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Donald Trump's indictment-fueled throng of small donors looms over rivals

The former president’s legal woes are putting financial strain on his political operation. But he can call on the support of more donors than the rest of the GOP field combined.
Former President Donald Trump in Waco, Texas, on March 25, 2023.
Former President Donald Trump in Waco, Texas, on March 25.Evan Vucci / AP file

Former President Donald Trump's political operation may be bleeding money as it tries to cover millions of dollars in legal fees, but the GOP frontrunner has an important asset that none of his rivals appear to possess: a massive, renewable pool of small-dollar donor money.

The former president came into this presidential race with no equals among Republican small-dollar donors, as the party spent years building its online fundraising apparatus around Trump.

But supercharged by his indictment in New York City back in April and another indictment on federal charges in June, Trump's online donor army is far greater than the rest of the GOP field.

New fundraising data from WinRed, the online donation processing firm used by Trump and most Republican candidates, shows he ended June with almost 400,000 unique, online donors from the launch of his campaign through the end of June. That includes more than 115,000 new, online donors who joined the fold the week surrounding the New York indictment, plus another 29,000 who gave for the first time in the 2024 campaign after his federal indictment in Miami.

By comparison, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott closed June with around 40,000 online donors disclosed in WinRed's filing. At the lower end of the spectrum, Trump's ex-running mate, former Vice President Mike Pence, had less than 3,000.

The huge stratification between the haves and the have-nots in the world of online donors mimics the state of the Republican race. Trump remains in a league of his own, with the rest of the field miles behind.

Building out a robust online donor list has gained importance in recent years because it's a way to turn moments into money quickly. Candidates can immediately ping their donor lists over email or text and hope for quick responses from people who can give again and again in virtually one click. It’s one major reason why many candidates have upped their spending on digital ads as they’ve looked to amass enough donors to qualify for the debate stage.

(While Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump’s top rival and the far-and-away second-best fundraiser in the GOP field, uses WinRed to process his online fundraising, his online donations were not available in the latest filing. WinRed did not respond to a request for clarification about why DeSantis’ donations were not included in its filing.)

Virtually every candidate unsurprisingly saw big spikes in new donors around their official campaign launch dates. But in Trump's case, news of his indictments didn't just bring in tons of new money for him, it brought in a significant number of new donors.

Trump saw a slight, but notable uptick in new donors around when he posted on social media, in late March, that he expected to be indicted by a grand jury in Manhattan related to allegations he paid hush money related to an affair. But the real jump came around the indictment itself. Trump saw another, smaller uptick around his federal indictment related to his handling of classified documents in June.

That massive collection of unique donors is a special boon for Trump because it gives him a large universe of donors to pull from, something that's especially important given that once someone gives a candidate $3,300, they've hit the federal maximum and cannot give to that candidate again until the general election.

Trump's main opponent, DeSantis, relied primary on donors who have already hit that federal maximum, underscoring the importance of Trump's massive online donor base.

(This analysis does not include unique donors who gave offline, as WinRed only captures online donations. But it does include those who donated to candidates joint fundraising committees, as those funds are split up between the campaigns and other allied groups.)

While DeSantis' numbers were not accessible from WinRed's filing, there's important information to be gleaned from other candidates' online fundraising too.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose late announcement and aggressive criticism of Trump raised questions as to whether he could gain enough traction in a GOP that largely supports Trump, accumulated donors at a torrid pace since his mid June announcement.

He eclipsed 30,000 unique online donors in just 25 days as an official candidate, the fastest pace of any candidate who did not start in an exploratory phase. Scott hit 30,000 faster from the moment he announced his presidential bid, but he spent the prior month steadily accumulating donors after he announced he was exploring running for president.

Compare that to the two other GOP candidates who announced the same week, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former Vice President Mike Pence, who ended June with less than 6,000 and 3,000 unique online donors respectively.

Christie and Burgum's campaigns have since said they eclipsed the Republican National Committee's 40,000 unique donor threshold to make the first debate later this month.

Pence's campaign manager told donors during a Wednesday Zoom that the campaign had more than 30,000 unique donors and predicted that they would clear 40,000 by the end of next week.

The aide, Steve DeMaura, added that online fundraising won't make up as large a part of Pence's fundraising apparatus than it will for other candidates because "direct mail is our strongest source of grassroots donor support."