By Bob Biersack
Even as talk in political circles has focused on the Trump campaign's apparent reliance on the Republican National Committee for much of its basic voter mobilization effort in November, reports filed with the FEC over the weekend show the RNC having arguably the worst fundraising July in at least four presidential cycles.
The RNC reported receiving $27.2 million last month. This sounds like a reasonable total, but a look just below the surface shows it to be a big disappointment. Included among the $27 million figure was a $3.2 million refund from the Trump Make America Great Again super PAC, covering direct mail postage that the RNC had advanced the group in an earlier month. So those $3 million were actually raised months ago and while they can now be spent in the future, they don't really count as "new revenue" for July.
The RNC total also includes $9.4 million in donations to three special accounts with limits on how the funds can be spent. These accounts are specifically intended to support the national convention, the RNC "building fund" for physical infrastructure, and a "recount" fund to pay legal expenses related to election challenges.
Removing these accounting adjustments and restricted funds leaves the RNC with less than $15 million in fully usable contributions received in July. The table below shows the breakdown of RNC receipts by category for each July from 2004 to 2016. In addition to across the board declines in sources of contributions compared to past presidential years, the RNC cash balance at the end of July was less than half of its comparable balance in the last three presidential campaigns.
Virtually every category of receipts shows a decline this year. Contributions from individuals where the amount given is less than $200 (the "unitemized" category) is less than half what it was in July of 2004, 2008 and 2012. There is a similar decline in direct contributions of larger amounts where specific information about the donor is included in the report. These itemized contributions total much less than July 2004 and 2008 and are even smaller than July 2012 when joint fundraising became much more important.
These joint fundraising efforts where the presidential campaign works together with the national party and state parties around the country are increasingly important, and the RNC total from those efforts also lags in July compared with 2012 and 2008. The Trump campaign has talked about huge joint fundraising successes, but neither the campaign nor the RNC has received all that much from this process so far comparatively.
People often look at cash balances and the end of the month to get a feel for how a committee is positioned for future spending. Here too, the RNC on July 31 was strikingly short of its own status on the same date in past campaigns. At a time when $70 to $90 million is the norm, the RNC finds itself with only $34.5 million in the bank.
In a campaign finance world where unlimited donations can be made to super PACs and other outside groups at any time, and where hundreds of thousands of dollars can be given by a single individual to national and state parties, a tough fundraising month doesn't necessarily spell disaster for a national party committee. Time is running out, though, and the demands of a challenging national campaign don't lend themselves to quick fixes. In this world, the RNC can't really afford another month like July.