Donald Trump’s July FEC report was released over the weekend, with his campaign reporting it raised $36,682,127— its best month so far.
But not so fast.
Of that total, $2,052,825 came from Trump himself and $14,507,531 was a transfer from his joint fundraising committee with the RNC. So in total Trump’s campaign raised $19.6 million from individual donors. And that money was costly.
Of the campaign’s $18.4 million in disbursements last month, more than $11.2 million—or about 61 percent—went to expenditures that can be tied to fundraising. This includes spending on online advertising, which is mostly used for donor acquisition, merchandise that the campaign sells in its online stores in exchange for contributions, merchant processing fees charged for all credit card transactions, and expenditures explicitly labeled as fundraising.
With this mind, the Trump campaign likely spent nearly 57 percent of its contributions from individuals not named Trump attempting to raise more money. Even if you look at these numbers in the most positive light for the campaign, it would have spent 50 percent of its expenditures on fundraising. This is a figure that would strike fear in the heart of any normal campaign.
Think about it this way: In July, the campaign spent the equivalent of more than 70 percent of the individual contributions it collected on the three categories of hotels, airfare and fundraising expenditures. That’s before paying a single staff member, renting a room for a rally or buying a single TV ad.
Donor acquisition is expensive and difficult, with the first gift often being the costliest one for campaigns and organizations to reel in. But at this point in the cycle, a general election campaign should at worst be reaping the rewards of this initial work. Adding in the enormous quantity of free media driving donors to Trump’s website, and Hillary Clinton’s for that matter, the campaign should not be spending this much on fundraising.
At best, it suggests poor planning and a scattershot campaign. At worst, it suggests consultants are raking in huge profits on the backs of donors while a candidate looks the other way.