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Trump’s legal bill and Biden’s cash boost: inside the 2024 money race

The 2024 US presidential candidates’ campaigns and the political action committees supporting them released several gigabytes of data on Wednesday. Here are four things we learned.

Biden has much more money to spend than Trump, whose legal problems are sucking up cash

Joe Biden led Donald Trump in the 2023 money race, with his campaign and affiliated committees ending the year with $118mn of cash on hand, compared with $65mn for the former president. Biden’s fundraising operation took in roughly $13mn more than Trump-affiliated political action committees, or Pacs — groups that raise and spend money for political causes.

Biden spent just $67mn in 2023, less than a third of the $210mn that Trump spent on campaigning last year.

The 2024 presidential election looks likely to be a rematch of 2020, when Biden became the first candidate to raise more than $1bn from donors.

A big difference this time, however, is the litany of civil and criminal cases facing Trump, including a federal indictment alleging that he tried to subvert the 2020 election. Trump denies all the charges. But they pose a threat to his business empire and could land him in prison.

The cases are also affecting his campaign finances: pro-Trump groups spent $52mn on legal fees in 2023. Pro-Biden groups, meanwhile, have $52mn more cash on hand as their candidate wages his re-election campaign.

Biden’s position as an incumbent president has also helped the Democratic party open up a cash advantage over the national Republican party. The Democratic party committees and their affiliated super Pacs that are devoted to the battle for Congress outraised their Republican counterparts by more than $70mn.

In the US, political parties are allowed to raise more from each individual donor than candidate’s campaigns. Super Pacs can attract donations without limit, but unlike ordinary Pacs, they are not allowed to co-ordinate with the candidate.

Wall Street megadonors including Paul Singer and Ken Griffin are bankrolling Nikki Haley

SFA Fund, a super Pac supporting Nikki Haley, raised $69mn last year, and burnt through all but $3mn of it.

The former South Carolina governor capitalised on her popularity among deep-pocketed Wall Street financiers, and picked up donors after Tim Scott, Mike Pence, Ron DeSantis and Chris Christie all dropped out of the Republican primary race, leaving her as Trump’s sole rival.

WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum was the largest contributor to SFA Fund, giving $10mn. But much of the group’s money — $15mn — came in December from billionaire investors Paul Singer and Ken Griffin, who each gave $5mn, and insurance broker Pat Ryan and his wife Shirley, who chipped in another $5mn.

New Balance chair Jim Davis gave $2.5mn, private investment banker Warren Stephens and venture capitalist Tim Draper each gave more than $2mn, and Jane Street co-founder Rob Granieri contributed $1mn. 

After supporting other candidates, Cliff Asness, the billionaire investor, and his wife Laurel gave SFA Fund over $1.2mn. Fund managers and private equity bosses including Stanley Druckenmiller and Henry Kravis were among a long list of other large donors. So were Bill Ackman and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman.

The billionaire donor class also backed long-shot candidates, who failed

Jeff Yass, the Susquehanna International Group co-founder and TikTok investor, was the biggest donor to American Exceptionalism, the super Pac supporting the anti-woke crusader Vivek Ramaswamy. Yass gave him nearly $4.9mn last year. Ramaswamy ended his bid after coming fourth in the first contest of the Republican primary race, in Iowa, where he received fewer than 9,000 votes.

Blackstone chief executive Stephen Schwarzman gave $2mn to a pro-Christie super Pac, Tell It Like It Is, in late August. The former New Jersey governor did not last until the caucuses in Iowa.

Ackman said in January that he gave $1mn to We Deserve Better, the super Pac supporting Dean Phillips, the Democratic congressman who has launched a long-shot run for the nomination against Biden. Ackman, who has led a vocal campaign against Harvard University in recent months, also gave smaller amounts to Ramaswamy, Haley, and Christie — and independent candidate Robert F Kennedy Jr.

Neal Khosla, who co-founded AI-assisted telehealth start-up Curai, also gave $1mn to Phillips’s We Deserve Better.

As for Trump, his biggest donor by far was Tim Mellon, who gave $10mn to the Make America Great Again super Pac. He has also given $15mn to Kennedy, who is likely to cost Biden votes in some swing states but pull from Trump’s tally in others, according to polls.

Small donors accounted for about a quarter of the money raised by Trump-affiliated Pacs, more than twice their share of Haley’s funds. Haley’s super Pac, which was the destination for megadonor money, represented more than half of the cash raised on her behalf.

DeSantis groups blew through more than $150mn — including $10mn on travel — to finish a distant second place in Iowa

Never Back Down, the pro-DeSantis super Pac, spent $118mn only to see the Florida governor lose the first contest — Iowa — by 30 points to Trump. DeSantis subsequently dropped out of the race and endorsed the former president, who mocked everything from the Florida governor’s personality to his sartorial choices.

Together, DeSantis’s campaign groups spent more than $50mn on advertising and media-related expenses. Filings from the campaign and affiliated Pacs also show nearly $10mn spent on travel and transportation-related expenses, including on private jets.

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