Donald Trump’s legal fees are draining his campaign funds

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DONALD TRUMP’S fundraising machine continues to take in donations at a fast pace. The former president’s legal troubles rally his supporters to give money, but they also drain his campaign coffers. The Economist’s analysis of newly released data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) shows that Mr Trump raised more than $75m in the second half of 2023, up from nearly $54m in the first. That brings his haul in 2023 to $129m.

Mr Trump raised much of this money when scandals about him were in the headlines. In the two weeks after his indictment in March on allegations that he concealed hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film actress, the campaign raised $15.4m. When Mr Trump was indicted again in June for allegedly mishandling classified documents he took in another $6.6m in less than a week. In August, after the former president was charged with trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, he raised $9.4m. This included proceeds from the sale of T-shirts, coffee mugs and other merchandise emblazoned with his scowling mugshot.

Mr Trump’s campaign and affiliated committees are spending money nearly as quickly as they are taking it in (see charts). Some of this is going towards normal campaign expenses. For example, his joint fundraising committee, the main fundraising vehicle for the election campaign, raised $75m in the second half of 2023 and spent nearly $28m on online advertising, direct mail, text messaging and consulting.

But Mr Trump’s legal fees are by far the biggest cost of his campaign network. Early in 2022 such expenses amounted to around $500,000 a month, or less than 10% of total spending. Since then the cost of defending Mr Trump against criminal charges—he faces 91 felony counts in total—and lawsuits has ballooned to more than $5m per month. The latest FEC filings show that in the final three months of 2023 more than 50 cents of every dollar donated to Mr Trump went towards his defence.

The Republican front-runner is lagging behind his Democratic rival in the money race. The latest filings show that Mr Trump’s campaign had roughly $46m in cash at the end of 2023, less than half of the $117m held by President Joe Biden’s campaign. In the previous election Mr Biden’s cash advantage helped him outspend Mr Trump in swing states. Currently, the president is behind Mr Trump in the polls despite his cash advantage. But as election day draws nearer, money may begin to matter more. At the same time, new trials will get under way, so Mr Trump will be spending more of his funds on legal expenses. Whether his donors can continue to finance both his campaign and his army of lawyers remains to be seen.