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Donald Trump may be a self-starter, but he’s not self-funded

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By The Sunlight Foundation

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio mostly traded barbs last Tuesday night during the GOP Debate, but they created a moment of levity when the two issued the same call to action back to back. The message was simple — not for voters to check out their tax plans or immigration reform or economic policies, but to join their cause and, most importantly, donate money.

“I want you to go to,” the Texan said. “I also want you to go to my website,,” proclaimed the Floridian.

But one candidate says he doesn’t need your money: Donald Trump. “I don’t have to give you a website because I’m self-funding my campaign. I’m putting up my own money,” said Trump.

After building his business empire, he’s decided to independently fund his campaign. The Republican frontrunner loves to emphasize his self-funding, but is he giving us a raw deal?

Where is Trump’s money coming and going?

Trump says he’s a self-made man. After receiving a modest (read: $1,000,000) loan from his father and later a lofty inheritance, Trump transformed into a business mogul, now valued at over $4 billion.

Since his campaign is “self-funded,” donations from others are unnecessary, or so Trump says. We know other candidates who self-funded their campaigns didn’t fare so well in past elections, but none trumpeted their message of autonomy quite like Trump.

“This may have been true at the start of his campaign, but it’s no longer valid, though Trump loves to keep saying this line,” writes Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee at The Washington Post.

The data for this visualization is from third quarter reports only.

While Trump has spent about $2 million of his own money since the start of his bid for the White House, he has also accepted nearly $6 million in “unsolicited donations,” according to the campaign’s latest financial filing. That’s now vastly outpacing his own contributions.

What is he doing with his cache cow? He’s burning through his stacks faster than any other candidate. While Trump has raised $5.8 million through June 30, he’s spent $5.6 million, and not on the typical expenditures. Most of the establishment candidates focus their revenue on traditional means such as field organizing and ad buying; Trump sells merchandise, such as hats and shirts.

And unlike other candidates, media exposure is the least of Trump’s concerns. Instead of paying for airtime and crossing his fingers for interviews, the Trump Effect has media outlets vying to cover him as much as possible.

Yes, Donald Trump is putting more of his own money into his campaign than any other candidate — but the claim that he is purely self-funded is certainly misleading.

Feeling the Bern Trump?

Trump’s promotional image of an independent operator who isn’t influenced by big money donors — juxtaposed against the establishment candidates — does hold some weight; his candidacy so far is less akin to Jeb Bush and more like Bernie Sanders.

Neither Trump nor Sanders say they have super PACs; however, it appeared Trump had substantial connections with the Make America Great Again PAC before it shuttered. (It’s worth noting that Sanders’ claim is somewhat murky as well.)

Both Trump and Sanders enjoy enthusiastic grassroots support. As of October, an astounding 88 percent of Sanders’ contributions came from small donors of $200 or less. He also surpassed President Obama’s record-breaking fundraising efforts by receiving its millionth online donation in September. It took President Obama until February of 2008, after winning the Iowa caucuses, to reach the same mark.

Trump had nearly two-thirds of his contributions come from small donors. Indeed, the majority of Trump’s campaign donations comes from small donors, with 73,942 “unsolicited donations” totaling about $3.7 million within the last quarter. At the end of third quarter fundraising, Hillary Clinton was at 20 percent small donor funding while Jeb Bush was at just 6 percent.

Is Trump hosting fundraisers?

We presented our updated schedule of GOP presidential fundraisers recently on Political Party Time — and Trump’s name is noticeably omitted. Is it true that he’s completely staying out of the fundraising game? With your help, we can find out.

As the 2016 campaign continues, Party Time will compile the most comprehensive database of events for the presidential fundraising circuit. Please share any invitations you may find by anonymously uploading them or emailing them to us here.

The Sunlight Foundation is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency, and provides new tools and resources for media and citizens, alike.


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