'Self-funded' Donald Trump preparing to seek big-donor money

2016-05-14 07:00
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump is interviewed in his office at Trump Tower, in New York. (Mary Altaffer, AP)

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump is interviewed in his office at Trump Tower, in New York. (Mary Altaffer, AP)

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Las Vegas - The billionaire presidential candidate who prides himself on paying his own way and bashed his competition for relying on political donors now wants their money - and lots of it.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, recently hired a national finance chairperson, scheduled his first fundraiser and is on the cusp of signing a deal with the Republican Party that would enable him to solicit donations of more than $300 000 apiece from supporters.

His money-raising begins right away.

The still-forming finance team is planning a dialing-for-dollars event on the fifth floor of Trump Tower in New York, and the campaign is at work on a fundraising website focused on small donations. In addition to a May 25 fundraiser at the Los Angeles home of real estate developer Tom Barrack, he'll hold another soon thereafter in New York.

The political newcomer faces a gargantuan task: A general election campaign can easily run up a $1bn tab. For the primary race, Trump spent a tiny fraction of that amount - he's estimated $50m, plus about $12m from donors who sought his campaign out on their own.

Trump told The Associated Press in an interview this week that he will spend minimally on a data operation that can help identify and turn out voters. And he's betting that the media's coverage of his rallies and celebrity personality will reduce his need for pricey television advertising.

Yet he acknowledged that the general-election campaign may cost "a lot". To help raise the needed money, he tapped Steven Mnuchin, a New York investor with ties in Hollywood and Las Vegas, but no political fundraising experience.

"To me this is no different than building a business, and this is a business with a fabulous product: Donald Trump," Mnuchin said in an interview at a financial industry conference in Las Vegas. Trump's new national finance chair said prospective donors are "coming out of the woodwork" and he's been fielding e-mails and phone calls from people he hasn't heard from in 20 years.

More experienced fundraisers are coming aboard, too, such as Eli Miller of Washington, Anthony Scaramucci of New York and Ray Washburn of Dallas. All three helped raise money for candidates Trump defeated in the primary.

To convey the amount of work needed to vacuum up money, Scaramucci, part of 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney's finance team, recently shared Romney's old fundraising calendar with Trump. He said Trump was receptive to a schedule that has 50 to 100 fundraisers over the summer.

Won't grovel

Scaramucci said he didn't expect Trump to grovel for donors. "But is he going to say thank you and be appreciative? Of course. He's very good one-on-one. He's a hard guy not to like."

Trump's dilemma: By asking for money, he could anger supporters who love his assertion that he's different from most politicians because he isn't beholden to donors.

He's tried to navigate these tricky waters by saying he wants only to raise money to benefit the party and help elect other Republicans. But his planned joint fundraising agreement with Republican officials also provides a direct route to his own campaign coffers.

Such an arrangement could work like this: For each large contribution, the first $2 700 or $5 400 goes to Trump's campaign, the next $33 400 goes to the Republican National Committee, similar amounts could go to national party accounts and the rest is divided evenly among various state parties the candidate selects.

Democrat Hillary Clinton set up such a victory committee in September, and it had collected $61m by the end of March.

She also counts on several super PACs. They've landed million-dollar checks from her friends and supporters and already scheduled $130m in TV, radio and internet ads leading up to Election Day.

Trump is only now beginning to turn his attention to this kind of big money. A decision on how fully to embrace outside groups is fraught with possible charges of hypocrisy, since he has called them "corrupt".

Options

Still, wealthy Trump supporters have several options.

On Thursday, Doug Watts, former communications director for Ben Carson's 2016 bid, said he'd started a group called the Committee for American Sovereignty. Its advisers include former Trump resorts executive Nicholas Ribis snr and longtime GOP donor Kenneth Abramowitz. The group aims to raise $20m before the GOP convention in July.

Another entity, Great America PAC, has struggled to get off the ground but hopes to raise $15m to $20m in the next few months, said its chief fundraiser, Eric Beach. The group recently brought on Ronald Reagan's campaign manager Ed Rollins, whom Trump has praised.

The super PAC raised more than $450 000 last month, its fundraising reports due next week to the Federal Election Commission will show. But it had not yet generated enough cash to cover the more than $1m in satellite TV ads it has booked.

In June, Rollins will go to the Texas ranch of billionaire oil investor T Boone Pickens, who said on Wednesday he intends to help finance Trump's effort. While that meeting is not a fundraiser, it's an opportunity for the super PAC to make a pitch to Pickens and his wealthy friends.

One Trump emissary to the world of major donors is billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who made calls to Pickens and others to gauge their interest in Trump.

Some are biting, either because of support for Trump or a desire to keep Clinton out of office. Among the latter group is Stanley Hubbard, a Minnesota broadcast billionaire who spent money trying to "stop Trump."

Having failed in that quest, he said he's prepared to write a check to stop Clinton.

Read more on:    donald trump  |  us  |  us 2016 elections

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