Trump sees diminishing fundraising returns from combative court appearances

By Jason Lange, Alexandra Ulmer and Andrew Goudsward

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Donald Trump has made his myriad legal woes a major focus of his presidential campaign, but after raking in millions around his first court appearances last year he has seen a sharp dropoff in fundraising off his sometimes combative clashes with judges.

Trump’s main fundraising group raised about $4 million on each of his two biggest single-day hauls last year: on April 4 after pleading not guilty to charges around alleged hush money payments to a porn star, and on Aug. 25 after pleading not guilty to charges of election fraud in Georgia, according to disclosures by WinRed, the dominant online fundraising platform for Republicans.

By the last three months of the year, Trump’s fundraising around days in court held close to his daily average for the year of just under $300,000, according to WinRed’s most recent disclosure to the Federal Election Commission filed on Wednesday.

On Dec. 7, when Trump appeared in a Manhattan court for a civil fraud trial, his main fundraising group reported taking in around $200,000 in online contributions. On Nov. 6, when Trump and Judge Arthur Engoron repeatedly raised their voices at a civil trial appearance, the group raised under $400,000 through WinRed.

The recent slowdown suggests Trump is getting diminishing returns from his legal problems as he closes in on his Republican Party’s nomination to face Democratic incumbent Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 election.

Republican political strategist Jason Cabel Roe said the initial news about Trump’s indictments was bound to have a bigger impact than subsequent developments.

“After weeks of media focus, people were desensitized,” Cabel Roe said.

Trump faces four criminal trials as well as civil suits. His campaign regularly sends supporters emails that tie his legal problems with a solicitation for a political contribution, sometimes including an image of his mugshot in the Georgia case.

He has said he is innocent of all charges and asserts without evidence that his prosecutions are politically motivated. The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the apparent fundraising slowdown.

SLOWDOWN

The smaller daily hauls around Trump’s legal problems in late 2023 were part of a broader slowdown in his campaign’s fundraising.

His campaign reported bringing in $19 million in the last three months of 2023, compared to around $25 million in the prior three months. Biden’s campaign took in $33 million in the fourth quarter.

Trump’s legal problems are also showing increasing signs of being a direct drag on the finances of his election effort.

The main super PAC supporting his bid transferred $30 million in the second half of 2023 to another Trump group that is paying his legal bills. That money represented nearly two-thirds of what the super PAC, known as MAGA Inc, raised from mostly wealthy donors during the period.

To be sure, Trump has shown he can win elections when rivals have outspent him – defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 and easily beating former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who is backed by some big anti-Trump donors, in Republican primaries in this election cycle.

The biggest share of Trump’s legal spending in the last six months of 2023 focused on the civil fraud lawsuit brought by the New York attorney general’s office.

Over that period, Trump’s Save America political action committee gave nearly $14 million to law firms representing Trump and his adult children in the case and nearly $900,000 to an accounting expert who testified in his defense.

It is unclear if all the money was related to that case because filings list only payments to law firms and not the purpose of the spending. Trump’s lead lawyer in the lawsuit, Christopher Kise, is also representing Trump in a federal criminal case accusing him of mishandling classified documents after leaving office.

Unlike the four criminal cases Trump faces, the civil fraud case went to trial beginning in October 2023, requiring lawyers to appear almost daily in court for several weeks, racking up billable hours.

(Reporting by Jason Lange and Andrew Goudsward in Washington and Alexandra Ulmer in San Francisco; Editing by Scott Malone and Deepa Babington)

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