Unlike other recent presidents, Donald Trump has rarely received campaign donations from his top advisers. They offer a range of explanations.
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Some of former President Donald J. Trump’s advisers said their time working for him was worth more than any check they could afford to write. Others pointed to his personal wealth and his already brimming campaign coffers.
WASHINGTON — To pay for three presidential campaigns, Donald J. Trump has raised billions of dollars from corporate executives, online donors and, during his first race, even his own pocket.
One source of money Mr. Trump has never successfully tapped: the people closest to him.
While other recent presidents routinely drew financial support from key campaign aides and West Wing advisers, contributions to Mr. Trump from his team have been the exception rather than the norm.
The lack of contributions from the Trump team is surprising, given the former president’s penchant for testing his top staff members’ allegiances and his tendency to view loyalty through a starkly transactional lens. Mr. Trump is also known to harbor deep resentment over the manner in which aides — in real or perceived ways — have leveraged their connections to him for their own financial gain.
The contrast also offers a window into how Mr. Trump, whose temperamental management style led to record turnover in the West Wing, has treated the people he has worked with most closely.
Many of Mr. Trump’s advisers, who were often expected to work around the clock, said this time spent working for him was worth more to the campaign than any check they could afford to write. Others pointed to Mr. Trump’s personal wealth and his already brimming campaign coffers, suggesting that their contribution either would not matter or would not be missed.
Meanwhile, aides to Mr. Trump’s predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and his successor, Joseph R. Biden Jr., explained their contributions as a reflection of the loyalty and enthusiasm inspired by their respective bosses.
A review of eight years of campaign finance records showed only a handful of contributions to Mr. Trump’s campaigns or political committees from more than 40 of his senior staff members who had a hand in his three presidential campaigns and during his four years in the White House.
The opposite was true for a similar list of key advisers for Mr. Biden, Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush. The list was also checked against Federal Election Commission records for the presidents’ campaigns and related committees.
ImageReince Priebus was Mr. Trump’s first White House chief of staff, but never directly contributed to his campaigns.Credit…Andrew Harnik/Associated Press
Reince Priebus, Mr. Trump’s first White House chief of staff, spent roughly $130,000 on federal candidates and political committees during the past eight years. Those donations included $5,000 to the Republican National Committee in 2020 and $1,000 in 2018 to a leadership political action committee run by Vice President Mike Pence. Mr. Priebus, who declined to comment, never directly contributed to Mr. Trump.
David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, the top strategists for Mr. Obama’s first campaign, and Karl Rove, who held a similar position for Mr. Bush, contributed to the campaigns that employed them. So did Mike Donilon, who was Mr. Biden’s chief strategist in 2020.
Who’s Running for President in 2024?
Card 1 of 7
The race begins. Four years after a historically large number of candidates ran for president, the field for the 2024 campaign is starting out small and is likely to be headlined by the same two men who ran last time: President Biden and former President Donald J. Trump. Here’s who has entered the race so far, and who else might run:
Donald Trump. The former president is running to retake the office he lost in 2020. Though somewhat diminished in influence within the Republican Party — and facing several legal investigations — he retains a large and committed base of supporters, and he could be aided in the primary by multiple challengers splitting a limited anti-Trump vote.
Nikki Haley. The former governor of South Carolina and U.N. ambassador under Mr. Trump has presented herself as a member of “a new generation of leadership” and emphasized her life experience as a daughter of Indian immigrants. She was long seen as a rising G.O.P. star but her allure in the party has declined amid her on-again, off-again embrace of Mr. Trump.
Vivek Ramaswamy. The multimillionaire entrepreneur and author describes himself as “anti-woke” and is known in right-wing circles for opposing corporate efforts to advance political, social and environmental causes. He has never held elected office and does not have the name recognition of most other G.O.P. contenders.
President Biden. While Mr. Biden has not formally declared his candidacy for a second term, and there has been much hand-wringing among Democrats over whether he should seek re-election given his age, he is widely expected to run. If he does, Mr. Biden’s strategy is to frame the race as a contest between a seasoned leader and a conspiracy-minded opposition.
Marianne Williamson. The self-help author and former spiritual adviser to Oprah Winfrey is the first Democrat to formally enter the race. Kicking off her second presidential campaign, Ms. Williamson called Mr. Biden a “weak choice” and said the party shouldn’t fear a primary. Few in Democratic politics are taking her entry into the race seriously.
Others who are likely to run. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire are seen as weighing Republican bids for the White House.
Stephen K. Bannon, who was Mr. Trump’s top strategist in 2016 and in the White House, gave $25,000 in 2017 to a group called Black Americans for a Better Future, and contributed $2,800 in 2019 to Kris Kobach’s campaign for Senate in Kansas. But Mr. Bannon never gave to Mr. Trump.
“I have never given to any politician except a buddy, Kris Kobach,” Mr. Bannon said.
Among the first four Trump campaign managers, the only one to give a maximum contribution was Brad Parscale, who was often the subject of unproven accusations from his colleagues — as well as Mr. Trump — that he was pocketing money from the campaign.
Bill Stepien, who offered to take a pay cut in order to replace Mr. Parscale as campaign manager, gave the Trump campaign a series of small contributions.
Corey Lewandowski, Mr. Trump’s first campaign manager, has not contributed to Mr. Trump, but he has spent about $17,000 on other federal campaigns. Similarly, Kellyanne Conway, another former campaign manager, has not contributed to Mr. Trump, but has spent nearly $30,000 on other campaigns in the past eight years.
“I have donated thousands upon thousands of hours of my time to help President Trump without compensation,” Mr. Lewandowski said, adding that he had also paid for his own travel to support the former president since 2017.
Ms. Conway said she “gave at the office.”
“In 2016, I did better than stroke a check — I became Trump’s campaign manager and he won,” she said, adding that she did not contribute to any federal candidates during the four years she worked in the Trump White House.
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There are also no donations in the past eight years from Mr. Trump’s senior leadership team for his 2024 campaign, including Susie Wiles, who worked without a salary for two years before the campaign started in November, and Chris LaCivita. Mr. LaCivita’s only federal contribution during the past eight years was to a Virginia House candidate.
Jason Miller, who is working for Mr. Trump for the third consecutive campaign, has given nearly $40,000 to other federal campaigns since 2015. But he has never donated to Mr. Trump.
“President Trump represents and fights for the working men and women of America, and the people who work for him are a reflection of that,” said Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Mr. Trump. “In contrast to how the swamp usually operates, people on the campaign have dedicated their lives to this honorable cause.”
One outlier inside Mr. Trump’s entourage was Anthony Scaramucci, who contributed more than $250,000 to the Trump campaign and political committees in 2016 before working as the Trump White House communications director. Mr. Scaramucci was fired after 11 days and has since contributed to numerous anti-Trump candidates and causes.
Major donors, like Mr. Scaramucci, are often selected for administration roles. Steven Mnuchin, who was the Trump campaign finance director in 2016, served as Treasury secretary. Penny Pritzker was the Obama campaign’s finance director in 2012 and later served as the administration’s commerce secretary.
Mr. Trump also has not received contributions from most of his children, who have been unusually active in his political career.
Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Trump’s eldest son, gave $5,000 in 2017 to America First Action, a political committee that supported the president. But the only other gift from his siblings was a $376.20 in-kind contribution from Eric Trump to cover meals at a meeting during the 2016 race. Both of those Trump sons, and their significant others, Kimberly Guilfoyle and Lara Trump, have helped raise tens of millions for Mr. Trump’s political efforts, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Biden’s children Ashley and Hunter gave their father small online donations during the 2020 campaign. Michelle Obama, Mr. Obama’s wife, gave her husband $399 during his first campaign in 2007.
Image“I have never given to any politician except a buddy, Kris Kobach,” said Stephen K. Bannon.Credit…Rebecca Noble for The New York Times
Both of Mr. Obama’s campaign managers, David Plouffe and Jim Messina, contributed to their boss, as did Mr. Bush’s two campaign managers, Joe Allbaugh and Ken Mehlman, and Mr. Biden’s general election manager, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon.
Some Obama and Bush aides described an unspoken expectation for campaign contributions, particularly among top aides, though they said this was not rooted in direct pressure from the candidate.
Put simply, aides wanted to give money to the boss.
“I wanted to be on that list” of contributors, said Jennifer Palmieri, an Obama White House communications director. “Especially as senior staff, I wanted to show I was doing my part. Because this was not just a job for me — it’s my calling, it’s what I’m about.”
Ari Fleischer, a White House press secretary for Mr. Bush, recalled writing a $500 check to the 2000 Bush campaign while he was working on it. Mr. Bush, then the governor of Texas, was on the ropes after losing three early primary contests to Senator John McCain of Arizona, and his huge war chest had taken a significant hit.
“It was a lot of money for me at the time, but I was happy to part with it because I wanted him to win,” Mr. Fleischer said.
For Mr. Bush’s second campaign, Mr. Fleischer had left the White House and opened a consulting firm. He was eager to give Mr. Bush a maximum contribution.
Anita Dunn, who donated to both of the Obama and Biden campaigns she worked for, said she felt a “deep commitment to the success” of those candidacies.
“The best presidential campaigns feel like crusades, and you want to support that person in every way possible — with your efforts and financially, if you have the ability to do so,” Ms. Dunn said.
While none of Mr. Trump’s four White House chiefs of staff, including Mr. Priebus, donated to the president they served, both of Mr. Biden’s chiefs, Ron Klain and Jeffrey Zients, donated to the president’s 2020 campaign, on which they served as advisers.
Mr. Obama did not receive contributions from his first two chiefs of staff, Rahm Emanuel and Pete Rouse, but did from his third and fourth, William M. Daley and Jacob J. Lew. Mr. Bush’s first White House chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., donated to his campaign, but his second, Joshua B. Bolten, did not.
But the Obama and Bush chiefs who did not contribute also had no record of giving to any other federal committee or candidate during the 10 years their bosses each were in office and running for office.
On the other hand, Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s final chief of staff, has given more than $8,000 to other candidates and committees during the past eight years.
Mick Mulvaney, Mr. Trump’s second-longest-serving chief of staff with 15 months in the job, gave about $20,000 to other candidates during that time.
Why did Mr. Mulvaney never contribute to Mr. Trump?
“I never got the impression that he needed the money,” he said.