Trump is set to announce his 2024 presidential campaign on Tuesday.
But despite raising over $100 million since the 2020 campaign, he won’t be able to directly use those funds.
One watchdog says Trump may be seeking to circumvent federal law by pouring that money into a super PAC.
After nearly two years of alluding to the possibility, former President Donald Trump is set to formally announce his 2024 presidential bid on Tuesday night.
But despite holding almost $100 million in campaign funds across a handful of different political action committees, Trump won’t be able to use much of that money, at least directly, on his come-back bid.
That’s because Save America — a “leadership PAC” that Trump has used as his primary fundraising vehicle since the end of his 2020 campaign, raising over $100 million in the process — can’t be legally converted into a presidential campaign account.
But the former president may be looking for a well-worn legal loophole, according to one watchdog group, by pouring some or all of that money into a new super PAC called “MAGA, Inc. — which legally can’t coordinate with Trump and his official campaign — and using that committee to indirectly support his 2024 campaign by running ads attacking his political opponents or touting Trump’s candidacy.
“I think Trump’s own lawyers understand that spending through Save America to back Trump’s campaign would have been too blatantly illegal,” said Saurav Ghosh, director of federal campaign finance reform at the Campaign Legal Center, in an interview with Insider. “I think they view it as a little more defensible to transfer it to a Super PAC.”
“They’re wrong about that, as far as the law goes,” he added. “But that’s my perspective on why they chose to do it this way.”
On Monday, the Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that Trump violated federal law when he transferred $20 million from Save America to MAGA Inc. in October.
They argue that Trump has made clear for months that he intends to run again — avoiding doing so directly in order to avoid having to comply with fundraising laws that restrict official candidates.
“There’s very little question, when you look at his statements, that he had decided to become a candidate,” said Ghosh.
Trump’s war chest currently stands at about $93 million, when accounting for the $69 million held by Save America, the $23 million held by MAGA, Inc., and roughly $1 million held by another PAC that used to be his presidential campaign account. Under federal law, Save America can only give $5,000 to Trump’s not-yet-established official 2024 campaign account.
By transferring that money to MAGA, Inc., which is reportedly a “preview into what the structure of a 2024 campaign could look like” and has been sanctioned by Trump, Campaign Legal argues that the former president violated a federal prohibition on “soft money,” aka, money that exceeds normal federal contribution limits.
A spokesman for Trump did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
‘We’re not supposed to be talking about it yet’
Trump has been teasing a 2024 presidential campaign for months.
But he’s stopped short of actually declaring his candidacy. Doing so would require him to file a personal financial disclosure and would restrict his ability to use the PACs he currently controls.
“I mean, I know what I’m going to do, but we’re not supposed to be talking about it yet from the standpoint of campaign finance laws,” Trump told a group of police officers in New York City in September 2021. “But I think you’re going to be happy.”
The Democratic super PAC American Bridge filed a complaint against Trump in March alleging that he was using Save America as a vehicle for his 2024 presidential ambitions. But some experts told Insider earlier this year that Trump could tease the idea without having to register as a candidate.
“There’s no law against joking, bloviating, speculating, or predicting, Brad Smith, chairman and founder of the Institute for Free Speech and a former Federal Election Commission chairman, told Insider in March.
Since leaving office, Trump has issued statements, raised money, and funded his cross-country rallies via Save America.
MAGA, Inc., established in September of this year, was used to boost pro-Trump candidates in races across the country in the final months of the midterm campaign. Along with the $20 million from Save America, the PAC was also seeded by an almost $9 million contribution from another super PAC called “Make America Great Again, Again! Inc” run by former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Super PACs may spend unlimited amounts of money to directly advocate for and against political candidates so long as they don’t coordinate efforts with them, although the rules governing “coordination” are sometimes gray. Campaign finance reformers have also long decried the rules as weak.
Despite their confidence in the letter of the law, Ghosh said he wasn’t certain that the group would get a favorable ruling from the commission, currently made up of three Republicans and three Democrats, citing the lack of prior enforcement of campaign finance violations by Trump.
“Looking at past practice, I would say we’re not hopeful at all because the FEC so often fails to enforce the law even on very egregious facts and very clear law,” said Ghosh. “Particularly when it comes to Donald Trump, the FEC has shown total dysfunction and total inability to enforce the law.”
And he noted that previous candidates have made similar moves, citing Jeb Bush’s pre-2016 fundraising for his super PAC as the “quintessential example” of the technique.
“That was, I think, really breaking new ground when he did it,” said Ghosh.
Read the original article on Business Insider