Skip to navigationSkip to content
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Treasure Island hotel and casino, Saturday, June 18, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
AP Photo/John Locher
Tremendous.
DONALD DOLLARS

Donald Trump’s campaign is spending money on all the wrong things

By Tim Fernholz

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign continues to funnel money to the candidate’s businesses and family, the latest campaign financial disclosures show, and his operation is far from prepared for the final push of this election season.

It’s not just that his rival Hillary Clinton is raising more money and spending it on TV ads and field organizers getting out the vote, though she is: Clinton raised $52 million and spent $38 million in July; Trump raised $36 million and spent $18 million. It’s that the money Trump takes in is spent really inefficiently.

A lot of money still goes back to Trump’s own pocket

The campaign has spent $7.7 million at Trump family companies, about 9% of his total campaign spending. The bulk, $5.6 million, went to Trump’s private jet company, as well as payments to various Trump buildings for office and living space, including Trump Tower in New York City ($881,000) and the Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida ($432,000). The campaign has paid Eric Trump’s winery almost $5,000, and reimbursed Donald Trump, Jr. almost $20,000 in travel costs. Trump has said he won’t ask his campaign to pay back the “almost $50 million” he has loaned it—which now totals $47.5 million.

He’s spending too much money to make money

Fundraising costs money—telephone bills, mail and postage fees, processing payments, all of it. The idea is to be as efficient as possible. Since June, Trump’s small donations have surged, but that’s because his campaign has spent more than $10 million on a digital advertising vendor, Giles-Parscale, the second-largest campaign expense. The ads are designed to funnel online activists’ donations to Trump’s website. In the same period, he has raised nearly $40 million from contributors. At a cost of more than $.25 for every dollar earned, it’s just not that efficient—and that’s a conservative estimate, since we didn’t include other expenses, like more than $900,000 sent to Stripe for payment processing.

He’s spending money on the wrong things

At the moment, Trump’s top expenditure is $18 million on television advertising, which makes sense for a political campaign. Then comes the online ad vendor. But Trump’s third biggest expense is the maker of his iconic Make America Great Again hats, the fourth is his own private jet and the fifth is a law firm.

This is the time of year when campaigns funnel money toward field operations in contested states and reserve airtime in November. While the Democratic nominee has 700 staffers around the country, Trump’s has just 200, 100 of whom are in New York City, a state he won’t win. And Clinton’s campaign just reserved $80 million in television ad airtime over the final months of the election. Trump has reserved none.

Tim Fernholz
Reporter
If you liked my story, you may enjoy Space Business, a weekly email on extra-terrestrial enterprise.