Short on cash, Trump campaign appears to be hiding large-dollar payments to top staff

The Trump campaign hasn't reported payroll payments to several top officials, including its new campaign manager

Published September 8, 2020 2:24PM (EDT)

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination on the South Lawn of the White House August 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump gave the speech in front of 1500 invited guests. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination on the South Lawn of the White House August 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump gave the speech in front of 1500 invited guests. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Trump campaign faces a cash crunch, having spent about $800 million of the roughly $1.1 billion it raised since January 2019. At the same time, it appears to be hiding payments to top officials charged with cracking down on profligacy.

Salon reported last week that the Trump campaign has not disclosed any payments to senior adviser Jason Miller or new campaign manager Bill Stepien, who took over Brad Parscale's role in July, according to mandatory Federal Election Commission filings.

The report cited court documents showing that the campaign appears to be paying Miller, a top campaign strategist, as much as $35,000 a month. That is effectually a $420,000 salary, or more than the presidency pays. 

The campaign reports salary payments to chief of staff Stephanie Alexander and senior adviser Katrina Pierson, each of whom earn $20,000 a month. However, it does not appear to issue similar reports for COO Jeff DeWit or senior advisers Kim Guilfoyle, Bob Paduchik, Bill Shine, and Lara Trump, federal records show.

By comparison, Democratic rival Joe Biden's presidential campaign reports regular bi-monthly payroll disbursements to campaign manager Greg Schultz, totaling about $7,700 a month.

It is unclear how much Stepien makes; the Trump campaign did not reply to Salon's requests for comment. But a New York Times report revealed over the weekend that Stepien had taken a pay cut when he accepted the position, after which President Donald Trump expressed glee. (The campaign pays one of Parscale's firms, Parscale Strategies, more than $47,700 a month, per filings.)

"Since Bill Stepien replaced Mr. Parscale in July, the campaign has imposed a series of belt-tightening measures that have reshaped initiatives, including hiring practices, travel and the advertising budget," The Times reported.

However, the details of those new hiring practices remain unclear. The campaign brought Miller aboard in June, following six weeks of lucrative lobbying work for two clients who paid him between $15,000 and $24,000 apiece over that time, Salon previously reported.

Before that, court filings obtained by Salon showed that Miller was making nearly $60,000 a month, about $20,000 of which came from Steve Bannon's nonprofit Citizens of the American Republic. Investigators are now eyeing the entity in a federal money laundering case against Bannon and three co-conspirators.

"We held on to cash to make sure that we'll have the firepower that we need" for the fall, Miller told The Times.

Though the Trump campaign does not disclose payments to Miller or Stepien, it does disclose payments to Jamestown Associates, a media company founded in New Jersey which specializes in campaign publicity. Miller was once a top executive and partner there.

Stepien also has ties to Jamestown Associates, through former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The Republican ousted Stepien as his campaign chief in the wake of the "Bridgegate" scandal but went on to praise his elevation to the top slot in Trump's operation this year.

FEC filings show that the campaign has made several payments to Jamestown this year, in the range of approximately $7,500 and $45,500 through June. In July, those payments increased significantly — including a $78,394 payment on July 13 and a $133,800 payment on July 28.

Miller joined the campaign in June, and Stepien was promoted by the campaign on July 15. The campaign reports that the disbursements were for "video production services."

When asked if the missing payroll receipts for two top-level officials, including the campaign manager, seemed unusual, Brendan Fischer, the director of the Federal Reform Program at the Campaign Legal Center, told Salon, "It doesn't surprise me at all. The Trump campaign has disguised millions of dollars in payments to personnel and vendors by routing the money through LLCs created or managed by senior Trump campaign officials."

The CLC recently filed an FEC complaint alleging that the Trump campaign had unlawfully hidden at least $170 million in payments through shell companies, thereby keeping its spending a secret form the public, law enforcement and its own donors. Some of those hidden payments have allegedly gone towards salaries — such as to Kimberly Guilfoyle and Lara Trump — and were made through an entity controlled by Parscale.

The campaign has also paid out a reported $2.3 million to the president's private businesses.

"This is illegal," Fischer told Salon at the time.

This spring, a report suggested that Parscale paid Guilfoyle and Lara Trump $180,000 a year, roughly equal to a top White House salary. Miller's recent court filings suggest that his campaign salary might be more than double that amount. (Salon has not independently verified that report, which cited "top Republicans with knowledge of the payments.")

A great many of Trump's donors contribute in small dollar amounts.

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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