If you want to find the truth in politics, follow the money. And the Trump campaign’s latest Federal Election Commission filing shows why the self-proclaimed billionaire and conservative populist deserves to be known as Con Man Donald.
The celebrity demagogue who delights in telling crowds that he is “very, very rich” is presiding over a Ponzi‑scheme‑like presidential campaign that — even as it has paid his own businesses millions of dollars — has just $1.3 million cash in hand.
If this were a business, it would be going bankrupt. Instead it’s a presidential campaign whose moral bankruptcy is on the verge of actual bankruptcy.
To put the Donald’s dire straits in perspective, consider that Hillary Clinton’s campaign now has over $42 million cash on hand, over 600 staffers and a 100% advantage in television ad buys. To put it in terms Con Man Donald might understand: Size matters.
All the spin of a celebrity demagogue can't eclipse the fact that the thicket of 22 businesses that he has paid through his campaign are evidence of a Potemkin marketing empire that exists to fund his lifestyle while avoiding as many taxes as possible in the process.
Old habits die hard and based on the filing and its payments to Trump Ice and other afterthought entities, my guess is that when and if Con Man Donald ever releases his taxes we’ll see the true meaning of what his fellow 1980s real estate celebutante, Leona Helmsley, used to say: “Only the little people pay taxes.”
Back in March, The Daily Beast’s Olivia Nuzzi pointed out that Donald Trump was paying himself to run for president. This was controversial at the time. Now it’s simple fact.
We've had candidates run for president before for reasons little larger than fame and matching funds. Al Sharpton’s 2004 campaign—also advised by longtime Trump ally Roger Stone—comes to mind. But the Reverend Al's outsized ambitions seem quaint and comparably honest next to Con Man Donald.
The details of the Federal Election report are alternately hilarious and depressing. For a certain kind of political nerd, paging through disbursements offers insight into the mundane day to day of a presidential campaign. Their airplane tickets and meals at random restaurants in Iowa and New Hampshire, there is $15,000 here and $2,500 there, paid to consultants and staffers (hint: the part-time consultants always make more money than the full-time staffers).
But what you see with Con Man Donald is out‑of‑control expenses that have little or nothing to do with the basic operational responsibility of running a presidential campaign. Instead, we see $423,000 paid in rental fees to his estate/club Mar-a-Lago (which he could have just gifted as a self-funded candidate rather than charged back to the campaign), and $394,000 spent on Trump-branded jets. He spent over $200,000 on hats and $35,000 on a New Hampshire-based online ad company called Draper-Sterling, but nothing on building swing state organizations or television ads. The whole operation is like Trump’s hair— a few gilded threads spun together to give the impression of substance when there is plainly nothing underneath.
Non-candidates Ben Carson and Ted Cruz have more cash on hand than the presumptive Republican nominee. This is not a sign of strong leadership or deep business skills. It is a sign of an ad hoc organization that exists primarily to feed the ego of its candidate.
The giant sucking sound in the Trump's expenditures helps explain why Corey Lewandowski was unceremoniously ditched shortly Monday morning, after devoting more than a year of his life to a walking example of narcissistic personality disorder. Tone comes from the top of any organization, but the campaign manager is uniquely responsible for operations. Lewandowski should have been fired on the basis of his complete failure to build an actual national presidential campaign. Instead, he got thrown off the Titanic before the passengers were alerted about a little problem with an iceberg.
There is no reason for Republicans to rationally hope that 70-year-old Donald Trump will suddenly change. After all, he won an upset win in a crowded field of professionals by listening to his instincts. But more depressing for those still believing in this long con is the stark similarities between the state of his campaign and his other frothy but substance-free ventures like Trump University, which has been exposed in an ongoing court case as little more than a fraud that preyed on the hopes of folks who wanted to be as apparently successful as Donald Trump and were persuaded to go deep into debt to pursue their get-rich-quick dream. This campaign will also end in tears for any donors or supporters dumb enough to buy into it.
That’s not to say this campaign is over. Trump is outperforming in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania that don’t have sizeable Hispanic populations. But he is facing daunting demographic math in states from Florida to Colorado to Nevada and doesn’t seem to have devoted any time, money or effort into building a ground game that can win over swing voters in those swing states.
The final evidence of the ugly truth underneath Con Man Donald’s campaign is this: much of the money that Trump has bragged about pouring into his campaign is a loan. It will be reimbursed by donors and U.S. taxpayers if Trump accepts matching funds, which looks like a financial necessity after months of unforced organizational errors and the RNC taking in a pathetic $11 million in May, after Toxic Trump won the nomination.
That's right America; you're going to pay for Con Man Donald's presidential dreams, one way or the other.