Trump PACs spent nearly $50 million on legal bills in 2023

Washington — Former President Donald Trump’s political apparatus spent more than it raised last year, thanks in part to about $50 million in legal bills spent for his numerous ongoing legal defenses across 2023, campaign finance reports filed Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission show.

As Trump’s legal and political calendars have collided in recent weeks, bouncing him between Iowa, New Hampshire and courtrooms in New York City and Washington, D.C., related to three different cases, the financial burden of his legal challenges has taken its toll on his fundraising and advertising capabilities.

Trump’s campaign and the primary super PAC supporting him, MAGA Inc., are well-positioned heading into the new year, with over $56 million in cash between the two committees. But Trump’s leadership PAC — Save America PAC, which paid his lawyers — has just over $5 million cash on hand, and the political action committees working on his behalf spent more than what they were raising.

The former president is facing former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in the race for the GOP presidential nomination and has been the front-runner throughout the campaign.

Save America PAC and Make America Great Again PAC, the two political action committees that are paying for Trump’s legal defenses as he faces 91 felony counts across four cases, spent over $49.6 million of donor money on attorneys, legal consulting and investigation-related fees, according to his latest campaign finance filings. In the last six months of 2023 alone, the PACs spent over $28 million, compared to over $21.5 million spent in the first half of last year. 

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges and denied any wrongdoing in each of the four criminal cases, but his legal issues have also been an effective fundraising tool as the former president urges his supporters to help fight back against what he claims is a witch hunt designed to damage his bid for the White House.

According to a CBS News analysis, the campaign raised over $2 million in just the first 48 hours after Trump’s mug shot from Georgia’s Fulton County Jail was released, in part from sales of merchandise featuring Trump’s booking photo. The former president faces charges in a sprawling racketeering case involving an alleged effort to overturn the results of the presidential election in Georgia.

His campaign raised over $770,000 on Aug. 1, the day Trump was indicted in Washington on federal charges stemming from his alleged efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss. 

One factor that complicates Trump’s future fundraising and financing is that the Republican National Committee has just over $8 million in cash, less than half of what the Democratic National Committee has. While Trump has not locked up the nomination, Haley is the former president’s only remaining major GOP challenger left, and pressure is mounting on her to leave the race and back Trump after the former president won the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. 

Haley criticized the spending by Trump’s fundraising committees, telling CNN in an interview that it is “unconscionable” that a candidate would spend $50 million on legal expenses.

“Get ready to spend more campaign dollars on legal fees because those court cases have just started,” she said.

Wednesday’s filing shows that Trump paid at least 50 law firms for legal-related services across 2023, including those who are representing him in the criminal cases he is facing in New York, Washington, D.C., Florida and Georgia, as well as the civil fraud case brought against him, two of his sons and their eponymous business by New York Attorney General Letitia James and a defamation lawsuit from writer E. Jean Carroll.

Donor funds were used to pay several of those firms more than $2 million, including Habba Madaio and Associates, Binnall Law Group, Blanche Law and John Lauro. 

Lawyer Jesse Binnall has worked on behalf of Trump in several civil cases brought against him related to the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol, while Lauro is representing the former president in special counsel Jack Smith’s federal case alleging Trump engaged in a scheme to prevent the transfer of presidential power after the 2020 election.

Todd Blanche of Blanche Law is a member of Trump’s defense team in the two federal prosecutions of the former president — related to the 2020 election and his handling of sensitive government documents after leaving the White House — as well as a criminal case in New York stemming from an alleged plan to use “hush money” payments to suppress damaging information against Trump before the 2016 election.

Attorney Chris Kise, who represents Trump in his New York civil fraud trial and the Florida classified documents case, is affiliated with two firms that were each paid almost $4.5 million in 2023 — Chris Kise & Associates and Continental PLLC.

Another $4 million in payments went to the law firm of attorneys Alina Habba and Michael Madaio, who represented Trump in the defamation trial that concluded with an $83.3 million verdict against him last week. Habba also worked on Trump’s New York civil fraud trial. In the wake of the Carroll verdict, Trump suggested he may seek new representation for an appeal of the case. On Wednesday, he posted on Truth Social that he is “in the process, along with my team, of interviewing various law firms to represent me in an Appeal of one of the most ridiculous and unfair Witch Hunts our Country has ever seen.”

The filings show Save America and Make America Great Again PACs also made payments in 2023 to lawyers who went on to split with Trump, including Tim Parlatore, Evan Corcoran and Jim Trusty. The three worked with Trump during Smith’s investigation into the former president’s alleged mishandling of sensitive government documents after he left office. Trump was charged with 40 counts stemming from the documents probe.

The donor funds went not only to paying Trump’s legal bills, but also those of his allies and family, the reports show. Save America paid more than $500,000 to the firm Brand Woodward Law, which is representing Walt Nauta, an aide to Trump, in the documents case. Nauta was charged with eight counts and has pleaded not guilty.

Nauta was also paid over $155,000 by Save America and the Trump campaign in 2023.

Law firms working for Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump also received money from Save America. The three were named as co-defendants with their father in James’ civil fraud case, but Ivanka Trump was later dismissed as a defendant. She testified during the trial in November.

The reports confirm that Eli Bartov, an expert witness who testified for the defense in the civil fraud case against Trump, was paid more than $900,000 by Save America.

Also listed in the disclosure is a $7,500 payment to CRS Fulton Ventures in Roswell, Georgia, which is described as “legal-bond.”

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