(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The president of the United States, a self-described multibillionaire, is still claiming the 2020 election was rigged — and he wants you to give him some of your money to help him sort that out.
Ever since it became clear Joe Biden was the president-elect, Donald Trump’s campaign has pushed out a tsunami of text messages and email solicitations seeking donations to defray legal bills it’s incurred while trying, unsuccessfully, to overturn the election. Already, the effort has raised between $150 million and $170 million, according to the Washington Post and the New York Times.
What’s the likelihood all of that money will actually be used to defray Trump’s legal bills? You already know the answer.
As Bloomberg News and others reported weeks ago, most of the donations to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee get funneled to Save America, Trump’s new political action committee. The rest goes to the Republican National Committee. Trump’s PAC isn’t required to use the money exclusively for legal fees; it can also be used for political expenses such as travel, fundraising and donations to other candidates.
While Trump’s team continues to hit up small donors enamored of the idea that somebody managed to unfairly steer about 7 million votes to Biden that should have gone to Trump, reality has intruded. Attorney General William Barr — the same guy who helped Trump dodge former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and has run other interference for the president — told the Associated Press on Tuesday that “the Justice Department has not uncovered evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.”
In addition to Barr, Trump has also lost courageous local officials from both parties who have ensured that the country enjoyed a secure and reliable election. The pivotal states Trump needed to win in his voting fraud charade have now certified their results in Biden’s favor.
It’s over. No fraud.
But it never was really about the fraud, and I suspect Trump hasn’t really believed for a single minute that he was robbed of the presidency.
Trump has had multiple reasons for trying to taint the election: He can’t come to terms with the idea of being a loser. He faces legal and financial challenges that would have been made less harrowing if he could remain in the Oval Office and continue enjoying the protections of the presidency. And now we can add another factor to the mix: Trump has discovered that running around claiming the sky is falling is a money-making proposition.
Preying on the sentiments of others to make a buck isn’t an entirely new experience for Trump, of course. He has spent a lifetime surfing waves created by other people’s money, including from his father, his investors and his bankers.
He and his three eldest children presided over a “charity,” the Trump Foundation, that the New York State attorney general’s office put out of business in 2018 because of a “shocking pattern of illegality” and “willful self-dealing” that allowed them to turn the faux philanthropy into the family’s piggy bank. Trump eagerly solicited donations from others to fund his foundation but was never willing to be as generous with his own money.
Back in September, Trump’s presidential campaign was running on financial fumes after months of profligate spending had caused his operation to blow through almost $1 billion. Trump claimed at the time that he’d be willing to put $100 million of his own money into his campaign if it needed a shot in the arm. Did he? No.
Trump has made his newest fundraising push a family affair. On Twitter, his son Eric has asked donors to contribute to his father’s “Election Defense Fund.” For anywhere from $45 (get it?) to $2,020 (get it?) you can “Join the Election Defense Team.” If you don’t want to give money to the defense team, some of Eric’s other tweets invite you to buy discounted vino from the Trump Winery.
It’s possible the lawyers fronting Trump’s election putsch also see the financial upside for the president and themselves as reason to shred their own ethics and reputations. (Rudy Giuliani apparently has an added incentive: He’s reportedly seeking a pardon from the president.)
But if you’re not Trump, his child or one of his lawyers, why tie your fortunes to him? Anybody contributing to Trump’s “Election Defense” should remember he’s never put his own money on the table when he’s found suckers willing to take the risk instead.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Timothy L. O'Brien is a senior columnist for Bloomberg Opinion.
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