WASHINGTON — President Trump is asking his small-dollar donors to help him pay for legal fees to get courts to overturn the 2020 election results. Yet there is no guarantee the money would be used for that.

Since last Saturday, when the presidential race was called for President-elect Joe Biden, the Trump campaign has blasted out at least 30 text messages to supporters asking them to donate $250 or less to his post-election effort to challenge the results.

Some of the appeals have been sent under Trump’s name, while others have said “DEFEND GEORGIA” or demanded that “MICHIGAN HALT COUNTING VOTES” or simply “ELECTION DEFENSE.”

But a donor would have to give $8,333 before a dollar landed in the Trump campaign’s actual recount fund because of the way donations will be split among the various committees.

The Save America leadership political action committee, which the Trump campaign registered Monday with the Federal Election Commission, gets 60% of every small-dollar donation, according to the fine print on emailed fundraising solicitations, with the Republican National Committee’s general operating account getting the remainder.

Leadership PACs allow politicians to raise money that can be used to support other candidates and causes, and finance their travel, fundraising, consultants and other political expenses.


There is no requirement that Save America use the money for legal fees. And unlike campaign money, which can’t be spent on personal expenses, the PAC has no such prohibition, said Larry Noble, the FEC’s former general counsel.

“He can use the money for the leadership PAC for anything he wants,” he said, but not necessarily to finance his current lawsuits.

Under federal law, Save America can donate a maximum of $5,000 to the campaign’s recount fund and $45,000 to the one at the RNC.

The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the new PAC and how it relates to the president’s post-election battles.

The text messages and email pitches, sometimes in the names of the president, his sons or Vice President Mike Pence, direct would-be donors to a web page that says the donations go to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, which was the small-dollar fundraising arm of Trump’s re-election campaign.

But since the election is over, the money is passed along to another outfit. Save America is first in line, getting three-fifths of each donation up to the maximum $5,000 a political action committee can accept. The RNC gets the rest.


Under federal law, campaigns can set up a separate account to pay for legal battles after an election. Donors who gave the maximum $2,800 to the campaign before the election can give another $2,800 to a campaign’s recount fund. But the requests asked for $250 or less, which wouldn’t leave any for the recount fund.

Recounts and legal disputes are expensive. In 2000, George W. Bush raised $13.8 million to contest the recount in just one state, Florida, while Democrat Al Gore raised $3.2 million. Trump has mounted legal challenges in Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania and will need legal help with recounts in Georgia and Wisconsin.

While the money raised through grassroots solicitations aren’t necessarily going to the legal battle, big contributors have been eager to donate, said Gaylord Hughey Jr., a Texas energy lawyer who raises money for Trump Victory, which tapped larger donors on behalf of Trump’s campaign, the RNC and state party committees. Committees don’t report their fundraising totals until Dec. 3.

“It’s the easiest ask I’ve got: to defend the democracy of our country,” he said.

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