Donald Trump made his first and most definitive statement about campaign cash just moments after announcing his intention to run for president.
It’s the one that stuck in everyone’s mind.
"I don't need anybody's money. It's nice. I don't need anybody's money," Trump said on June 16, 2015. “I’m using my own money. I’m not using the lobbyists. I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich.”
Over subsequent months, Trump would double and triple down on his seemingly reformist rhetoric that mocked Republican orthodoxy.
He blasted big-money super PACs as “unfair,” “horrible,” “scams” and in violation of both the spirit and letter of federal election law. Politicians who rely on such super PACs are beholden to their wealthy contributors, Trump declared.
He then vowed: “That’s not going to happen with me.”
Trump on Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of his presidential inauguration. It coincides with the 8th anniversary of the Citizens United v. FEC decision, which allowed corporations, unions and certain nonprofits to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for and against political candidates.
Do Trump’s stage-setting declarations about political money still carry currency as he begins his second year in office? Do his statements hold as he begins marshaling resources aimed at winning a second term?
The White House did not respond to requests for comment. But the answers seem clear nevertheless. For the most part, Trump’s actions have betrayed the promises he uttered at the outset of his presidential journey that now seems so very long ago.
"I don’t need anybody’s money."
Theoretically, this statement is true. In practice, it’s not.
As 2015 bled into 2016, and Trump solidified his standing atop the Republican presidential field, his campaign began soliciting contributions ahead of a general election showdown with Democrat Hillary Clinton and her massive political fundraising machine. In all, Trump would raise about $339 million.
And while Trump’s campaign initially disavowed super PACs purporting to support Trump — especially those incorporating Trump’s name or “Make America Great Again” sloganeering — that pushback evaporated as Election Day crept closer. Super PACs and politically active nonprofits ultimately bolstered Trump with tens of millions of dollars in fresh support.
And Trump’s pursuit of contributions for his 2020 re-election campaign began soon after he won the presidency.
He filed paperwork forming his re-election campaign on the day of his inauguration. During the first three months of 2017, Trump 2020 raised $7.1 million, much of it from small-dollar donors responding to an endless stream of emails, text messages and social media solicitations targeting Trump’s core supporters.
By Sept. 30, Trump had raised nearly $36.5 million from donors toward his re-election effort, according to federal filings. That figure is likely to jump by tens of millions of dollars come Jan. 31, the date by which Trump’s re-election campaign must reveal its finances for all of 2017.
If Trump didn’t need this money, he could simply stop raising it.
Instead, he’s pursuing other people’s cash as aggressively as ever since becoming president, culminating this month with a campaign sweepstakes to win dinner with him in Florida at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
A pair of pro-Trump super PACs, meanwhile, crossed the $1 million threshold of spending in support of Trump’s re-election in just the first quarter of the year.