The Trump campaign finds itself in an unexpected financial crunch heading into the election’s homestretch: substantially behind Joe Biden in the cash it has on hand despite years of advanced preparation. If the president is looking to cast blame, however, the receipts suggest that it starts with himself.
During the month of August, the Trump campaign spent nearly half-a-million dollars on fireworks, almost certainly for the display that was put on over the south lawn of the White House during the Republican convention. That display was indisputably ostentatious—a seemingly never ending stream of lights that culminated in the words “Trump” and “2020” bedazzling the sky above the Washington Monument. But the price tag—$477,000—made the company behind the show, Grucci Inc., the campaign’s ninth largest vendor of the entire month. The campaign paid more to the Long Island-based fireworks company in August than it spent on legal bills for its top firm, Jones Day, or its top pollster, Fabrizio Lee & Associates. It was well more than half of the $762,826.08 the campaign spent on its entire payroll.
Considering how much the Trump campaign brought in during August—$61,750,338—the fireworks expense may seem like a drop in the bucket. But Trump is badly trailing Biden in terms of money in the bank. The president and the Republican National Committee currently have $325 million cash on hand, compared to the $466 million Biden and the Democratic National Committee enjoy.
With the map of battleground states is expanding, that means that dollars must be spent wisely. And buried in the Trump campaign’s latest FEC report are other expenditures that suggest the president’s personal proclivities—from over-the-top displays of grandeur to his incessant feuds with the media—are having a literal cost.
The Trump campaign did not respond to questions about its August financial report.
That same month, the Trump campaign paid $202,911.15 to Harder LLP. The firm, run by mega-lawyer Charles Harder, specializes in targeting media outlets. He’s one of a coterie of Trump lawyers who have concocted lawsuits and legal threats against authors, news organizations, opposing political groups, and former aides whom the president accuses of wronging him. All told, Trump’s campaign has spent over $3.3 million on legal consulting fees for Harder LLP. But that’s just a portion of what he’s spending on lawyers. In total, the Trump campaign has spent more than $11 million for legal fees—about ten times what the Biden campaign has paid for the same services.
That’s not the only area where the campaigns’ different priorities are evident in their balance sheets. As COVID-19 has spread, Biden’s team has largely opted against in-person canvassing and campaign events, instead steering resources towards advertising and remote voter contacts such as peer-to-peer text messaging.
The Trump campaign, in contrast, has built a robust ground game. And Trump continues to jet around the country to his signature large-scale rallies, events that come with new challenges—and expenses—in the midst of a deadly viral pandemic. The campaign has retained a company called Wellness Coaches to staff its events with registered nurses and lab technicians who can handle COVID testing for campaign and event staff and temperature checks for attendees, according to a source familiar with the campaign’s advance work. The campaign has paid Wellness Coaches more than $675,000 for its services since June.
The Trump campaign has also beefed up more traditional aspects of its campaign of late, such as its polling operation. The campaign brought on a new polling firm in August called D13 Strategies. The company was formed in Wyoming in May, lists a Texas P.O. box as its address, and lists no other public information about what it does or who is behind it. The Trump campaign paid the company $257,800 in August, part of a polling services tab that exceeded $650,000 that month.
That was less than the nearly $800,000 the Biden campaign spent on polling over the same period of time. And while voter surveys are traditionally activities for which national parties foot much of the bill, the Biden team’s payments to polling companies in August more than doubled its total polling expenses for the cycle.
But at just over $1.5 million in polling related expenditures, Biden’s campaign has still spent just a fifth of what the Trump campaign has on surveying potential voters.
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