To Raise $1 Billion, Trump Will Need Donors Big and Small
Now that Donald Trump has effectively locked down the Republican nomination for the White House, he's moving on to the next uphill battle: raising $1 billion by November.
That would come to more than $5 million per day until the election, a tall order for a campaign that has built scant fundraising infrastructure during the primary battle because the campaign was largely financed by Trump's own fortune.
"They're starting from scratch, so it's not going to be easy," said Joe Trippi, a Democratic consultant who managed Howard Dean's 2004 campaign. "But those numbers are not impossible. As a Democrat, I'd be worried he could do it."
Trump has accepted small donations during his primary campaign, bringing in about $12 million through the end of March. Hillary Clinton, who leads the Democratic primary race, had already raised $229 million by that point.
How much he raises will in part depend on how many of Trump's followers can be converted into small donors. The campaign, according to a person with knowledge of the fundraising strategy, plans to tap the thousands of people who packed venues for Trump rallies over the past several months. To get tickets for the events, people typically needed to provide their name and e-mail address.
On top of that, the person said, the campaign plans to ask thousands more potential donors for money, drawing from those who registered as supporters on Trump's website, as well as those who expressed support via phone and door-to-door campaigning during the primary.
The campaign also may explore ways to monetize Trump's vast following on social media, the person said. Trump has about 8 million followers on Twitter and 7.4 million on Facebook. (It isn't clear how many of those people follow him on both sites.) According to public filings, Trump's campaign has already paid at least $84,000 for digital ad placements on Facebook, which also offers campaigns tools for identifying additional supporters, building contact lists, targeting messages and fundraising online.
On Twitter, Trump can not only tweet fundraising pitches to his followers but also pay to have his tweets show up in the feeds of users who don't follow him, according to Nick Pacilio, a spokesman for Twitter. Trump has already done so. He paid to have video of an endorsement by Bobby Knight, Indiana University's legendary former basketball coach, show up in the Twitter feeds of Hoosier fans.
Even as super-PACs, accepting donations unlimited in size, took on a more prominent role in this election, small donors have proven formidable in several campaigns, most notably that of Democrat Bernie Sanders, who raised $183 million through March, most of which has come from brigades of small donors.
"When these forces are combined with social media and technology, the results are powerful," said Trace Anderson, whose firm CFB Strategies ran part of the online fundraising for Ted Cruz, who dropped out the race earlier this week. About 40 percent of those who signed up on Cruz's website made a donation, averaging around $20 per person, Anderson said.
Barry Bennett, a senior adviser to Trump, said in a May 6 interview with Bloomberg's Masters in Politics Podcast that the candidate's social-media following holds significant promise for fundraising.
"When we turn that on you are going to see Bernie Sanders-like fundraising," said Bennett, who previously worked for Republican Ben Carson's campaign, which raised tens of millions of dollars from small donors.
Even though Trump has eschewed super-PACs, bigger donations would have to play a role if he wants to reach $1 billion, according to Charles Spies, a former general counsel of the Republican National Committee who helped create super-PACs for Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. Spies, who doesn't support Trump, said he doesn't believe the candidate has the support of enough major donors to achieve his $1 billion goal.
The Trump campaign, though, is working out an agreement with the RNC for a joint fundraising committee, which would make it possible to raise bigger amounts of money than simply through Trump's campaign.
Four years ago, Romney used joint fundraising committee to raise $491 million for his campaign and party. At that time, however, federal law capped the amount an individual could contribute at $73,300. Thanks to a Supreme Court decision and other changes in federal law, donors can now give much more. The most generous contributors to the Hillary Victory Fund, the joint fundraiser set up by the Democratic front-runner, have contributed $350,000, and could donate even more.
Aside from raising $1 billion through official party and campaign committees, there are signs that Trump could find more help from some mega-donors who have a history of pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into outside groups that support their favored candidates. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate who with his wife contributed $93 million to super-PACs supporting Republicans in 2012, told the New York Times yesterday that he supports Trump.
—With assistance from Jennifer Jacobs in Washington.