He endorses, they pay: Donald Trump has figured out a way to collect campaign-donor money from politicians seeking his blessing.
Donald Trump, a man known for torching norms, has developed a novel business model. From his perch at Mar-a-Lago or summer residence at one of his New Jersey golf courses, the former president doles out endorsements to longtime elected officials and wannabe Republican nominees, influencing primaries across the country. Meanwhile, those candidates, who come from all over to visit him, pour money from campaign donors into Trump’s properties, paying for food, lodging and conference space. So far, he has collected at least $1.4 million from the candidates he’s endorsed in 2022, according to a Forbes analysis of campaign disclosures.
Candidates from across the country have descended on the former president’s properties, particularly those in south Florida and Washington, D.C., as they seek to earn Trump’s blessing and raise money from his supporters.
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It’s a small amount of money for Trump, who is worth an estimated $3 billion. But given that it costs the former president nothing to make an endorsement, he gets a nice return on his investment. About one-third of the 224 candidates the former president has endorsed in the 2022 midterms have reported making payments to his businesses via their political committees. About 70% of these customers reported paying a Trump business before picking up his support, while the rest became patrons afterwards.
Like a lot of businesses, Trump’s scheme relies on a set of loyal customers. Just five candidates are responsible for 50% of the money Trump has collected from his endorsees. The biggest of the bunch: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has spent $252,000 at Trump properties, 99% of which came between Trump’s election in 2016 and the end of his term.
Challenging the California Republican for the top spot is Senate hopeful Herschel Walker of Georgia. A former Heisman Trophy winner who played for Trump’s New Jersey Generals of the now-defunct USFL, Walker has doled out $199,000 at Mar-a-Lago in less than a year. If he keeps spending at his current pace, he should overtake McCarthy in a matter of months.
Rounding out the top five spenders is a trio of other first-time candidates. John Gibbs, who served as assistant Housing and Urban Development secretary under Trump and is now running for Congress in Michigan, has spent $98,000. Former Trump Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, now contending for governor in Arkansas, dropped $90,000. And Kari Lake, a one-time news anchor at a Fox affiliate in Phoenix, has shelled out $70,000 amid her bid to become governor of Arizona.
Geographic proximity doesn’t seem to matter much to those seeking Trump’s endorsement. Kelly Tashiba, who is trying to unseat Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, spent $33,000 at Mar-a-Lago, 3,900 miles from her home state. Of the 10 biggest spenders, only one has a Trump property in the area he hopes to represent. But even that candidate, senate contender Adam Laxalt of Nevada, didn’t spend the money at the property near his home—in this case the Trump hotel in Las Vegas—instead shelling out $41,000 at Trump properties in Florida and Washington, D.C. The Sunshine State is home to a number of Trump properties, as well as the man himself, but Trump’s 15 endorsees from Florida have spent only $29,000 at his businesses altogether.
It’s likely that Trump has collected more than the $1.4 million Forbes was able to identify. Some states do not require candidates to itemize their expenses, including South Dakota, whose governor has made multiple trips to Trump properties. Trump has endorsed some foreign politicians too, like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, but those leaders do not have to submit U.S. campaign-finance disclosures. American candidates do have to make filings, but submission of documents always lags the actual spending. That means the former president, who continues to bestow blessings, is almost certainly continuing to collect more money.