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Trump burns through donors’ money as legal troubles mount

By Fredreka Schouten, David Wright and Melissa Holzberg DePalo, CNN

(CNN) — Former President Donald Trump has raised formidable sums, but his political operation is burning through money as his legal troubles mount, new filings show.

His joint fundraising committee brought in more than $53 million during the first six months of the year, but the committees associated with his 2024 White House bid have spent even more.

The high rate of spending is apparent in Trump’s leadership PAC, where more than 70% – or some $21 million – of its total disbursements during the first six months of the year went to pay the growing legal bills for Trump and his associates, a report filed Monday with federal regulators shows.

The leadership PAC, Save America, started July with a little more than $3.6 million remaining in its bank accounts – a fraction of the nearly $18.3 million in reserves it had at the start of the year – underscoring how much the wealthy former president has relied on political contributors to help him confront his growing legal challenges.

The financial toll of multiple Trump investigations has come into focus in recent days as sources within the Trump campaign confirmed that Save America had requested that an aligned super PAC supporting his presidential bid return $60 million to the leadership PAC.

Monday’s filing shows that the super PAC, dubbed Make American Great Again, Inc., had returned nearly $12.3 million – over four installments in May and June. Officials with the super PAC have not responded to inquiries about the refund request and whether it has sent back more money to the leadership PAC since June.

In all, the leadership PAC paid more than three dozen law firms during the first six months of the year.

Save America, which served as the main fundraising vehicle for Trump’s political operation immediately after he left the White House in 2021, ended that year flush with cash and ultimately sent tens of millions of dollars to the super PAC, also known as MAGA Inc. – providing seed money for the group to begin advertising on Trump’s behalf as he mounted his 2024 bid.

It’s striking that the leadership PAC now has moved to claw back funds from MAGA Inc., which is one of the biggest advertisers in the GOP contest. But Trump has consistently led his Republican rivals in polling, even as his legal troubles have grown.

In all, MAGA Inc. took in $14.6 million during the first six months of this year when it sent money back to the leadership PAC to help pay for lawyers.

Top donors to the super PAC during this period included Florida entrepreneur Patricia Duggan, who gave $5 million; longtime Trump friend and casino owner Phil Ruffin, who contributed $2 million; and Charles Kushner, the father of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. The elder Kushner, who received a pardon from Trump in 2020, donated $1 million.

Meanwhile, Bernie Moreno, who’s seeking the Republican nomination for a US Senate seat in Ohio next year, donated $100,000.

In another sign of the financial crunch, Trump allies also have launched an alternative fundraising vehicle – a legal defense fund – that is expected to cover the bills of some of Trump’s current and former aides and employees who have become wrapped up in the investigations.

Special counsel Jack Smith filed new charges last week against the former president, his aide Walt Nauta and a third defendant, Mar-a-Lago employee Carlos De Oliveira, in a case alleging Trump mishandled classified documents after leaving the White House. Those charges include allegations that Trump and his employees sought to delete security footage from the Florida resort that was sought by a grand jury.

Earlier this year, in a separate case, Trump was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury on more than 30 counts related to business fraud. He also faces potential charges in the special counsel’s grand jury investigation into the lead-up to January 6, 2021, as well as an investigation by the Fulton County district attorney’s office in Georgia relating to attempts by him and his allies to overturn the state’s 2020 presidential election result.

The biggest legal payment from Save America during the first six months of this year – nearly $2.2 million – went to the law firm of Trump attorney Evan Corcoran, who has represented the former president in the classified documents case and has testified before the grand jury.

The former president has relied on his legal predicament to boost political donations – bombarding his supporters with fundraising appeals following the indictments this year by grand juries in Manhattan and Florida.

An earlier CNN analysis of itemized contributions – those exceeding $200 – to Trump’s campaign shows the giving skyrocketed after the first indictment in New York. There was another uptick after he was indicted a second time, in the classified documents case in Florida, but those donations fell short of the earlier peak, according to the tally.

In an indication that Trump himself might be growing concerned about his campaign’s finances, the former president over the weekend suggested that he could begin to put some of his own fortune into his 2024 bid.

“I’ll put as much money into the campaign as I need,” Trump said during a rally in Erie, Pennsylvania. “Believe me, if we need to do it, we need to do it.”

Paying a fashion designer

Despite working to recover money it had sent to Trump’s aligned super PAC, the new filings show that Trump’s leadership PAC has continued to pay a fashion designer who styled former first lady Melania Trump during her time in the White House.

Save America paid $108,000 to Herve Pierre Braillard for “strategy consulting” in the first half of the year, the report shows. That’s on top of the more than $150,000 the PAC made in payments to him over the course of 2022.

Last year, a senior official at the PAC told CNN that the designer was serving as “a senior adviser” to the committee and was “involved in event management and special projects.” And in an interview last year with Women’s Wear Daily, the designer said the work funded by Save America was not focused on fashion but consulting on projects.

Pierre, who designed Melania Trump’s 2017 inaugural ball gown, told the publication that the atelier he had co-founded closed during the pandemic, and he had turned to more interior design work recently.

Leadership PACs, unlike candidate committees, have broad discretion in how they spend donors’ money.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Kristen Holmes, Alex Leeds Matthews and Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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