ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.: Donald Trump says he is only asking wealthy donors for their money because the Republican National Committee wants him to.
In an interview with The Associated Press, that’s how the presumptive GOP presidential nominee explained his about-face from self-funded candidate to one who relies on campaign contributions. Trump is holding his first fundraisers this week, including a $25,000-per-ticket dinner Wednesday in Los Angeles.
“The RNC really wanted to do it, and I want to show good spirit,” Trump said in a phone interview with the AP. “‘Cause I was very happy to continue to go along the way I was.”
Trump’s personal investment in his quest for the White House has been a point of pride, a boast making its way into nearly every rally and interview. Through the end of April, the billionaire businessman had lent his campaign at least $43 million, enough to pay for most of his primary bid.
“By self-funding my campaign, I am not controlled by my donors, special interests or lobbyists. I am working only for the people of the U.S.!” he wrote on Twitter in September.
With this week’s fundraisers, which also included a small gathering Tuesday in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Trump gains hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars but loses his ability to accurately claim independence from donors.
Trump’s voters repeatedly have cited that as a top reason they back him. It’s not clear how they will react now.
Perhaps to assuage those voter concerns, Trump is trying to promote his fundraising agreement as beneficial to other Republicans, not his own campaign.
The deal itself shows Trump comes first.
For every check he solicits — and donors can give almost $450,000 apiece — the first $5,400 goes to Trump’s primary and general election campaign accounts. The rest is spread among the RNC and 11 state parties.
The RNC can use its money to help Republican candidates for Senate and House. However, Trump’s team and Republican officials also have said the RNC plans to take the lead on major presidential campaign activities such as voter identification and turnout.
Asked by the AP if he sees a contradiction in asking for money after repeatedly saying he stood above the other candidates because he didn’t, Trump said, “No, because I’m raising money for the party. And if I didn’t do it this way, I wouldn’t be able to raise money for the party.”
There is no requirement that a presidential candidate’s fundraising agreement with the party include his or her own campaign. That is, Trump could have continued to self-fund his campaign and simultaneously helped raise money for the RNC.
Trump also first denied to the AP that he is raising any money for the primary. Reminded of the terms of the fundraising agreement, he then said primary donations don’t really count because he already has defeated his GOP rivals.
He promised not to use any donor money to pay down his loans. That means he has until the Republican convention in late July to spend any primary contributions he collects.
Despite Trump’s comments to the AP that he would have carried on self-funding if not for the RNC, in other media interviews he has expressed a reluctance to sell buildings or other assets to pay for a costly general election.
“It would be foolish for him to unilaterally disarm against Hillary Clinton,” said Roger Stone, Trump’s friend and informal political adviser, when asked about why Trump decided to take donations.
Trump’s likely opponent, the former secretary of state, aims to have $1 billion for her bid, through her campaign, the Democratic Party and outside groups.
The presumptive GOP nominee’s still-forming fundraising team, led by Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s national finance chairman, and Lew Eisenberg, the RNC’s national finance chairman, is rushing to schedule events.
Trump and the RNC on Tuesday announced new additions to the financial operation, including New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, roofing company owner Diane Hendricks and former Ambassador Mel Sembler, who each helped raise major money for previous presidential candidates.
Earlier this year Trump singled out Johnson, predicting that his fundraising for Jeb Bush would influence Bush’s positions on prescription drug policies. Johnson’s family founded the Johnson & Johnson medical and pharmaceutical company.
At the Wednesday fundraiser, donors will hobnob with Trump at a reception and dinner at the Los Angeles home of his friend and fellow real estate investor Tom Barrack, whose publicist said he is passionate about surfing and horses and is the “son of hard-working Lebanese parents.”
The price of admission includes a photo with Trump.
Eisenberg said the Trump fundraising agreement enables the party to “recover the interest and enthusiasm of major donors and raise the money needed to win a Republican presidency, Senate and House, as well as secure the Supreme Court.”
Two past presidential fundraisers who are hoping to join Trump’s finance team are convinced he’ll raise the money needed to win.
For Trump, who has never sought out donors, “the low-hanging fruit is more abundant than it’s ever been for anyone at this point in a presidential cycle,” said Rick Hohlt, a Washington lobbyist. Donors, he said, are excited to meet Trump — many for the first time.
In Florida, Palm Beach real estate agent Teresa Dailey said, “People are anxiously waiting to help him, and they haven’t had the opportunity because of his self-funding.”