The indictment as a stepping stone: Donald Trump’s fundraising campaign for the election campaign really picked up speed after the indictment in the hush money scandal became known at the end of March. This is suggested by the figures published by Trump’s campaign over the weekend. According to his campaign team, Trump earned $18.8 million (around €17.1 million) in the first quarter of 2023, but since the New York Times first reported on the indictment on March 30, donations have skyrocketed.

Four million dollars in donations alone are said to have flowed through the campaign and its fundraising in the first 24 hours after it became known, in the first two weeks the sum added up to 15.4 million dollars (14 million euros). Since the indictment became known, Trump has almost doubled his donation income for this year. Just three days after the indictment became known, Trump’s adviser Jason Miller gave an initial indication of where the donations were going. “A record seven million dollars” have already been raised, Miller announced on Twitter at the time.

So far, this claim has not been able to be verified independently, because Trump has not had to make any figures public about the income from fundraising. However, a look at the documents submitted to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), an agency that regulates campaign finance, suggests that the ex-president’s election campaign did indeed receive a massive boost from donors. The filings submitted by the committee show that Trump raised more than $1.5 million on March 30 and March 31 alone — more than 10 percent of what his campaign reported in donations for the entire first quarter. There, his campaign team raised $14.5 million in donations, with the additional $4.3 million raised through the president’s fundraising. However, the numbers could continue to rise, because it is not uncommon for further donations from the end of March to be handed in with the next quarterly report in mid-July. Only then will the numbers from the Save America lobby group, which supports the former US President, be available. What is striking about the documents submitted is that Trump himself hardly receives any donations. According to the FEC, Trump himself only raised around $11,000; instead, the money comes through his “Save America Joint Fundraising Committee”.

For the 76-year-old, the indictment is an unexpected windfall, because compared to his campaign for the 2020 presidential election, the Republican’s war chest is currently significantly less full. Trump earned more than $30 million in the first quarter of 2019 as incumbent president, 50 percent more than in the quarter just ended.

For the ex-president, his constant presence in the media is becoming an advantage. “It’s generally a good thing for fundraising when a candidate’s name is in the media and they’re getting attention,” said Republican digital strategist Eric Wilson. This permanent media presence would anchor Trump in the minds of potential donors. Trump also uses this presence to publicly solicit funds. “If you’re not doing well financially, as many are doing right now, don’t donate. But if you’re doing well, which is entirely due to the policies of the Trump administration, send me your donations,” it says in recurring calls on Trump’s social network Truth Social. The calls are mostly provided with videos in which the 76-year-old talks about his “unjustified and mean” accusation and continues to dish up his fairy tale of the “rigged and stolen” 2020 election.

This step is also having an effect, the documents contain numerous donors who have donated only a few cents to a dollar. With the release of the filing on Saturday, Trump’s team said 97 percent of people who donated money in the two weeks following the indictment did so in amounts under $200. In those two weeks alone, he received over 312,000 donations, averaging $49. For comparison, in the first quarter, Trump raised just over 147,000 donations, but the average donation was just over $98.

What is also striking about Trump is the origin of the donations and the possible change since March 30th. As of March 29, 69.4 percent of incoming payments were assigned to pensioners. Of the 5,611 donations recorded on March 30 and 31, however, only 3,154 (a good 56.2 percent) came from pensioners. In both cases, however, multiple donations by individuals are possible. Whether Trump’s donation clientele has really changed with the indictment can only be guessed with the second quarterly report in July.

But one person has so far eclipsed Donald Trump’s earnings, even if he hasn’t officially announced his candidacy yet: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. His “Friends of Ron DeSantis” campaign currently has over 80 million dollars (over 73 million euros) available, also driven by the gubernatorial election in Florida last fall – but there is also a problem. Because the money was collected for the elections in Florida, that is, at the state level. However, the law does not allow them to be used simply for federal purposes, which would include a DeSantis candidacy.

“CNN” reported last year that DeSantis’ political advisers would deal with how the funds for the state campaign could be used for a candidacy. The past few months also show that they want to put this into practice. Although the elections were held in early November, the Friends of Ron DeSantis have since raised over $14 million. “The law is very clear that the money cannot be used at the federal level,” said Saurav Ghosh of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan organization that works to stop the illegal influence of money in politics. The “Friends of Ron DeSantis”, for example, have accepted donations of millions of dollars from companies – which is not possible as a lobby group at the federal level. “Obviously, if he’s allowed to use state lobby group funds to fund his presidential campaign, that raises concerns about corruption,” warns Ghosh. Unfortunately, the FEC would have signaled that “they probably won’t do anything”.

Former Congressman Byron Donalds, also from Florida, could serve as an example for DeSantis. He had transferred funds from two state committees to a special lobby group – a so-called Super PAC – that was close to Donalds in the House of Representatives elections. The FEC, however, rejected a lawsuit against the process – also for lack of evidence. In 2018, Republican Senator Debbie Lesko transferred $50,000 from her own state campaign to a PAC supporting her, a transaction the FEC also closed.

Meanwhile, there are increasing signs that Ron DeSantis will be Trump’s opponent in the primary campaign. Just over the weekend, a super PAC close to Trump, “MAGA Inc.”, attacked the Florida governor with a TV ad that picked up a rumor that DeSantis was eating pudding with his fingers. “Ron DeSantis loves to put his fingers where they don’t belong,” the 30-second spot begins. Negative headlines follow about de Santis wanting to raise the retirement age to 70 and cut spending on retiree health insurance and state pensions.

Then on Monday, DeSantis-affiliated Super PAC responded “Never back down” with their own commercial. “Donald Trump is being attacked by a Democratic prosecutor in New York. Then why is he investing millions to attack the Republican governor of Florida,” asks an off-screen voice in the ad. Trump would borrow traits from Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi’s guidelines by spreading lies about pensions. The “truth” then fades in with a quote from DeSantis, who explained that the pension system would not be attacked until a statement from Trump, who once questioned pension rights, was played. “Trump should be fighting the Democrats and not lying about Ron DeSantis. What’s wrong with Donald Trump?” the spot concludes.

These are the next signs in the struggle for political supremacy among Republicans and the voices of their supporters. Because while “MAGA Inc.” ran the ads on cable TV, “Never Back Down” took a different approach and ran the ads with Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, among others, in the states where the party’s first primaries traditionally take place. Trump as ex-president is known nationwide, but DeSantis still has to fight for his popularity in many states – which he is trying to do, among other things, with a reading tour through the country. But after the first two election spots, one thing should be clear above all: The fight between Trump and DeSantis will be dirty – and not just because of the pudding.

Quellen: Politico, CNN, NY Times, FEC, CLC, Florida Department of State