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Legal spending by Trump group accelerated in February, disclosures show

FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President Trump hosts a campaign rally, in Rome, Georgia

By Jason Lange and Alexandra Ulmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A fundraising group run by Donald Trump, who is facing four criminal trials as he seeks the U.S. presidency, stepped up spending on legal fees last month, further draining money from efforts to return him to the White House, financial disclosures showed on Wednesday.

In a filing to the Federal Election Commission, the group, known as Save America, detailed legal expense outlays totaling more than $5.5 million in February, the biggest single month of such spending since Trump, a Republican, formed the organization in 2020 following his defeat to Democrat Joe Biden in that year's presidential election.

The spending marked an acceleration from the close to $3 million Save America reported spending on legal bills in January. The group, which raises money together with Trump's election campaign but is legally separate, has now spent more than $55 million on legal bills since the start of 2023.

Trump's financial squeeze is deepening due to multiple legal cases and expenses, including a civil fraud case in New York in which he has been unable to secure a bond to cover a $454 million judgment. Trump has also struggled to get many major Republican donors on board with his campaign, which has been significantly outraised by Biden's.

Trump is facing dozens of charges, with two of the cases against him tied to his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss. He has plead innocent to all the charges.

Trump clinched enough delegates this month in the Republican nomination contest to be the party's nominee in the November presidential election, setting up a rematch against Biden.

Save America's filing on Wednesday, together with another filed by an allied group, also showed how the legal bills are hitting the accounts backing his White House bid.

Save America's main income during the month was a $5 million refund of money largely raised from small donors that it transferred in 2022 to the main super PAC backing Trump, MAGA Inc. The super PAC, a kind of political action committee (PAC) that can take unlimited contributions from wealthy donors, has now returned most the $60 million it received from Save America, meaning it has had less to spend supporting Trump.

LEGAL FEES VS. CAMPAIGN

With Save America potentially seeing its cash dwindle, Trump's options for payment of legal bills appears limited, said Saurav Ghosh, a campaign finance expert at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog.

Trump could legally use funds in his campaign committee to pay legal bills tied to his political campaigns or duties as president, but not personal ones, Ghosh said.

"The question is: To what extent is he willing to tap into that and endanger his ability to compete in the 2024 presidential election?" Ghosh said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Trump's campaign called for donations from one million of his backers, warning he could lose his New York properties as part of the case.

The refund from MAGA Inc to Save America was equivalent to nearly half of the $12.8 million the group raised from mostly wealthy donors during the month, which included a $5 million contribution from hotelier Robert Bigelow, the super PAC's disclosure showed.

In addition to its spending, Save America also reported a debt obligation of more than $500,000 to a legal firm that has been representing Trump, telling the Federal Election Commission it owed the firm for "legal consulting."

Separately, Trump's campaign told the Federal Election Commission it raised $10.9 million February, well below the $21.3 million that Biden's reported raising.

Trump has trailed Biden in fundraising throughout the campaign cycle. To be sure, Trump has shown he can win elections when outspent by rivals, even when some big anti-Trump donors have tried to stop him this cycle.

(Reporting by Jason Lange in Washington and Alexandra Ulmer in San Francisco; Editing by Stephen Coates)