Small donors are not paying Trump’s legal bills. It’s worse.

The real donors are some of America's wealthiest.

President Donald Trump listens in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017, during an event to unveil legislation that would place new limits on legal immigration. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump listens in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017, during an event to unveil legislation that would place new limits on legal immigration. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Donald Trump is using funds from both the Republican National Committee (RNC) and his re-election campaign to cover his legal fees connected to the Russia investigation. The RNC is also footing the legal bill for Trump’s son, Don Jr., who is also caught up in the investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller.

According to a Tuesday report by Reuters, President Donald Trump would be the first president in modern campaign finance history to use these funds to cover the costs of a criminal probe. Reuters notes this is legal because the Federal Election Commission allows for use of private campaign funds to pay for legal costs incurred “as a candidate or elected official.”

Trump, who has claimed to have a net worth of $10 billion dollars, used RNC funds to pay his personal lawyer John Dowd $100,000 and an additional $131,250 to pay Jay Sekulow, another attorney representing Trump who frequently appears on TV. On top of those payments, the RNC also paid nearly $200,000 for Trump Jr.’s lawyers.

While the president’s reelection campaign fund solicits money from small donors, the RNC is not using these funds for Trump’s legal bills. Rather, the money is being paid through a separate RNC legal defense fund. This fund attracts almost exclusively large donors and can accept up to $101,700 per year from each individual or corporate PAC.

According to the most recent FEC filings from July 2017, investment magnate Charles Schwab, Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, and Richard Kayne, the largest investor in energy pipelines in the United States, have all donated the $101,700 maximum to the RNC. Other recent donors include the Robert and Rebekah Mercers, the patrons of Steve Bannon, and advocates for some of Trump’s most radical policies.

Through this fund, the very wealthy can effectively make a personal, six-figure gift to the President of the United States and his family.

The RNC fund was created in 2014, when a provision legalizing massive contributions to party legal defense funds was tacked on to a spending bill and quietly passed without public debate. The Washington Post called it the “one of the most significant changes to the campaign finance system since the landmark McCain-Feingold measure,” and effectively tripled the amount of money a couple could donate to a party’s national committee. The money was intended to cover legal cost associated with campaign matters like recounts, but, after some debate, the RNC permitted the fund to be used to cover the president’s legal fees.