PAC Donors are Paying Trump's Personal Bills

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Donald Trump standing on a stage beside a podium with silhouettes of hands from a crowd in front of him
Former U.S. President Donald Trump attends the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, February 26, 2022. Photo by REUTERS/Octavio Jones

Since leaving office more than two years ago, Donald Trump has continued to tour the country, make speeches, and raise staggering amounts of money from his political supporters. Most of the former president’s fundraising has been through his leadership PAC, Save America, and some of the ways he has spent that money raise serious concerns under federal campaign finance laws.  

The Federal Election Commission (FEC), the independent regulatory agency responsible for administering and civilly enforcing federal campaign finance laws, first permitted the creation of leadership PACs in 1978 to allow politicians to raise money to support their colleagues and to gain support for congressional leadership positions. 

Today, an overwhelming majority of current and former federal officials have a leadership PAC. 

Not all of Trump’s Save America spending is legally problematic. For instance, Save America has spent millions of dollars on contributions to other candidates, party committees, allied super PACs, and other outside groups.  

However, other spending represents a clear misuse of Save America donors’ money. In particular, Save America has reported spending millions on legal expenses that appear to be related to Trump’s personal or business matters with no connection to his political campaigns or time in office.  

Federal law prohibits the “personal use” of campaign funds, which means federal candidates and officeholders cannot use funds that contributors give them to pay for expenses that are “personal” in nature. This includes obvious personal obligations, like mortgage payments or country club dues, as well as any other expenses that a candidate would owe irrespective of their campaign or official duties.  

But the FEC has consistently declined to apply this “personal use” prohibition to leadership PACs even though such committees are, by definition, established, financed, maintained, or controlled by a candidate or federal officeholder.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle have taken advantage of the FEC’s lax regulation and enforcement, using leadership PACs to pay for personal expenses that a campaign committee plainly could not cover. 

Abuse of leadership PACs as personal slush funds is common and well documented. But Trump’s misuse of Save America funds is particularly striking due to the sheer volume of money in play.

Save America has reported spending a staggering $8.6 million since January 1, 2021 on legal fees related to defending Trump in a multitude of civil and criminal inquiries into Trump’s behavior.   

Particularly problematic are the legal fees paid by Save America to defend Trump in cases that have no apparent connection with him running for or serving in federal office. 

For instance, Save America has disclosed spending over $1.1 million in connection with the New York Attorney General’s investigation into alleged fraudulent business practices by Trump and members of his family in running the Trump Organization.. This includes $50,000 related to a countersuit to the civil inquiry.     Neither the New York Attorney General’s civil suit nor Trump’s countersuit have any apparent connection to Trump’s campaigns or his official duties as President. 

Save America has also reported paying $1.2 million to a law firm representing Trump in a defamation lawsuit brought by author E. Jean Carroll related to his public denial of allegations that he sexually assaulted her in the 1990s.  

By using Save America’s funds to cover his own legal expenses in these personal and business matters that are unrelated to his campaigns or presidency, Trump is brazenly abusing the leadership PAC vehicle and ultimately misappropriating the funds given by the PAC’s donors. 

Voters lose faith in the integrity of their elections and their government when they see politicians using political supporters’ funds as their own personal piggy bank.  

The FEC can and should curb this practice by explicitly clarifying that leadership PAC funds can’t be used for personal expenses. It’s past time for the FEC to do its job and take concrete action to restore voters’ faith in the integrity of their elections and government. 

Sophia is a Researcher/Investigator on CLC's Campaign Finance/Ethics team.