WASHINGTON — Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien appears to have taken a 33% pay cut ― $5,000 a month — when he accepted his promotion this summer, another sign of money trouble for a campaign that spent over $1 billion only to have the incumbent president behind in the polls.
Stepien had been deputy campaign manager before he moved up to the top job on July 15 — the day before his firm received $10,000 rather than the $15,000 it had been getting monthly since December 2018, according to a HuffPost review of Federal Election Commission filings.
Neither Stepien nor others in the Trump campaign responded to numerous queries on the matter. If $10,000 a month is, in fact, Stepien’s total new compensation, it would mean he is making far less than the communications director, the press secretary, a number of “senior advisers,” and possibly even the wife of one Trump son and the girlfriend of another.
“That’s a humiliating blow,” said Rick Wilson, a longtime Florida GOP consultant and Trump critic.
“Plainly, they have big money problems and I am guessing Stepien cut his own salary as a prelude to cutting others,” said David Axelrod, the Democratic strategist behind former President Barack Obama’s successful 2008 campaign. “They made a big bet that they could invest early in building a small-dollar digital universe to compete with the Democrats that would pay off late. Well, now it’s late, and they seem to be low on cash.”
The possibility of a cash crunch in the final weeks of the 2020 presidential race has been swirling since the Trump campaign canceled television advertising it had previously scheduled for the final week of August, during the Republican National Convention. The speculation heightened further when Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced record-breaking fundraising for that month, with $364 million in contributions — $154 million more than the Trump campaign announced some days later.
“We don’t have a money problem. We have a spending problem, or had one,” said one top informal adviser to the White House. “We were spending money more than we should have been.”
It’s unclear what real purpose is being served by the cut in pay, which would, if it continues, save the campaign a total of $30,000 over the final six months of the year. The New York Times reported earlier this week that Trump had “gleefully” told others about forcing Stepien to take a pay cut.
The campaign at the same time spent $139,000 to air commercials on CNN and Fox in the Washington, D.C., market for the week ending Sept. 14, according to the tracking firm Advertising Analytics. Those dollars will not put a single ad in front of a single swing-state voter but can be seen by Trump personally.
In addition, Trump has not reduced the various payments from the campaign back into his own cash registers. A payment of $37,542 was sent on July 27 to rent office space in Trump Tower in Manhattan, even though the campaign is based in a high-rise office building in Arlington, Virginia. Nor has the campaign stopped using Trump hotels and restaurants, even though they tend to be considerably more expensive than nearby properties.
A HuffPost analysis of FEC filings shows that from the time he took office through July 31, Trump’s various businesses — from his golf courses to his bottled water company — have taken in $6,979,984 from the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and their two joint fundraising committees.
“We don’t have a money problem. We have a spending problem, or had one. We were spending money more than we should have been.”
It’s unclear whether Stepien’s pay cut is made up for somehow in the byzantine schemes the Trump campaign has set up to avoid public disclosure. For example, the wife of one of Trump’s sons and the girlfriend of another were both being paid $15,000 a month through former campaign manager Brad Parscale’s private firm, keeping their names out of monthly filings with the FEC.
It cannot be known whether their pay has also been cut or even if they are still being paid at all.
Parscale, who was demoted to the campaign’s digital director, did not respond to HuffPost queries on that topic. Nor would he disclose how much of the $39.3 million that has gone to his companies since January 2017 has been income for him personally.
Stepien’s name does not appear in records of campaign salaries at all. However, the firm “Revolution Strategies LLC” began receiving $15,000 a month for “political consulting” starting in December 2018 — when Stepien left his job as political director at the White House to join the campaign. Revolution Strategies has a business address in Washington that coincides with a two-bedroom, one-bath condo that property records show Stepien purchased in 2017.
Neither he nor the campaign responded to numerous queries over a period of weeks as to why the campaign has gone to such efforts to hide payments to its top staff and Trump family members.
“I can only speculate as to why the campaign would want to hide salary payments to senior staffers,” said Brendan Fischer, a lawyer with the watchdog group Campaign Legal Center, which in July filed a complaint with the FEC accusing the Trump campaign of illegally funneling payments through private companies to conceal them.
“Perhaps the campaign wants to avoid news stories about excessive staff salaries, or there could be some other reason. In any case, the law requires that campaigns be transparent about their spending so that we don’t have to be asking these questions.”
Stepien’s pay cut is out of character for the Trump campaign, which has been paying lavish salaries and consulting fees compared to previous Republican presidential campaigns as well as the Biden campaign.
Deputy communications director Erin Perrine, for example, is paid $160,000 ― more than what Biden campaign manager Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, or anyone else on the Biden campaign, is paid. Trump campaign “senior adviser” Katrina Pierson is paid $240,000 annually, while communications director Tim Murtaugh got a $20,000 a year raise, from $230,000 to $250,000, the same month Stepien took a pay cut.
And thanks to his newfound wealth, Parscale, who just a few years ago was designing websites in San Antonio for Trump’s properties, has been able to buy a $2.4 million waterfront house in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a pair of million-dollar condos, a brand new $400,000 boat, and another half-million dollars in luxury cars, including a Range Rover and a Ferrari.
“It’s breathtaking the amount of money raised and spent by team Trump, but even more shocking is how little they have to show for it,” said Rick Tyler, a Republican consultant who worked for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign in 2016.
Added Wilson: “Don the Con got conned. Trump got played by all these people who are making a killing off of this.”