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Trump’s 2020 campaign spending: Rented chandeliers and fast food fare

Lawyers, cell phone pouches, and enemies of the people.

President Donald Trump's most recent campaign finance report was released this week.
President Donald Trump's most recent campaign finance report was released this week. (Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s re-election effort has been pulling in massive amounts of campaign cash — and making some interesting decisions about how to spend it.

A wide array of expenditures — from chandelier rentals, to payments to Trump companies, to campaign leak prevention devices, even a subscription to a newspaper Trump has denounced as an enemy of the American people — tell the story of where Trump’s donor money is going.

The president’s 2020 campaign filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission late Monday, disclosing what it and the Trump Victory Committee — a joint-fundraising effort with the Republican National Committee (RNC) — raised and spent in the second quarter of 2019.

$26 at McDonalds and $16,050 on rented chandeliers

Trump has taken to serving fast food from McDonald’s and other chain restaurants to sports teams that visit the White House. He does it as a signifier of thriftiness, but also as a cultural identifier for his supporters who like to think of the president as a champion of the “everyman.”

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But while Trump’s re-election effort has spent just $26 at McDonald’s so far, it shelled out $16,050 to Signature Chandeliers, a Florida company that rents out high-end lighting for posh events. A query to the campaign about the reason for the chandelier expenditure went unanswered at the time of publication.

Big donors, small donors, and legal bills

Trump promised to tap his supposed billion-dollar fortune to self-fund his 2016 election effort, but contributed just $66 million of the $350.7 million in campaign funds raised. That was mostly money from large contributors, but also included a sizable number of small-dollar donors — a group he hopes to expand upon.

Trump’s 2020 campaign has spent over $39 million on the effort to help raise small-dollar donations, and he raked in nearly $8 million in the last quarter, according to a tally in the New York Times. In fact, 35% of Trump’s $68 million second-quarter haul came from donations of less than $200.

That said, the Trump re-election effort has no shortage of wealthy donors. Twelve people gave the maximum allowed combined donation of $360,000 to the different Trump 2020 campaign committees.

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A sizeable portion of that money is for the campaign’s legal bills: The re-election effort spent almost $1.5 million on legal consulting, nearly a million dollars of which went to Jones Day, the same white-shoe law firm that former White House counsel Don McGahn joined earlier this year. This amounts to about one in 10 dollars spent by the campaign last quarter.

Spent over $350,000 in three months at Trump properties

Trump’s campaign and the joint fundraising committee with the RNC spent $358,231.24 at Trump properties and businesses. This includes almost $130,000 at Mar-a-Lago, over $105,000 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and thousands of dollars at other Trump hotels and restaurants. The re-election effort also paid a total of $32,137 for “legal & IT consulting” to The Trump Corporation. A query to the campaign as to the nature of this consulting went unanswered at the time of publication.

The campaign reimbursed Donald Trump Jr. $472.30 for travel expenses. The president’s eldest son, who has remained an active campaigner since his father was elected, has spoken at fundraisers across the country and appeared at several of his father’s recent political rallies. This, despite early promises to focus on the Trump family business, which the president-elect said would be left in Don Jr. and Eric Trump’s hands to try and avoid conflicts of interest, after the president refused to divest.

Spent over $600,000 on polling firms they fired for leaking bad poll

In June, a months-old poll by Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio for Trump’s re-election effort was leaked to the media. It showed the president trailing potential 2020 rival and former Vice President Joe Biden (D) badly in several key swing states.

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As he often does, Trump lied, claiming that such a poll did not exist. When the polling memo was made public, his campaign had to admit that the numbers were real. Team Trump then reportedly fired three pollsters, although it kept Fabrizio onboard.

Trump’s campaign manager later claimed that the campaign does not really do head-to-head polling, suggesting that “The country is too complex now just to call a couple of hundred people and ask them what they think.” Trump has frequently touted the occasional outlier poll to try to suggest that his approval is at 50% or higher. A spokesperson clarified to ThinkProgress that the campaign does in fact undertake significant polling on issues, for “prospecting and messaging.”

The most recent FEC filings reveal just how much the campaign was spending on polling in recent months. The three polling firms that were reportedly canned — The Polling Company ($187,825), Baselice and Associates ($201,775), and National Research ($246,250) — combined to receive more than $635,000 in payments. Fabrizio’s firm hauled in $311,350 and another pollster received $201,860.

Received $120,000 from private prisons

At the end of the Obama administration, much of the federal government announced it would sever its relationship with the private prison industry. One of Trump’s first acts as president in 2017 was to overturn the decision and bring back the controversial companies into immigration and criminal detention.

That order, combined with Trump’s push to lock up more immigrants, has been very good for private prison companies like The GEO Group. The Florida-based company is America’s largest private prison company. Its profits have reportedly soared as a result of Trump’s policies.

A May 2017 Newsweek story highlighted the symbiotic relationship between Trump and The GEO Group, which donated to Trump’s 2016 effort and received lucrative contracts after he won.

In the most recent filing. Trump’s committees reported receiving a $20,000 donation from the GEO Group’s corporate PAC and another $100,000 from CEO George Zoley.

More than $25,000 to stop leaks

The Trump campaign in 2016 was infamous for its leaks to the media. The 2020 campaign seems to be taking the problem more seriously.

Last month, Politico reported that Trump’s campaign has begun requiring attendees at events to deposit their smartphones in special pouches that remain sealed during campaign events. The goal is to prevent unauthorized audio or video recordings of campaign activities. The Trump Victory Committee’s filings revealed that the company that makes these pouches, Yondr, was paid $25,400 for a “subscription” to their pouch service.

A subscription to the Washington Post

Trump’s disdain for traditional media like the Washington Post and the New York Times is no secret. In April, he tweeted that the newspapers are “two of the most dishonest media outlets around” and called them “Truly, the Enemy of the People!”

Still, according to the most recent filing, Donald Trump’s re-election campaign paid $70 for a subscription to the Washington Post’s digital site.

Biden parody site

Earlier this year, a mysterious site attacked Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. It took several months before news organizations determined that the site was linked not to one of Biden’s Democratic rivals, but to the Trump campaign.

The New York Times wrote that Patrick Mauldin, the site’s author, “makes videos and other digital content for President Trump’s re-election campaign,” and runs a firm named Vici Media Group. Newsweek later described Mauldin’s “dual status as a bona fide campaign worker and off-duty web guru.”

The question is, did Mauldin create the site at the behest of Trump campaign? If so, it would be an in-kind campaign contribution and therefore would have to be reported to the FEC.

There was no record of payment to Mauldin or Vici Media Group in the second quarter FEC reports. A query to the Trump campaign about whether it had a hand in the creation of the fake Biden website went unanswered at the time this article was published.