By Jason Lange and Jarrett Renshaw
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Fundraising groups tied to Republican Party leaders are sharply increasing spending on campaign ads to help the party win control of Congress in the Nov. 8 general elections.
But not Donald Trump’s Save America, a PAC fundraising group that under U.S. election law can fund the Republican former president’s political allies and his frequent rallies but not any election campaign of his own.
Despite amassing more than $90 million in the PAC – an unprecedented sum for a former leader – Trump’s group has yet to report any ad spending to support Republican candidates, according to a disclosure filed to the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday.
While Trump is not obliged to use Save America’s cash pile on ads, his failure to join the Republican spending spree is fueling speculation that he is holding on to it to help fund a possible White House run in 2024, even though Save America by law would not be able to fund his campaign.
A Save America spokesperson gave no indication that the PAC planned to increase its spending like its Republican brethren and said the real value lay not in the PAC’s huge war chest but in Trump himself.
“His rallies, which serve as the most powerful political weapon in American politics, bring out new voters and invaluable media attention that propel candidates to victory,” said Taylor Budowich, a spokesman for Save America.
Republican and Democratic fundraising groups known as PACs and Super PACs, which can spend unlimited sums helping campaigns as long as they don’t coordinate expenditures with candidates, have saturated the U.S. airwaves in recent weeks with television ads, widely seen by both parties as crucial communication tools.
The Republican Party’s two Super PACs tied to its congressional leaders and its two main congressional PACs have poured more than $105 million into political ads since Aug. 20, according to a Reuters analysis of their disclosures to the FEC. That’s more than double what they reported spending this year through Aug. 20.
To be sure, Trump’s Save America PAC has spent money on the midterms: close to $9 million on rallies with candidates where Trump has repeatedly hinted he could run for president again; and a similar amount on direct contributions to allied groups and the more than 200 candidates Trump has endorsed.
But that has only made a small dent in Save America’s war chest, and some of the biggest spending in U.S. elections is on expensive television ads to woo voters, especially in the final weeks before Election Day.
The New York Times reported earlier this month that a federal grand jury in Washington was seeking information on the formation of – and spending by – Save America. Officials have not confirmed the media reports as grand juries typically operate in secret. Budowich declined to comment on the reports.
During the first half of the year, Save America vacuumed in close to a fifth of the funds raised through WinRed, the main Republican online fundraising platform.
Save America regularly sends supporters emails proclaiming them “Patriot of the Month” – or chiding them for not yet contributing. For donors giving at least $45, some emails offer an “epic” t-shirt emblazoned with dozens of photos of the former leader.
“Trump’s PAC could be used to flood the zone with messages supportive of pro-Trump Republican candidates, but with each passing week, more and more voters have already made up their minds,” said Michael Beckell, research director at Issue One, a nonpartisan group that advocates for campaign finance reform.
In the summer, Trump aides floated several Save America spending plans calling for the organization to run ads in support of candidates and provide staff in key elections clashes, according to two people familiar with the plans but who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly.
At least one of the plans called for television commercials that supported Trump-backed candidates but which would largely be about Trump and his political movement, the two people said.
“I would not be surprised if they don’t run one ad supporting a candidate in the election cycle,” said one of the people familiar with Save America’s planning.
(Reporting by Jason Lange and Jarrett Renshaw, Editing by Ross Colvin and Alistair Bell)