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US President Donald Trump speaks to the press at General Mitchell International Airport November 2, 2020, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images
President Donald Trump has already begun to use his election loss to raise money for his "Save America" leadership PAC, a new committee which would allow Trump to wield influence over the Republican Party after he leaves office.
Trump registered the PAC with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) on Monday — only two days after major news outlets called the election for President-elect Joe Biden. The move raised speculation that Trump may privately acknowledge a second term in the White House is out of reach, even though his campaign continues to contest the results in court.
Indeed, that same day, the Trump Make America Great Again committee (TMAGA) — a joint fundraising vehicle between the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee — blasted out emails to supporters soliciting donations, ostensibly to support Trump and other Republicans who are challenging the results:
KEEP FIGHTING FUND
GIVE TO PRESIDENT TRUMP, 2 SENATE RUNOFFS IN GEORGIA AND RECOUNTS IN THE HOUSE
But the fine print on the donation page, which recently said 60% of donations would go to paying down the campaign's debt, now reveals that 60% of contributions will instead be directed to the new PAC.
Save America was formed as a "leadership PAC," a type of committee which allows former and current elected federal officials to raise money and distribute it directly to campaigns. The arrangement thus permits an ex-president Trump to retain influence over the GOP, a party which he and his die-hard base of supporters have defined over the last four years. It may also offer Trump an exit ramp after a bitter electoral loss, even as rumors circulate that the president has not ruled out a 2024 run.
Tim Murtaugh, chief campaign spokesperson, told The New York Times that the PAC was long in the making.
"The president always planned to do this — win or lose — so he can support candidates and issues he cares about," Murtaugh said.
Unlike super PACs, which can accept unlimited donations, fundraising for leadership PACs is capped at $5,000 per donor each year. They can also accept money from other committees, and unlike super PACs, they can contribute directly to campaigns — an important asset if Trump wants to exert control over candidates and their agendas.
However, Save America's FEC filing says it is affiliated with Donald Trump and TMAGA, one of two joint fundraising vehicles shared between the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC).
As an authorized committee for both the leadership PAC and the RNC, TMAGA may hold fundraising events that funnel money to both groups — even if the PAC is not directly affiliated with the RNC.
Leadership PACs also offer wider berth for expenses. They do not restrict politicians from using contributions for personal use, acting as something of a slush fund. Such a perk may appeal to Trump, campaign finance expert Brett Kappel told Salon.
"Leadership PACs are subject to very few spending restrictions — they can use their funds for any legal purpose," Kappel said. "A leadership PAC could be used to pay for travel all around the country, and it could have all of its fundraising events at Trump properties as long as they charge the leadership PAC the fair market value for those services."
Kappel added, "Because the prohibition on the personal use of campaign funds also does not apply to leadership PACs, Save America funds could be used to pay many of the legal fees Trump will incur after he leaves office."
Since Election Day, the Trump campaign has sent more than 140 emails to prospective donors, including some with a threatening tone, ABC News reported.
"This is your FINAL NOTICE," one read. "So far, you've ignored all our emails asking you to join us in DEFENDING THE ELECTION. You've ignored Team Trump, Eric, Lara, Don, the Vice President AND you've even ignored the President of the United States."