Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump continues to claim his campaign is self-funded, which Trump claims is important because it makes him the only candidate who isn’t beholden to donors, special-interest groups, and others. At the February 25th CNN-Telemundo debate in Houston, Texas, Trump said:
I’m self-funding my campaign. I’m the only one in either party self-funding my campaign. I’m going to do what’s right. We have to get rid of the lines around the states so that there’s serious, serious competition.
I have heard for quite some time that this claim isn’t really true, but until now, I never took the time to actually investigate it for myself. Well, the results are in, and it appears Mr. Trump is being very disingenuous (at best) or is absolutely lying his ass off. According to Federal Election Commission filings, Trump received more than $25.5 million for his campaign (from a variety of sources) by the end of January 2016. Of that $25.5 million, $7.5 million (about 21 percent) came from donors, including numerous business owners.
Now, some might argue that 22 percent isn’t significant enough to accuse Trump of lying, and that’s probably fair, but the really misleading part of all this is that the $18 million or so Trump has given to his own campaign, $17.5 million of it is in the form of a candidate loan, not a direct donation. This means that although Trump is putting up the cash for at least 75 percent of his campaign receipts, almost all of the money he’s donating can eventually be paid back to Trump using the donations given to him by his supporters.
In other words, when the campaign is all said and done, Trump may end up not spending a single penny of his own money. He could, of course, choose not to pay back his own loans, but if he is truly committed to self-funding, Trump could have just donated the money directly to himself. There is no reason (at least, none that I can tell) for why Trump would choose to loan the money to his campaign instead of donate it, except for the fact that loaned money can be paid back.
This, whether you like it or not, is not really “self-funding.”
Interestingly, former GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina found herself in hot water in September 2015 when it came to light that she chose to repay loans she made to her own 2010 U.S. Senate campaign instead of pay her staff and vendors. I’m not saying, of course, that Trump would do this, but I don’t think it’s very honest for Trump to tell everyone he is self-funded and then go on to collect more than $ 7 million in donations from individuals, which he knows he can use to repay the loans he’s made to his own campaign.