Republicans Are Still Trying to Buy Trump’s Love

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

Donald Trump may no longer hold elected office, but Republican candidates are still paying homage—literally.

Trump’s private companies clocked more than $1.46 million in revenue from GOP candidates and committees in 2021, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

But the total represents a steep drop about previous years—Trump’s first year out of office looks a lot like his first year in office—and comes at a perilous time, when the former president’s profits are hurting and prosecutors appear to be sharpening their knives

Still, more significant than the overall drop is where the decline came from.

About $660,000 of the $1.46 million came from Trump’s own political committees, but the majority flowed in from the national party and GOP candidates, who spent a combined $808,000, mostly on fundraisers at the Republican kingmaker’s various properties. They didn’t get much of a return: Trump gave Republicans only $205,000—shared among 41 candidates.

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That’s a change, because when it comes to lining Trump’s pockets, Trump’s own committees have always led the way.

Over the full 2020 election cycle, covering both 2019 and 2020, Trump’s political operation spent about $5.6 million at his properties, according to dates from the Center for Responsive Politics, with other Republican outfits kicking in about $1.7 million. In all, Trump’s committees have cycled nearly $22 million in donor money back to his businesses since he announced his candidacy in 2015, with his GOP allies adding another approximately $5 million.

When Trump left office, however, those numbers plummeted

Trump’s committees spent more than $1.1 million at his businesses solely in the weeks running up to the November election—nearly double the total across all of 2021.

Trump also saw a decline in the number of people paying up. In 2021, a combined 75 elected officials, candidates, and committees will cut Trump checks. The majority came in the second half of the year, as a slate of new candidates lined up to curry favor with the twice-impeached leader of the Republican party

By comparison though, in 2020, 177 federal committees patronized Trump-owned businesses, according to ProPublica data.

While the dubious honor of the biggest 2021 payment went to the Republican National Committee—a $176,000 expense for a Mar-a-Lago donor getaway last spring—the second largest single check, by far, came from a new candidate. That would be Trump’s longtime friend Herschel Walker, who launched his Georgia Senate bid in August. Three months later, the Trump-endorsed football star splurged on a $135,510 holiday fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago.

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New candidates like Walker rivaled incumbent Trump allies in spending across the board.

Seven of the 13 candidates who spent at least five figures in Trumpworld last year have never held federal office. Along with Walker, they include Ohio Senate hopeful Josh Mandel, Trump White House doctor turned Texas congressional candidate Ronny Jackson, Peter Thiel-backed Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters, Alabama gubernatorial challenger and Trump’s former ambassador to Slovenia Lynda Blanchard, and Kelly Tshibaka, who is taking on Trump target Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Alaska Republican primary.

(Jackson’s campaign also bought $337 worth of copies of Trump’s coffee table book. The books are published by his son Don Jr.’s company; they retail for $75 unsigned and $230 signed.)

That list was topped by Anna Paulina Luna, a Florida congressional aspirant who landed a Trump endorsement in September. Within months, Luna’s campaign committee and Trump-aligned joint fundraising committee had shelled out more than $42,000 at Mar-a-Lago.

Three of the incumbent officials who spent more than $10,000 are aspiring to a new office: Mo Brooks of Alabama, Ted Budd of North Carolina, and Missouri’s Billy Long. All three objected to Trump’s 2020 election defeat, and all hope to level up to the Senate in November.

Those payments are far less notable than one particular Republican, however.

In October, Rep. Greg Pence (R-IN) spent $2,100 on a Halloween dinner at BLT Prime, the restaurant in Trump’s DC hotel. Pence is the older brother of former Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump supporters threatened to hang during the Jan. 6 riots and whom Trump has continued to target.

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Notably, neither of the two official GOP congressional political committees threw much cash Trump’s way. Only the National Republican Senatorial Committee cut a check—for $2,544, also at BLT Prime.

But while the spending in aggregate broke in favor of Trump’s allies, his biggest single benefactor did not change: his old campaign committee.

That entity, redubbed Make America Great Again PAC, injected $450,000 into its boss’ businesses last year. Trump’s Save America leadership PAC chipped in another $181,355. And the two Trump-backed super PACs—Make America Great Again Action and Make America Great Again, Again!—spent a combined $33,000 on fundraisers at Trump golf clubs in Bedminster, NJ, and Palm Beach, FL.

But the majority of Trump’s political profit last year—$375,000 of it—came in the form of ten $37,542 checks his old campaign committee made out to Trump Tower Commercial LLC in New York, where the committee allegedly still maintains offices. The rate hasn’t dropped since Trump left office, suggesting that the committee is still at least paying for, if not occupying, the same square footage it held at the height of the 2020 campaign.

But this year, those checks all went to a curious destination—not Trump Tower, but to a PO box in Hicksville, NY, a suburban Long Island town nearly an hour drive from the flagship building’s Fifth Avenue address.

The rent checks have wandered for years between Trump Tower and Hicksville, seemingly at random, and the mailbox has been the subject of speculation† It sits a short distance from the Trump Organization’s longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, where one of his own personal accountants has worked for decades.

Last week, Mazars dropped the Trump Organization as a client, saying its financial statements were no longer reliable.

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