How Trump and Biden raise campaign funds

As of: April 12, 2024 11:00 a.m

Election campaigns in the USA consume an enormous amount of money. Trump and Biden are therefore doing a lot to collect donations. Even if money doesn’t always decide everything in the end, experts criticize this dependence of politics.

In most polls so far, Joe Biden has trailed Donald Trump. But Biden has long been clearly ahead in one area: collecting campaign funds. At the end of March, Biden’s campaign team said it had $192 million in its coffers, around twice as much as Trump. And Biden is spending the money with full hands, for example running election advertising in swing states – particularly contested states – where a few thousand votes can make the difference.

“As bad as Trump was as president, the economy was even worse under him. And black Americans felt it the most,” Biden says in a commercial that is targeted at metropolitan areas with a high proportion of black voters.

From the Bible to the golden sneaker

Trump is causing a stir with completely different actions: Not only did he claim to have raised $50 million from a single fundraising dinner – according to the Washington Post, a seat at Trump’s table cost $814,600.

For example, he encourages small donors to buy a Bible for just under $60: “All Americans need a Bible at home. I have many, it’s my favorite book,” Trump says in the online video, adding a variation of his slogan, “Make America great again”: “We have to make America pray again”.

At a shoe trade fair, Trump touted gold sneakers – for $399 a pair. “The sneakers are just a flashy version of what’s happening in many campaigns, including Biden’s,” said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a campaign finance expert at Stetson University in Florida. “The promotional items are produced for a fraction of their price, the rest is collected as campaign donations.” Some details are strange, but the overall picture is serious, says the law professor.

According to the website OpenSecrets, the 2020 presidential election campaign cost $14.4 billion, more than twice as much as in 2016. And in 2024 it is expected to be even more expensive.

Millionaire politicians

Problem number one: It is mainly very rich people who go into politics, and this also applies to representatives and senators: “For a very long time, most congressmen and senators have actually been millionaires,” says Torres-Spelliscy. There are more and more individual cases in which members of parliament are elected who have no assets and who come to the top through clever social media campaigns. “But that remains rare.”

Problem number two: the influence of major donors. The legislative process is so complicated that it can rarely be proven that a specific donation leads to a specific decision – for example, in the case of a donation from an oil or weapons producer. But the dependencies are there, says Torres-Spelliscy.

“There’s a reason why some people compare legislation to sausage production. You don’t really want to watch it happen.”

Hardly any punishment for violations of the donation law

Problem number three: The Federal Election Authority (FEC) has an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. In disputes as to whether a campaign donation is legal or not, a stalemate usually results and violations are rarely punished.

This also plays a role in the question of whether Trump should be allowed to cover part of the legal fees for his many legal proceedings from campaign funds, says Torres-Spelliscy. From their point of view, Trump is on the threshold of further indictment.

In the end, the voters decide

But in the end, money isn’t everything, emphasizes the professor. Hillary Clinton already had more money at her disposal in the 2016 election campaign, but Trump won. That’s why Biden’s money advantage is no guarantee of success.

The expert’s conclusion: “Money has a major influence on politics in the USA.” But in the end the voters decide. “Everyone should go vote, tune out all the noise of the election campaign and say to themselves: I’m voting for the candidate who represents my interests.”

Ralf Borchard, ARD Washington, tagesschau, April 12, 2024 5:44 a.m

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