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A large amount of Trump's campaign money is being diverted to his legal fees


As Donald Trump's legal troubles grow, so do his legal bills. New data from the Federal Election Commission shows that the former president's reelection campaign is burning through cash as he faces three indictments so far and an array of civil lawsuits. Jessica Piper reports on campaign finances for Politico and joins us now from Philadelphia. Thanks so much for being with us.

JESSICA PIPER: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: How much are these legal fees costing?

PIPER: Well, Trump's leadership PAC, Save America, spent about $21.6 million on legal fees in the first six months of the year.

SIMON: And this is a political action committee.

PIPER: Yes. It's a political action committee that Trump has had for some time. He's been raising money for it alongside his campaign.

SIMON: Does it violate campaign finance law to use money raised for a PAC for legal fees?

PIPER: It doesn't seem to. Leadership PACs have a broad latitude in how they're allowed to spend their money. It is certainly unusual for a leadership PAC to spend this much money on fees in this way, but it's probably not illegal.

SIMON: It does seem as if the president is using each indictment to raise more money. Would that be fair to say?

PIPER: That would certainly be fair to say. As soon as the news of each indictment has broke, Trump has been very quick to send out fundraising appeals to his supporters, and we've seen that that has had an impact. His best fundraising day of the year so far was the day that he had to show up in court in Manhattan on April 4. That day, via WinRed, which is the primary Republican donation platform, he raised almost $4 million from 80,000 distinct donations, which is an amount of cash that, you know, most candidates would be very envious of. We did notice a bit of a drop with his second indictment. He only raised about $1.3 million the day he had to show up for court in Miami in June on the charges related to the documents found at Mar-a-Lago. So I think there is a question of whether, as Trump faces more indictments, they're maybe a little bit less effective as a fundraising tool for him. But we've already seen with his third indictment this week that his campaign is once again using that in its messaging as it asks for donations.

SIMON: Who's contributing?

PIPER: The answer is that Trump is getting money from a lot of donors who are giving small amounts. His joint fundraising committee, which is his primary mechanism he uses to raise money - it raised almost $54 million. And about 23 million of that almost 54 million was from donors who gave less than $200. And that's pretty unusual. We're actually seeing that, across all of politics, small-dollar donations right now, but it speaks to Trump still having very strong pull with a certain set of the Republican base.

SIMON: And I feel the need to ask, don't his supporters know this is where their contributions are going, and they're just fine with that?

PIPER: It does seem like his supporters generally know. Trump very frequently talks about his indictment on the campaign trail. He has made it clear in many of his fundraising appeals that the indictment should be a reason to give to him.

SIMON: And I guess we should note just practically, the more money his political action committee spends on legal bills, the less is available to actually be spent on a political campaign.

PIPER: Yes. So the way Trump's fundraising is set up, of the money he solicits from supporters, 10% of it goes to this Save America leadership PAC that has been funding his legal expenses. But it turned out in the first half of this year that that money actually wasn't enough. And so the leadership PAC solicited a refund from a different political group it had previously given money to, and that group had been spending to support Trump's campaign through independent expenditures. And so when Trump is needing more money for legal bills, it is taking away from these other funds that could have supported his presidential campaign.

SIMON: Jessica Piper is a reporter for Politico. Thank you so much for being with us.

PIPER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.