Trump, RNC raise over $200M on vote fraud claims, but some big-money donors aren't backing his fight
- New records tracking fundraising from Oct. 15 to Nov. 23 show that wealthy GOP financiers largely did not help Trump in the final weeks of the bruising battle with Joe Biden as he dropped in the polls or give millions toward his current legal fight.
- Of the top Republican big-money donors that, combined, gave over $500 million throughout the 2020 election cycle to Trump and other GOP campaigns, only a handful gave to entities supporting Trump over the six-week period from mid-October to late November.
President Donald Trump told a crowd of supporters in October that if he really wanted to overcome Joe Biden's fundraising supremacy, he could call the heads of any major company and they would come to his aid.
"All I have to do is call up the head of every Wall Street firm, head of every major company, the head of every major energy company, 'Do me a favor, send me $10 million for my campaign.' Yes, sir,'" Trump told the crowd of supporters in Arizona in October.
However, new Federal Election Commission records, tracking fundraising from Oct. 15 to Nov. 23, show that wealthy GOP financiers largely did not help Trump in the final weeks of the bruising battle with Biden as he dropped in the polls or parachute in millions toward his current legal fight.
It's the latest sign that many executives could be ready to work with President-elect Biden. In the case of the legal fight, some of the leading party donors had previously maxed out to the campaign and Republican National Committee, leaving Trump's political team unable to turn to them for financial assistance.
The Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee, his two joint fundraising committees and the president's leadership committee, Save America, raised over $200 million since Election Day. Save America will likely be used to fund any political initiatives Trump is planning after he leaves the White House, including possibly running for president again in 2024.
Trump's fraud pitch, while apparently not moving many business leaders, appears to be resonating with small-dollar donors, who may be convinced that their money is going expressly to the fraud fight, and likely provided much of the money raised in the period.
Steve Schwarzman, the CEO of private equity behemoth Blackstone, and a longtime Trump confidant, did not contribute to any pro-Trump groups in recent weeks, according to election filings. Instead, he gave $15 million in November to the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
As CNBC reported, Schwarzman was one of the many Wall Street executives who walked away from helping Trump in the final stretch of the election. Schwarzman said in late November that, after supporting the president for the past four years, he's now ready to move on to "help President-elect Biden and his team as they confront the significant challenges of rebuilding our post-Covid economy."
Since Election Day on Nov. 3, the Trump campaign has initiated dozens of legal fights in states where Biden has been deemed the winner, including in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia. Trump and his allies have lost or withdrawn essentially every court case related to the election, failing to invalidate any votes for Biden.
Attorney General William Barr this week said that the Justice Department has found no evidence of widespread ballot fraud, much less any fraud that would overturn Biden's projected victory. The campaign spent millions on legal fees linked to the "recount," filings say, including $600,000 that went toward the law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres. The firm was founded by longtime Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz.
The Trump campaign requested a partial recount in Wisconsin, for which it paid $3 million.
But Reuters reported last month that large chunks of contributions are, in fact, not going toward efforts to overturn the election results and instead are going to Save America or the Republican National Committee. The fine print on the Trump election defense fund donation page says that "75% of each contribution [goes] first to Save America, up to $5,000," suggesting that a majority of contributions to the legal matter actually go to Trump's committee for other purposes.
"We enjoy unprecedented financial support from an ever-growing group of investors, large and small, because President Trump and Republicans continue to fight on the issues that a majority of Americans care about, most notably ensuring the integrity of our elections and defending the Republican majority in the Senate," Cassie Smedile, RNC deputy communications director, said in a statement.
Representatives for the Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Trump donor Dan Eberhart told CNBC that many Republican business leaders were not interested in investing in a candidate that had flailing public poll numbers in the final weeks of the election or his next moves in politics. By Election Day, a Real Clear Politics national polling average had Biden up by seven points.
"Only the crazies still believe," Eberhart told CNBC when discussing who is still giving to Trump. "This is grassroots, true believers," he added.
A former senior campaign official told CNBC on the condition of anonymity that big-money donors that hadn't yet given to the cause had shied away by the end of the campaign because the president wasn't taking part in certain in-person events because of the coronavirus pandemic and some executives wouldn't attend if he wasn't there. This person declined to be named in order to speak freely.
Some GOP megadonors had given big earlier in the election cycle toward Trump's joint fundraising committees, which allow donors to write six-figure checks, or pro-Trump super PACs, which accept an unlimited amount of money from contributors. Most recently, many decided to spend millions on the battles being waged in both the Senate and House campaigns.
Of the top Republican big-money donors that, combined, gave over $500 million throughout the 2020 election cycle to Trump and other GOP campaigns, only a handful gave to entities supporting the commander-in-chief over the six-week period from mid-October to late November.
Those few Republican megadonors that did spend heavily for the president in the final weeks of the election include casino magnates Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who contributed a combined $15 million to the pro-Trump PAC Preserve America. Bernard Marcus, a co-founder of Home Depot, gave a $5 million contribution to the same PAC. That PAC is currently not involved with the president's legal battle, and records show that those big donations came in the final two weeks of October.
The new records show that Miriam Adelson recently gave $106,500 to the RNC, as did Marcus. The Adelsons finished the 2020 election cycle donating at least $200 million toward Republican efforts.
Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, the founders of shipping supply company Uline and longtime Trump supporters, also virtually disappeared in financially assisting the president, recording minimal contributions since mid-October. The couple, who recently tested positive for the coronavirus, had previously spent over $65 million on GOP-related causes this cycle.
Timothy Mellon, the chairman of Pan Am Systems, gave $5 million to the Senate Leadership Fund in November. Pro-Trump groups saw very little from him over that same period, after he gave millions to the president's cause earlier in the campaign.
In September, Ike Perlmutter, chairman of Marvel Entertainment and a reputed outside advisor to Trump on the Department of Veterans Affairs, combined with his wife to give $21 million to America First Action. Since mid-October, records show no sign of the Perlmutters spending in the latter stages of the campaign to help Trump.
Even some of Trump's friends who supported him in the past seem to be distancing themselves from the president's future endeavors. Ronald Lauder, the heir of Estee Lauder Companies and a friend of Trump's, donated $3.5 million to the Senate Leadership Fund in October. The most recent records show that since the late stages of the election, he has not given anything to the president.
CNBC reported in August that Lauder has gone quiet on supporting Trump.