Political action committees tied to Donald Trump spent roughly $50m on legal costs last year as the former president navigates four criminal indictments and a mountain of litigation that could threaten his White House ambitions and his family business.
Campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission outline a long list of legal expenses to more than 50 firms and attorneys, offering the best glimpse yet of the enormous costs of Mr Trump’s year of lawsuits and criminal cases.
The latest filings shared with The New York Times ahead of Wednesday’s deadline only scratch at the surface of the mounting legal expenses facing the Republican Party’s likely nominee for president. Jury trials have not yet started, he is in the middle of several appeals involving at least two cases headed to the US Supreme Court – and he cannot legally touch any of his campaign cash to pay out potentially tens of millions of dollars in a devastating pair of civil suit judgments.
In a deposition last year, the former president described his cash stockpile as “substantially in excess” of $400m, while Bloomberg listed his liquid assets at roughly $600m, though the actual state of his financial affairs is unclear.
A jury determined he owes more than $83m in damages to E Jean Carroll, whom he repeatedly smeared after a separate jury found him liable for sexual abuse and defamation. The attorney general of New York also is seeking $370m from Mr Trump and his co-defendants in a separate civil case targeting his Trump Organization for fraud.
Back-to-back judgments totalling more than $400m within a week could not only evaporate his wealth but also seriously imperil the family business and real estate empire on which he has built his brand and political career.
Dave Aronberg, the state attorney in Florida’s Palm Beach County, home of Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, explained to MSNBC that Mr Trump has to post a bond just to appeal the jury verdict in Ms Carroll’s case within 30 days of the decision, “so E Jean Carroll will get her money at some point.”
“He can try to get money from his supporters, but he’s got to tell them what it’s for ... He can’t say, ‘Help me with my re-election fund’ and then divert the money to E Jean Carroll,” he said. “That would be a crime.”
Daniel Weiner, a director for elections and government at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, said such rules won’t necessarily stop Mr Trump, but “super PACs are not supposed to donate to candidates, they’re supposed to be independent,” he told Bloomberg. “It would violate the spirit of the law to use super PAC money, raised to support the candidate, to pay his debts.”
Save America PAC, which started 2022 with $105m, was burning through cash for Mr Trump’s legal bills through the first half of last year. The organisation spent more than $40m on legal fees by July.
The group asked for a refund of a $60m donation to Trump-connected Make America Great Again Inc. That PAC refunded $30m to Save America in the second half of the year – an average of about $5m a month – in addition to $12.5m that it gave back to Save America in the first half of the year, records show.
In all, a PAC established to re-elect Mr Trump funneled $42.5m back into a fund that is now chiefly used for paying his lawyers, a total that is nearly equivalent to super PAC spending on other campaign expenses like television advertising.
Ten per cent of donations raised by Save America – or 10 cents of every dollar from Mr Trump’s supporters – has also been going into a lawyers’ fund.
The Independent has requested comment from Mr Trump’s campaign and connected political action committees.
Alex Pfeiffer, a spokesman for Mr Trump’s super PAC, told The New York Times that the group had raised $120m, a figure that includes the $60m that is being refunded.
The refund “is old, recycled news,” he said in a statement to the newspaper. “The battle to defeat Joe Biden is here, and the time for everyone to step up and join this fight is now. Every dollar being raised by MAGA Inc is going directly to defeating Joe Biden in November.”
Trump uses his legal battles to raise millions for his campaign
Mr Trump’s campaign operations have raked in millions of dollars following news of criminal charges against him, with a flood of campaign messages using his mugshot and framing his legal challenges as a political attack to cast him as a victim of a Democratic conspiracy against him. The former president continues to baselessly cast the consequences of his alleged actions as “election interference” under President Joe Biden, who is “weaponizing” the judicial system against him.
The House select committee investigating the events surrounding the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January 2021 reported that Mr Trump’s fundraising arms collected more than $100m in the first week after Election Day in 2020 alone.
His campaign and allies raised $250m from baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, the committee found. In 2022, the panel’s senior investigative counsel Amanda Wick said Mr Trump’s campaign “pushed false election claims to fundraise, telling supporters it would be used to fight voter fraud that did not exist.”
Campaign fundraising messages routinely rely on his legal challenges and courtroom appearances to tell his supporters that their contributions help “defend our movement” against “witch hunt” trials.
“Nothing will energize me more when my team walks into that courtroom … than to see all the patriots like YOU who stepped up to have my back, Patriot,” according to a message from his campaign earlier this month.
When he appeared in a New York courtroom for closing arguments in the civil fraud trial, potentially facing $370m in sanctions, that email message to supporters said he set “set an ambitious new goal of 370,000 grassroots contributions of any amount to peacefully DEFEND our movement from the never-ending witch hunts.”
In another message before he joined his legal team in a federal appeals court hearing on his “immunity” defence, he said: “Please make a contribution to show that YOU too will NEVER SURRENDER – even on this dark day in American history – and I promise you this: together, we will win back the White House and SAVE our country!”
After he was booked on criminal charges in Georgia for his attempts to overturn the state’s election results in 2020, his campaign slapped his mugshot on fundraising merchandise. The image appears on “signed” posters with the words “never surrender”. It’s on $47 T-shirts, $35 mugs, and Trump-branded Christmas wrapping paper.
Trump-connected PACs pay millions to attorneys defending him in court
The attorneys on his legal team, meanwhile, are earning millions of dollars defending him in court, according to The Independent’s reviews of FEC filings ahead of 2024 deadlines.
The firm of Alina Habba, who has represented Mr Trump in the defamation case and the civil fraud lawsuit targeting his Trump Organization, received more than $3.5m from Trump-affiliated PACs since 2022, government records show. She also is a senior adviser for MAGA Inc.
Robert & Robert PLLC, the firm for Trump attorney Clifford Robert, who has represented Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump in the civil fraud trial, was paid more than $1.3m by the Save America last year.
Chris Kise, who is representing Mr Trump in the fraud trial and the federal case involving his retention of White House documents at his Mar-a-Lago property, was paid at least $2.15m from Trump-affiliated campaigns last year.
Red Curve Solutions, the firm of longtime campaign treasurer Bradley T Crate, was paid at least $1.8m for “reimbursement for legal expenses” and “reimbursement for legal fees,” records show.
Silverman Thompson Slutkin & White – the firm of attorney Evan Corcoran, who was also called to testify before a grand jury in the classified documents case – received more than $3.5m from Trump-connected PACs since 2022, including at least $2.2m last year.
High-profile criminal defence attorney Joe Tacopina, who recently withdrew from Mr Trump’s legal team on the eve of the defamation trial, was paid at least $1.7m by PACs last year.
Mr Trump, meanwhile, is competing with Nikki Haley for a pool of campaign cash from billionaire Republican megadonors that could keep Mr Trump’s PACs afloat.
Robert Bigelow, formerly Ron DeSantis’s largest donor, told Reuters on Tuesday that he gave Mr Trump $1m to support his legal fees and agreed to donate another $20m to a Trump-aligned super PAC for campaign purposes.
“I gave him $1m towards his legal fees a few weeks ago. I made a promise to give him $20m more, that will be to the super PAC,” he told the outlet.