Not long after the FBI executed its Aug. 8 search at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort compound, Trumpworld let the media know that the feds appeared to have awakened a giant. Fundraising, they said, was booming.
But now, a new campaign finance report from Trump reveals that was just half the story—the good half.
In a Federal Election Commission filing that covers July through September, Trump’s Save America Joint Fundraising Committee revealed that the former president’s donations had indeed surged after the search, to a record high on the year. But so did the amount he spent to make that happen.
The numbers suggest that Trump’s donor base didn’t rush to his aid all on their own. They needed a nudge, and a costly one at that, which may further stoke concerns of donor fatigue.
In fact, the spending was so steep that it ate up around 90 percent of what he raised. So while the committee took in an impressive $24 million, it spent about $22 million to get there. That means the famous dealmaker spent a dollar to make a little more than a dime.
Compare that trade-off to the previous quarter, where the same committee spent just $9.7 million but pulled in $17 million. That’s a $7 million return. Now, it’s $2 million.
The spending rate undercuts some earlier reporting, where Trumpworld sources leaked news that contributions had soared in response to the news of the search.
First, it’s important to note that the Save America Joint Fundraising Committee is not the same as the Save America PAC, Trump’s flagship political group now at the center of federal and congressional fundraising inquiries. But Trump’s armada of PACs has a maddening naming convention, where many of them sound the same.
The joint committee doesn’t serve any purpose other than to raise money directly from small-dollar donors and funnel it to other Trump groups. The proceeds get split between the Save America leadership PAC and another one of Trump’s groups, called Make America Great Again PAC. This last quarter, MAGA PAC got $385,000 and Save America got $3.2 million. (The transfers were made after Save America PAC filed its September report, which showed only $22,806 in total receipts. Its August filing reports $5,879 raised. On Thursday, Save America PAC will file its October report showing the $3.2 million transfer, along with other possible receipts.)
That’s not a huge haul, especially when coupled with the costs. The news also comes amid a broader party-wide decline, as Republicans contend with a dropoff in small-dollar donors.
But after the search, it didn’t take long for Trump’s small-dollar machine to kick into gear. Almost immediately, his team began machine-gunning donors with emails and texts in an effort to politicize, and monetize, the federal criminal investigation. They fired it back up in September, too, when New York Attorney General Letitia James sued Trump, along with his three oldest adult children, alleging a years-long pattern of unlawful business practices.
Asked for comment, a Trump spokesperson pointed The Daily Beast to a Wednesday Fox News report that incorrectly attributes the $24.7 million to the Save America leadership PAC, which unlike the joint committee has spent money on political ads backing MAGA allies.
A Washington Post report from Aug. 17 touted the post-search spike in donations as “a concrete sign” that Trump was seeing “some political benefits” after the FBI recovered what it believes to be evidence of several crimes from his Palm Beach retreat, including about 21,000 pages of documents, some designated for the highest levels of classification.
Last month, Politico reported that the FBI investigation has “provided [Trump] with tools to raise boatloads of money,” citing people familiar with the operation who relayed “a spike in donations in the immediate aftermath of the search.”
Politico also pointed to the blizzard of Trump fundraising emails trying to cash in on the search, which, the report said, was “strongly suggesting that there is serious money coming back in response.”
But, it turns out, the sources had kept mum about how much it was costing Trump to reach and convert those donors. In the nine days between the search and the Post report, the committee raised close to $6 million, according to FEC data, and spent more than half that amount.
Of course, Trump is known for excessive spending, particularly when it comes to legal costs and stuffing the pockets of allies and his own businesses. That’s why it’s important to note that the nearly $22 million in expenses on the new Save America Joint Fundraising Committee report are almost entirely related to legitimate fundraising efforts.
Specifically, the committee shelled out $19.3 million for costs tied directly to fundraising, including text messaging, online ads, digital marketing, direct mail, and associated consulting expenses. About $13.3 million of that spending came after the search. (The committee also drained another million dollars in merchant fees to its digital middleman, WinRed.)
Compare that to the previous quarter, where the committee spent a total $7.4 million on those same services.
The comparison cuts across the board. The new report shows $7.3 million in expenses for text message ads—more than double the $3.6 million spent on texts the previous quarter, filings show. In fact, Trump has spent a whopping $5.4 million on texts since the search, including a $1.3 million investment three days after the feds recovered about 21,000 pages of documents from Mar-a-Lago.
Or look at online advertising. Those costs set the committee back about $1 million between April and the end of June. But since the news of the investigation broke, the joint fundraiser has poured around $4.3 million into web promotions.
The filing also reveals some major spending on list rental—in other words, paying for temporary access to information about potential donors.
From its launch in February 2021 to the end of this September, Trump’s joint fundraising vehicle has paid vendors a total $6.6 million to rent those valuable lists, per FEC data. But the last three months alone accounted for $2.8 million of that sum—a whopping 40 percent, and just a million dollars shy of the total for the previous twelve months.
The item indicates a major fundraising push. But it also suggests Trump may be having some trouble with the vast trove of data he already has on his small-dollar MAGA faithful. After a year and a half of unrelenting requests for money, many fans might be tapped out—financially and otherwise.