Trump campaign funneled donor money to his debt-ridden businesses after election loss: report

Campaign also paid more than $6,000 to an Arizona state legislator amid his effort to overturn election results

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published February 8, 2021 12:11PM (EST)

US President Donald Trump arrives for a campaign rally at Pittsburgh International Airport in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on September 22, 2020. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump arrives for a campaign rally at Pittsburgh International Airport in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on September 22, 2020. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

New financial disclosures have raised numerous questions about the Trump campaign's post-election spending following former President Donald Trump's loss to President Joe Biden.

Campaign finance disclosures show that Trump's re-election campaign spent at least $81,000 in donor money on Trump's businesses. Trump joint fundraising committee that split its donations with the Republican National Committee spent another $331,000 in donor funds following the election, according to an analysis by Forbes.

Trump and Republicans plowed millions into his businesses during and after his time in office. All told, the campaign paid at least $2.8 million to the Trump Organization and the joint fundraising committee spent another $4.3 million on Trump's businesses between Jan. 20, 2017 and Dec. 31, 2020.

The joint committee spent more than $300,000 for space, lodging and catering at Trump's hotel business in the wake of his election loss. The campaign also spent tens of thousands to rent space at Trump Tower after Nov. 3.

The campaign and the joint committee each also separately paid more than $30,000 for air travel to DT Endeavor, a company believed to be owned by Trump.

Trump has as much as $1 billion in business debt that will soon come due. A New York Times investigation into years of his tax returns showed that he has reported hundreds of millions in losses in recent years.

The campaign also reported paying $6,037 to Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem, a Republican who pushed to overturn Trump's electoral defeat in the state, the Arizona Republic first reported. Finchem, who is not a lawyer, was paid for "legal consulting" in a "recount" effort through a company he did not include in his most recent financial disclosure, according to the campaign's filings.

Finchem told the Republic that the payment was for costs related to "crowd control and security" for a meeting he held with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani at a hotel on Nov. 30 about unfounded claims of election-rigging.

Finchem was one of Trump's most ardent backers, unsuccessfully calling for the state legislature to overturn the state's election results and appoint its own slate of Trump electors. He later promoted the Trump rally that preceded the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot and was set to speak outside the Capitol that day, according to the Arizona Republic.

Finchem, who said he never got within 500 yards of the Capitol building, posted a photo of a mob of Trump supporters on the Capitol steps, writing that it is "what happens when the People feel they have been ignored, and Congress refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud."

Although Finchem has denied that he was part of the crowd and said he did not witness any violence, he refused to comply with a public records request filed by the Arizona Republic seeking his text messages and emails about his trip to Washington, citing "the threat of criminal prosecution."

Finchem has previously claimed to be a member of the Oath Keepers, an anti-government extremist group that says it includes thousands of current or former police officers and members of the military, and made Facebook posts recruiting for the group. Members of the Oath Keepers, who were seen with longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone ahead of the Capitol siege, were charged with conspiracy last month over their alleged role in the riot.

After the riot, Finchem claimed that the mob was not "hostile" or "violent" and disputed that it had attacked police, even though the crowd injured dozens of D.C. and Capitol police officers, killing one.

"I heard many [protesters] say 'thank you,' and 'bless you' as they walked by officers," Finchem insisted.

He also claimed that antifa was responsible for the breach of the Capitol even though there has been no evidence of antifa's involvement.

State Rep. César Chávez, a Phoenix Democrat, filed an ethics complaint last month, arguing that Finchem's social media posts "demonstrate beyond any doubt that he was participated in the insurrection in Washington, D.C. and supported others in their efforts."

The left-leaning watchdog group Accountable.US said the financial disclosure suggested that Trump was "paying state legislators" to join his "two-month crusade to try and stay in power."

"Mark Finchem must explain this payment from the Trump campaign and how it influenced his official work as a legislator to try and overturn a free and fair election," a spokesperson told the Arizona Republic.

While the latest disclosures shed some light on the campaign's post-election spending, Trump is still sitting on much of the cash he raised from supporters, ostensibly meant to fund his election legal challenges. Trump raised more than $170 million after the election, after bombarding supporters with fundraising appeals, but most of the money went to a fundraising committee he set up after his defeat rather than his legal efforts.

Trump spent just $10 million of those funds on legal fees, a fraction of the roughly $50 million he spent on ads and fundraising. The RNC, which backed at least some of Trump's legal challenges to the election, likewise spent little of its portion of the funds on legal fees.

Despite sitting on tens of millions of dollars in unspent cash, Trump refused to pay his initial defense team for his Senate impeachment trial the $3 million they requested, leading to his lawyers quitting en masse just days before the start of the trial.

Taxpayers have been forced to spend big due to Trump's weeks-long post-election tantrum as well. Trump's lie that the election was somehow stolen has cost taxpayers at least $519 million, according to a Washington Post analysis. Taxpayers have spent more than $480 million on the National Guard deployment to protect the Capitol following the riot that Trump is charged with inciting, more than $28 million for security around state capitols, and more than $2 million in legal fees and security for election officials who defended the results against Trump's baseless legal challenges.

Security officials have warned that the threat from Trump's supporters emboldened by the Capitol siege could persist for months. Trump's Washington hotel appears to be preparing for his supporters to descend on the city once again on March 4, the date when some QAnon conspiracy theorists believe Trump will somehow reclaim power and be sworn in as president. Trump's D.C. hotel is the only one in the area to hike prices for March 3 and 4, according to Forbes. Some room rates are more than double their usual rate on those dates.

The conspiracy theory that Trump will be sworn in on March 4 — the date on which the inauguration was held until passage of the 20th Amendment in 1933 — is predicated on a bizarre notion that the government secretly turned the U.S. into a corporation in 1871. This appears to be based on a mistaken reading of a law that "incorporated" the government of Washington, D.C., to mean something very different and far more sinister.

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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