The Republican Party Doesn't Need Donald Trump

Is it true that the RNC needs Donald Trump to keep raising money for the state and local races? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Gary Teal, Still Republican, on Quora:

This only makes sense if donors are lining up to fund Trump and have lost enthusiasm for the rest of the GOP, and Trump is working hard to raise money. I believe the opposite is the case.

I'd be willing to bet that Trump himself is not burning up the telephone lines and raising tens of millions of dollars. It's the RNC staff that's doing the work, and as you'll see below, they could look a donor in the eye, and say, if this is what the donor wanted to hear, "We want a half million bucks. Only 1% of it will go to Trump."

The RNC doesn't even have to cut off the Trump campaign, because the money is already allocated by prior agreement. What Trump gets is fixed by campaign finance law and two joint fundraising agreements that were signed in May.

The RNC doesn't typically send money directly to candidates for state and local office. The money those candidates need is raised by the specific candidate committee, and by state and local party committees. The Republican National Committee and its sister committees, on the other hand, focus on federal races, which of course are run at the state and local level, but the winners make up the US Congress and occupy the White House.

There are two committees closely allied with the Republican National Committee: the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. Those two committees typically raise most of their own money to support candidates for the two respective chambers of Congress. Members who are popular and have reputations outside their own district build good will from other members by raising money for these two committees. The Congressional and Senate committees are run by the Members, who obviously have a political interest in building and retaining as many seats as they can win. Money that comes directly to these committees via their own in-house fundraising efforts and the calls made by Members is spent for races that affect that chamber, so they have little or nothing to do with the Presidential race.

The Republican National Committee is concerned primarily with raising money to support the party's presidential nominee. The Federal Election Commission regulations include a structure called a "Joint Fundraising Agreement". (Lawyers and people with too much time on their hands, see Joint Fundraising on the FEC site.) Under these agreements, the presidential candidate and the relevant party committee (or any collection of various committees, for that matter) sit down and agree on how the money that is raised will be allocated. Fundraising expenses also are allocated by the same formula. On May 17, 2016, the Trump campaign announced two joint fundraising agreements it had reached with the RNC. The "Trump Victory" Joint Fundraising Agreement splits costs and raises money for the Trump campaign, the RNC itself, the NRCC, the NRSC, two additional special accounts for all three of these committees restricted to spending for any legal fees they may incur (mostly during recounts), the cost of the headquarters they occupy, and in the case of the RNC only, a fund to pay for the Republican National Convention that was held in Cleveland in July. (The Trump Make America Great Again joint agreement, should you donate to that fund, is simpler; the money is divided according to the standard contribution limits between just the RNC and the Trump campaign.)

It might help to visualize these major party committee accounts:

RNC: Unrestricted / HQ / Legal / Convention

NRCC Unrestricted / HQ / Legal

NRSC Unrestricted / HQ / Legal

According to the press release for the Trump Victory Joint Fundraising Agreement, you can contribute up to $449,400. (See Joint Fundraising Agreement Press Release between Trump Campaign and the GOP.)

Here is a table of the relevant Federal Election Commission contribution limits, so let's figure out where all that money could go.

An individual can donate $2,700 to the Trump campaign for the primary (even today, to pay Trump back for what he spent during the primary), plus $2700 for the general election, and at that point, they are maxed out - they can't give more than $5,400 directly to Donald Trump's campaign. But let's say someone has a half million dollars burning a hole in their pocket and they want to help. They can give $33,400 each to the RNC, the NRCC, and the NRSC. They can give another $33,400 each to those three committees to special accounts to fund legal challenges, another $33,400 each for headquarters expenses, and for the RNC alone, $33,400 to fund the national convention. That's $334,000 more. But wait - there's even more! Eleven states are included in the joint fundraising agreement. They are Arkansas, Connecticut, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The individual contribution for state parties is $10,000, so that's an opportunity to give another $110,000.

So let's add up the bill, Mr. Fatcat. You're giving $5,400 to the Trump Committee, $110,000 to eleven states, and $33,400 each to ten different party accounts. That will come to $449,400. And that's the number at the bottom of the Trump press release.

Now this money is allocated to these twenty one different entities. What can they do with the money? Well, seven of the entities, accounts for the convention, legal fees, and headquarters, are restricted to those purposes, period. That's $233,800, or more than half the pot. The state committees, per the chart above, can give up to $5k back to the candidate, and as much as they like to the national central committee, but not by prior agreement, I'd think, or it would be mathe-magical money-laundering, kickback, not-technically illegal shakedown, but in any case, the state party isn't going to do that; they have their own expenses and state races to fund*. That's $110,000 more that doesn't go to Trump. Another $66,800 is dedicated to the two committees working for Congressional and Senate campaigns, and they're not going to give money to the Trump campaign, I can assure you.

*Looks like "mathe-magical money-laundering, kickback, not-technically illegal shakedown" was good enough for Clinton: See Millions From Maxed-Out Clinton Donors Flowed Through Loophole. This is precisely how she raised so much money this summer. Maxed out mega-donors simply funneled millions through the state parties, which gave it back to the Democratic National Committeee. I'd be fascinated to know whether they did this out of the goodness of their hearts, just spontaneously, or whether there was always an agreement in place to funnel the money back upstream.)

So all we have left is the $33,400 that the RNC got to spend, as it sees fit, for the good of the Grand Old Party. It's less than 7.5% of what they collected if the donor completely maxed out. It can transfer $5,000 to the Trump campaign, but it can only do that one time. So what it's doing is hiring staff in the field (there are hundreds of them, deployed to pivotal states and districts), and paying vendors to make phone calls and send direct mail and create and place TV and radio ads. The RNC controls this money. But they could call a staffer and tell them to evacuate their post and redeploy to a place where they can make a difference. They could design a mailer that fails to mention the Presidential candidate, or fail to even include him in a telephone survey. That would be controversial, and almost unprecedented. It did happen in 1996 when Bob Dole was clearly on his way to a defeat. At the end of the day, the RNC's job is to ensure the health of the entire party. In any normal year, that would mean focusing on capturing the White House. But in politics, nobody invests in sure things or lost causes.

The joint fundraising agreement itself is apparently not available to the public, but prospective donors certainly learn exactly how the funds and expenses will be allocated. The FEC press office (h/t) tells me that the Committee has to turn it over if the FEC asks for it, but the FEC is not planning to ask for it unless they have some enforcement action or other reason to do so. Almost certainly the first $5,400 does go to the Trump campaign. But that means the first expenses are also allocated to the Trump candidate committee. It's not clear to me whether a $6,000 donation would be allocating to the other twenty accounts according to percentages that don't change, or they all have priorities and you essentially max out to each one, in some order, until your donation runs out. I'd like to find out.

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