If Donald Trump runs for President, he should forgo public finance and federal matching funds not just because, as a mega-wealthy billionaire, he can, but because doing so would allow him to spend in the early primary and caucus state’s without federal limitation. A candidate who accepts matching funds also agrees to observe strict spending limits in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, Florida, and all the primary and caucus states. A candidate who self-funds and doesn’t accept Federal matching funds is under no such limitations.
Bypassing public finance, Trump can leverage his wealth to outspend his opponents in the early states, gaining a significant strategic advantage. Sadly, Trump advisor Michael Cohen, a vice president of the Trump organization, doesn’t seem to understand this. City Hall newspaper recently reported “Cohen said that Trump would raise money from average citizens, rather than just funnel his own money into a campaign.”He wants citizens in the country to have skin in the game,” he said.
While there is little doubt that Trump could raise maximum $2,600 contributions from many of his wealthy friends and supporters, it is truly questionable how many low-dollar donors he could muster. Who gives money to a billionaire?
To the extent that Trump’s wealthy friends wish to support him, they would be best off putting their money into a 527 organization, where they can give without limitation, rather than donating the lousy $2,600 they are limited to if they donate to an official Trump For President organization.
The spending limits on each state are set by the Federal Election Commission based on a formula. Under all circumstances, these limits are fundamentally inadequate, given the advertising and communication costs in each state, causing candidates to “cheat” by, for example, crossing the New Hampshire state border to sleep in Massachusetts and return to the Granite State in the morning so as not to incur the lodging costs for the candidate and his entourage in the calculation of the New Hampshire state spending limit.
By forgoing public finance and completely funding his own campaign, Trump would not have to play these games. He could sink $3 million into Iowa and $5 million into New Hampshire to prevail in those contests. Early victories mean he could spend far less than the state limits in the states that choose their delegates later in the process after his opponents have dropped out.
Trump could still write an unlimited check to his own campaign if he chooses not to bypass public finance and matching funds, but would be giving up the single most significant advantage his mega-wealth affords him; the ability to outspend Mitt Romney and the rest of the field in the early contests, where a Trump candidacy must flourish or die.
Trump himself told ABC News he could spend up to $600 million of his own money if he runs. I’ve made it clear that I neither represent or speak for Trump, but I hope he runs and believe his ability to self-fund a campaign without federal matching funds and outspend his opponents in the early primaries and caucuses is one of the keys to victory.