Shocker! Trump Campaign Seems To Be Cheating On FEC Filings

The Daily Beast’s Roger Sollenberger did some excellent digging into the Trump campaign’s FEC filings and came up with evidence of “creative accounting” that’s reminiscent of the scheme that just cost The Donald $454 million for defrauding insurers and banks in New York.

In this case, the maneuvers seem designed to inflate the totals of his donations. As Sollenberger put it, “Trump’s campaign is miraculously not reporting donor refunds—an untested trick that makes it harder to tell how tired his donors really are.” The maneuver, Sollenberger wrote, “rais[es] the prospect of the former president’s campaign once again stretching the bounds of campaign finance law to inflate his war chest—and the public’s impressions of his political strength.”

I won’t begin to wade into the weeds of reporting donor refunds and Trump’s failure to do so. But Sollenberger gives a nice summary:

Typically, if a donor gives a campaign too much money, the campaign refunds the excess amount to the person, reporting it later in FEC filings. But when a donor gives too much to the Trump campaign through this joint committee, the campaign does not refund that person. Instead, The Daily Beast’s analysis of FEC data indicates that some reports appear to have simply vanished the original excessive amount altogether, even though the new amended filings show the exact same bottom line totals, down to the penny.

More importantly, there’s this:

Notably, the maneuvering also appears to demand at least some degree of misrepresentation to the FEC, if not outright lying—specifically, the treasurer’s written statements that the campaign had “returned” the money when its reports show no such transactions.

Why does it matter? Because the practice seems designed to make Trump’s campaign finances look better than they are:

High refund rates can signal potential donor burnout, a financial clue that a campaign has maxed out most of its reliable supporters and might be in danger of going into the red if it can’t find other funding sources. This was the case with the Trump campaign in 2020, when a number of news reports identified small-dollar donor burnout as a problem. Combined with reportedly lavish spending, that left the Trump operation with a massive cash deficit against Biden just ahead of the election.

It’s not clear that Trump is doing anything illegal, though:

[I]t appears the Trump team has engaged in some creative accounting, exploiting structural and regulatory nuances to report an artificially low refund rate. The tactic, it seems, accounts for refunded donations through mathematics, without engaging in financial transfers that would trigger reporting requirements.

In other words, the campaign may have found a way to make refunds disappear, thanks to the fungible property of money.

I recommend reading the full article for the details on this scheme. But the clear and important takeaway for us all is that grifter Trump is gaming the system, possibly illegally, to make his campaign cash look better than it is.

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