Steve Rattner’s Morning Joe Charts: The State of the Money Race

When it comes to political donations, many Americans probably think that Republicans – historically, the party of the wealthy – way outraise Democrats. That was true years ago but has not been the case in recent cycles and does not seem likely to be the case this year, even as fundraising efforts accelerate in advance of the November elections.

With Donald Trump as the presumed Republican nominee, let’s start with the two presidential campaigns. Yes, Trump, who announced his current presidential run in November 2022, got off to a faster start in raising money than President Joe Biden, but that faster start has not proved durable. By the third quarter of last year, the Biden effort (including money raised through the Democratic National Committee) had overtaken Trump’s results and in the fourth quarter, Biden swamped Trump. All told, Biden raised $288 million last year, compared to $216 million for Trump.

Interestingly, much of Trump’s success in the middle part of 2023 was due to his indictments. With every round of fresh charges, Trump’s donations spiked. (His best day was August 25th, after his Fulton County mugshot was posted, when he raised $4.2 million.) Then, with no new charges in the fourth quarter, his intake slumped.

While his legal troubles have helped Trump’s fundraising, his legal costs have been a burden as Trump has been paying most (or perhaps, all) of his lawyers’ fees from campaign donations. Last year, he transferred about $54 million from his fundraising entities to pay those bills, $30 million of it in the second half of the year. It perhaps came as a surprise to the biggest donors of the superPAC MAGA, Inc. (which can accept unlimited contributions) that more than half of what they donated in the second half of last year went to pay Trump’s legal bills. Another $7 million (approximately 10% of what was raised) was taken from his joint fundraising committee. And the campaign has indicated that 10% of future donations to that committee will go to the former president’s legal bills.

With his fundraising flagging and his legal bills mounting, Trump’s cash on hand is far below Biden’s, particularly at his joint fundraising committee. The same is true at his largest affiliated political action committee, “Save America”, and to a modestly lesser extent at the Republican National Committee.

While the difference in fundraising and cash on hand is starkest at the presidential level, Democrats have generally outperformed the Republicans across the campaign donation landscape. The Democratic National Committee raised $120 million in 2023, compared to $87 million by the RNC. While the Democrats and the Republicans raised roughly the same amounts for their Senate campaign committees, the Democrats substantially outraised the Republicans for House races.

As a result, at all three levels, the Democrats had substantially more cash on hand at the beginning of 2024 than the Republicans.

Money may not be everything, but in politics at least, it is something.