By Jason Lange
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Donald Trump has sucked up political donations for a former US president on an unprecedented scale, raising at least $170 million ahead of this year’s midterm elections.
Now that he’s kicked off another run for the Republican nomination, he’s faced with a problem: How to use the $69 million his Save America political action committee had in the bank at the end of October, which campaign laws say he can use for any candidate for the office, but himself.
A recent multi-million dollar transaction could show how Trump could get around that restriction.
Save America, which Trump registered to fund political allies after the 2020 election, transferred $20 million on October 3 to Make America Great Again Inc, also known as MAGA Inc, a Trump-affiliated fundraising group that was founded in September and supported candidates backed by the former leader in the meantime, campaign finance revelations show.
Many American suffrage experts expect MAGA Inc to spend money to support Trump’s 2024 campaign, which he officially launched on Tuesday.
MAGA Inc is registered as a Super PAC and may spend unlimited amounts to support candidates, but may not coordinate spending with their campaigns.
Because Trump is not registered as the head of MAGA Inc, his defenders could argue that future MAGA Inc expenses were made independently and are therefore allowed under campaign finance law, said Dan Weiner, director of the Brennan Center’s Elections and Government Program.
“That’s a gray area in the law that they could try to exploit,” said Weiner, a former attorney with the Federal Election Commission.
Since the start of his campaign in 2016, throughout his four years in the White House and since, Trump has violated the norms of American politics, most notably by continuing his false claims that his defeat was the result of fraud.
During the midterms, when the party performed less well than expected, he was criticized by some Republicans that some of his aggressive fundraising was taking money away from congressional candidates.
The $20 million transfer is already triggering legal action.
The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan government watchdog, on Monday asked the FEC to open an investigation into the money’s movement, arguing that because MAGA Inc. is staffed by current and former Trump aides, it was “clearly intended is to finance aid”. for Trump’s 2024 presidential candidacy.”
According to the complaint, the FEC should prohibit Save America from transferring money to MAGA Inc in the future and “seek appropriate sanctions for all violations.”
The FEC said it does not comment on lawsuits, while Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich, who also reportedly oversees MAGA Inc, did not respond to requests for comment.
Few legal experts think the FEC will stand in Trump’s way.
The regulator’s six-member leadership committee is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, and launching an investigation into Trump’s finances would likely require a Republican commissioner to side with Democratic colleagues.
However, Trump’s decision to launch his presidential bid nearly two full years before the November 5, 2024 election could give watchdog groups time to use US courts to enforce greater scrutiny of his campaign finances, Kenneth Gross said. former head of the FECs. enforcement department.
If the FEC does not respond to the Campaign Legal Center’s request for an investigation, the group may ask a judge to order the regulator to conduct an investigation. Even then, probes into coordination are “among the more difficult investigations” at the FEC, Gross said.
A majority of FEC commissioners must also approve any enforcement action. A deadlock could lead to new lawsuits, potentially running out the clock for the 2024 election.
“Unless you have some smoking guns,” said Gross, “it takes time.”
(Reporting by Jason Lange; editing by Scott Malone and Suzanne Goldenberg)