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Trump is so clearly running for president that people are complaining to the FEC about it
Here are the clips that prompted American Bridge to accuse Trump of violating the law.
For the better part of a year, Donald Trump has been traveling the country telling anybody who will listen that he plans to run for president in 2024. But he’s yet to officially declare his candidacy, meaning he’s not subject to the fundraising and spending restrictions that come with it.
American Bridge, a Democratic super PAC, is trying to change that.
“He's able to spend as though he's not a candidate, raise as though he's not a candidate, and campaign as though he is,” Jessica Floyd, the president of the organization, told me. “He's running for president. He's not hinting at it. He's said it and he's doing in a way that's illegal.”
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On Monday, American Bridge filed an FEC complaint accusing Trump of “making expenditures for the purpose of advancing his own presidential campaign without filing a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission or disclosing those expenditures to the Commission and the public.” It asks for the FEC to launch an investigation, and, if a violation is found, to enjoin Trump from further violations and fine him “the maximum amount permitted by law.”
At issue are comments like one Trump made at his Saturday rally in Florence, South Carolina: “In 2024, we are going to take back the beautiful, beautiful White House. I wonder who will do that.”
Trump was even more explicit last month at CPAC, saying "we did it twice [referring the 2016 election, and the election he lost in 2020, which he still falsely claims he won], and we'll do it again. We'll be doing it again a third time” — comments that produced headlines flatly stating he had announced another run.
Last September, Trump went so far as to suggest he was deliberately flouting campaign finance laws.
"I mean, I know what I’m going to do [in 2024], but we’re not supposed to be talking about it yet from the standpoint of campaign finance laws,” he said.
Floyd told me she views those comments from Trump as “too cute by half for it not to be seen as intentional and, frankly, very different than just a true exploratory run.” And he’s been saying this stuff for nearly a year now.
Potential presidential candidates are allowed to fundraise and spend above the $5,000 candidate threshold if they’re “testing the waters” for a run. But Trump’s comments in recent months suggest he’s far past that point. And the complaint points out that Trump’s leadership PAC, Save America — source of the unintentionally hilarious fundraising emails I wrote about last month — has already spent far more than $5,000 on Trump’s candidacy.
From the complaint:
[N]o matter how the expenditures are categorized, Save America may only contribute $5,000 total to Mr. Trump per election. Save America has not abided by this limit. For example, in the fall of 2021 alone, Save America Joint Fundraising Committee (a joint venture between Make America Great Again PAC and Save America leadership PAC) spent more than $93,000 on Facebook advertisements, many of which were promoting Mr. Trump’s rallies. And last year Save America spent more than $1 million with the company that stages his rallies.
Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW), told me that part of what Trump is doing by not declaring is giving himself two bites at the fundraising apple.
“He's asking his list for money over and over and over again,” he said. “He raises money for these donors to max out to his leadership PAC, and then they're going in with $0 towards the federal limit for the campaign itself.”
But Libowitz also cautioned that Trump has a tendency to say lots of stuff he doesn’t follow through on.
“I think it's a step further [than normal presidential run flirtations], but also I think you have to take into consideration that that's how Trump talks,” he said. “As president, he often said, ‘Oh, I have a plan for this and we're going to be announcing it in the coming days’ and then just would never say anything again about it. So I think to a certain extent you have to put things in the context of Trump the huckster.”
But even if American Bridge’s complaint was an open-and-shut case, it’s unlikely that the FEC would take action. Earlier this month, the Daily Beast’s Roger Sollenberger reported that “Trump has over the last six years posted a 43-0 record” in cases referred to the FEC for possible campaign finance violations.
“And the single reason that the FEC has never acted is because none of the agency’s three Republican commissioners have ever voted against Trump,” Sollenberger added. All three of those Republican commissioners were, surprise, appointed by Trump.
Floyd, however, argues it’s still crucial for groups like hers to do everything it can to hold Trump accountable.
“It's important to continue to do whatever we can to rebuild trust in American democracy, especially when we see a guy who has done everything in his power to leverage it for personal gain stepping back into the arena and doing so in a way that is blatant and is almost taunting to those around him to not hold him to account,” she said.
“One of the Republican Party’s central orthodoxies is to win at all costs and to undermine the basic understanding about what American free and fair elections are,” Floyd added. “While there may not be a connection between raising a certain amount of money into a PAC versus trying to steal an election, it's all part of the same ethos from the same leader who has driven this to be part of the same core goal of an entire political party in the US.”
In typical Trumpian fashion, Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich responded to the FEC complaint not by defending the former guy on the merits, but by dismissing the whole thing as “frivolous,” according to the New York Times.