Nation/World

Trump looks to 2024, commanding a fundraising juggernaut, as he skirts social media bans

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Facebook has banned former president Donald Trump from posting on its platform, and he is barred by law from using his current fundraising to finance another campaign for the White House.

But Trump has found a way around both barriers as he rebuilds his political operation to clear the way for a potential 2024 presidential campaign.

His primary political action committee, Save America, has been spending more than $100,000 a week this month on Facebook ads, according to the company, many of which seek donations with deceptive claims about corruption in the last election and public support for the belief that “Trump is the true president.”

Facebook allows the ads because Trump is not posting them personally through his suspended account and the ads do not speak in Trump’s “voice,” according to a company spokeswoman. The money raised can be used to finance his current political operation - his staff, his rallies, his travel - until he announces another campaign. At that point, he would have to start fresh with a new account, but with a significant advantage: advisers may rent back the updated list of donors that Save America has collected to give him a head start. And advisers say he could transfer the money to another outside group that buttresses his bid.

The gambit is one of several ways Trump is blowing up the traditional path for a president after leaving office, reaping millions for his political efforts in the process. Rather than shrink from the scene to focus on the blueprints of a presidential library or philanthropy, he is attempting to build one of the largest operations in American politics by continuing many of the tactics that dominated his two presidential campaigns.

Just how much Trump is raising and spending remains a matter of some speculation, as the groups he now operates are only required to report their donations to the Federal Election Commission twice a year. At the end of July, the last reporting date, the three principal fundraising operations he was using declared more than $100 million in cash on hand.

Through an aggressive push of text messages, emails, events and ads, advisers say, Trump has consistently been raising more than $1 million per week, with totals often nearing $2 million.

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The fundraising haul puts his political operation, which has so far reported giving little to other candidates or causes, among the largest in the country, dwarfing organizations set up to raise money nationwide. The National Republican Senatorial Committee declared less than $30 million in cash at the end of September and the National Republican Congressional Committee had $65 million in cash at the same point.

He had spent little of his funds before midsummer, though advisers say he has increased spending and donations to other candidates since then. A coterie of political advisers, including two experts on Iowa, have been added to the payroll.

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For decades, potential presidential candidates have set up groups that can raise and spend money to support such an operation. But no president since Herbert Hoover has tried to run again after losing a reelection effort.

“What is different with Trump is the sheer amount of money raised and the often-misleading way he has raised that money,” said Brendan Fischer, the director of federal reform at the Campaign Finance Legal Center.

Some Republicans have expressed concern about Trump’s ambitions sucking money away from other party priorities in advance of the midterm elections. Even as he has raised the issue of electoral fraud in fundraising solicitations, he has spent little to try to prove the election was tainted.

“They aren’t paying for audits - they want others to pay for it,” said one Republican official who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. “He is just raising money to have a big slush fund.”

Taylor Budowich, a spokesman for the former president said Trump’s organization exists to “identify and support” candidates who are “committed to saving America by putting America First.”

“The power of President Trump’s effort cannot be disputed,” Budowich said in a statement, citing Trump’s endorsements, rallies and media buys.

“Save America will continue to serve as the primary political vehicle of President Donald J. Trump,” he wrote, “and deliver an unprecedented level of success across the country on his behalf of the MAGA movement.”

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Much of Trump’s digital apparatus is still handled by former campaign manager Brad Parscale and former campaign digital director Gary Coby, who is also doing work for the Republican senate committee.

Trump, 75, has participated by calling donors and holding events, including golf tournaments, to raise money. The volume of fundraising pitches, which often hit supporters by email and text multiple times a day, has sometimes annoyed Trump, who has heard complaints from friends, according to an adviser. But he also likes the result: more money to show other Republicans he remains the most formidable presidential candidate, advisers said.

Trump’s three main committees are not authorized to spend on behalf of a campaign for him, which would operate under different fundraising and spending limitations. Those committees are Save America PAC; a fundraising effort that handles much of the outreach, called Save America Joint Fundraising Committee; and a smaller group that was created out of the remains of Trump’s 2020 campaign, called the Make America Great Again PAC. The latter is focused primarily on winding down spending for the last campaign, advisers said.

Trump also is supporting another political nonprofit, which was recently rebranded Make American Great Again, Again!, that can accept unlimited donations from wealthy individuals. That committee, in its previous incarnation under a different name, reported $5.6 million in cash at the end of July. He has announced plans for a for-profit social media network and video streaming service in early 2022.

The operations, taken together, are designed to replicate the look and feel of Trump’s past campaigns. In fundraising appeals this year, Trump promises supporters the same perks he has long offered to donors - chances to meet him, trips to his rallies, signed memorabilia and membership to “exclusive” donor clubs.

His requests feature the same misleading promises of the past efforts and some new ones, such as announcing fundraising deadlines to donors even though theSave America PAC often does not report its donors on the deadlines cited. The rallies he has been holding differ from those during presidential campaign only in that he does not tell people to vote for him, choosing instead to speak in coded language about an “even more glorious victory in November of 2024.”

The operation has also become a major way for Trump to communicate misinformation to his supporters, through his speeches and daily torrent of news releases.

“If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020 (which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented), Republicans will not be voting in 2022 or 2024,” Trump wrote in a recent email appeal, alluding to long-debunked allegations of substantial fraud that courts have rejected. “I need YOU to donate at least $45 to bolster our Protect our Elections Fund.”

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Weeks ago, he sent prospective donors a copy of a one-minute television ad and promised to “flood the airwaves” with it. The ad echoes Trump’s 2020 campaign, saying “We told you Joe Biden was not up to the job.” The tracking firm Ad Analytics says the group has yet to buy any broadcast time for the spot. The Trump operation did not respond to a question about the ad, though an adviser saidit has begun airing ads on right-wing TV networks, such as Newsmax and One America News.

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Left out of the fine print of solicitations is the fact that if he declares himself a candidate, his current accounts will immediately be barred under campaign law from any expenditures on his behalf in excess of $5,000.

“We’re not supposed to be talking about it yet, from the standpoint of campaign finance laws,” Trump said at a public event in September, when asked whether he would run for president again.

His advisers say this barrier is a minor one, given his intention to delay an official announcement for months.

“The only real limitation right now is he can’t use it for personal advocacy to get elected. And that’s pretty vague,” said one political adviser.

If Trump has money left over through his noncandidate fundraising accountswhen he does declare,advisers say, the plan is to transfer the money to another, independent political group, which would be able to spend unlimited amounts to support Trump, though the former president and his direct campaign advisers would be barred from coordinating the spending.

In the meantime, Save America has given Trump a way to advertise on both Google and Facebook, despite the bans on his posting on social media platforms controlled by the two companies. Twitter, which does not allow political advertising on its site, has “permanently suspended” Trump’s account as well.

The Facebook ban, put in place after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, will last at least two years, the company says. But it is limited in scope.

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“President Trump is suspended from Facebook so he can’t post at all,” Devon Kearns, a Facebook spokeswoman, explained in a statement. “Groups affiliated with the former president are not barred from posting on Facebook so long as they are not posting in his voice.”

That means the social network has removed ads that appear to quote Trump, even when the quotes appear on a landing page linked to the ad. But it has left up ads that mislead, including one series of spots that cites an unnamed poll claiming “53% believe Trump is the true president” and “56% believe the 2020 election was tainted.”

Those numbers appear to refer to a May Ipsos/Reuters poll that Trump boasted about in a news release. The poll found 25% of Americans said they believed Trump was the “true president” and the same share believed the election result was “the result of illegal voting or election rigging.” The numbers Save America cites in the Facebook ads describe only the Republican voter responses in the poll, a fact that is not disclosed.

A group of liberal advocacy organizations led by Common Cause has asked Facebook to revisit its policy of allowing Save America to advertise as long as it doesn’t use Trump’s voice, since it was established by Trump days after the 2020 election. Facebook has not yet made clear whether Trump will be able to operate a campaign under the same rules, possibly permitting him to advertise his 2024 effort on the site.

“The response we got was we have no answer for you at the moment,” said Yosef Getachew, the director of Media and Democracy Program at Common Cause, of his conversations with the company. Facebook’s spokeswoman did not comment on the company’s discussions with Common Cause.

Google has banned Trump’s YouTube page for an indefinite period of time, but it has allowed Save America to buy image and text advertising on its platform, with the overwhelming majority of the $17,500 in spending taking place since Oct. 9.

“As is the case for any advertiser who wishes to run election ads, the Save America PAC must adhere to our ads policies,” Google spokesman Michael Aciman said. The Google ads placed by Trump’s group have so far not included any claims of election fraud.

Trump sued Facebook, Google and Twitter this summer, seeking damages and the reinstated of his accounts on the platforms.

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