for $20.20 to send to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and contributing to an “Official Secure the Border Fund” — this wasn’t a government fund, but rather, Trump’s re-election committee. Trump’s website featured “Build the Wall” products when on Friday he declared a national emergency to secure wall funding, and his campaign textedsupporters — “We have an INVASION!” — to send money.
- Trump has expertly and endlessly marketed his political brand, peddling Trump T-shirts and trinkets and MAGA swag, the proceeds from which go directly to Donald J. Trump for President. “They push those products so hard,” said Bentley Hensel, president of political e-commerce firm 1776 Consulting, who estimates 30 percent of the Trump campaign’s contributions during 2017 and 2018 could have come from merchandise sales.
- Trump has consolidated political power, moving to turn the Republican National Committee into a subsidiary of his own campaign committee by sharing office space, staff and fundraising operations — a move aimed at increasing efficiency and limiting internal squabbles. Numerous Trump allies, advisers and former staffers meanwhile help run a constellation of pro-Trump super PACs and nonprofits, which may raise and spend money without restraint. While these groups are nominally independent of Trump’s own campaign committee, Trump keeps some of them as close as he legally can, even attending fundraisers last year for the America First Action super PAC.
These efforts have added up.
Since the beginning of 2017, Trump’s own campaign committee has raised $67.5 million while seven major pro-Trump super PACs together have raised nearly $64 million more, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal campaign finance disclosures. Trump-aligned “social welfare” nonprofits have collectively generated additional tens of millions of dollars.
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