WASHINGTON ― After bragging for a year about how cheaply he was running his campaign, Donald Trump is spending more freely now that other people are contributing ― particularly when the beneficiary is himself.
Trump nearly quintupled the monthly rent his presidential campaign pays for its headquarters at Trump Tower to $169,758 in July, when he was raising funds from donors, compared with March, when he was self-funding his campaign, according to a Huffington Post review of Federal Election Commission filings. The rent jumped even though he was paying fewer staff in July than he did in March.
The Trump campaign paid Trump Tower Commercial LLC $35,458 in March ― the same amount it had been paying since last summer ― and had 197 paid employees and consultants. In July, it paid 172 employees and consultants.
“If I was a donor, I’d want answers,” said a prominent Republican National Committee member who supports Trump, asking for anonymity to speak freely. “If they don’t have any more staff, and they’re paying five times more? That’s the kind of stuff I’d read and try to make an (attack) ad out of it.”
“If I was a donor, I’d want answers. If they don’t have any more staff, and they’re paying five times more? That’s the kind of stuff I’d read and try to make an (attack) ad out of it.” Republican National Committee member
In addition to the rent for Trump Tower space in Manhattan, Trump has paid his eponymous golf courses and restaurants more than $260,000 since his campaign and the RNC struck a joint fundraising deal in mid-May, after he essentially locked up the GOP nomination. On May 18, the day the fundraising deal was announced, Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach was paid $29,715; Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, was paid $35,845; and Trump Restaurants LLC was paid $125,080, according to FEC records. Such large payments were much rarer when Trump was self-funding.
It’s unclear from the campaign filings the purpose of the golf course and restaurant payments, although both of the Florida golf courses hosted Trump campaign news conferences in March.
The Trump campaign on Tuesday responded that it had expanded into larger quarters. “Also, Mr. Trump makes a personal contribution of $2 million per month to the campaign, obviously a much higher amount than rent,” the statement said.
Steven Cheung, a campaign spokesman, said the increased office space was needed to accommodate an anticipated increase in employees. “We’re constantly adding new staff and in the subsequent weeks after convention, we’ve done that,” he said.
While campaign officials have been promising a larger general election staff for months, though, that has yet to happen.
The FEC filings show that Trump began increasing the rent at Trump Tower starting with the May 31 payment of $72,800. The Trump campaign paid $110,684 in rent on June 9, and $169,758 on July 10.
The campaign’s number of paid employees and consultants went from 166 in May, to 139 in June, to 172 in July. How many of those actually worked in Trump Tower cannot be determined from the FEC filings, although typically only a small fraction of a presidential campaign’s staff works in the headquarters building. Last autumn, only about a dozen of the campaign’s several dozen paid employees worked in Manhattan.
Trump continues to fly to campaign events on his personal Boeing 757 airliner, even though the aging jet burns some $10,000 in fuel every hour. That has made air travel one of the biggest expense categories for his campaign. In July alone, $495,000 went to Trump’s company that owns the plane.
Prior to May, three-quarters of the $59 million spent by Trump’s campaign had come out of his own pocket ― meaning that whatever Trump charged his campaign for rent was largely coming from Trump himself.
That situation is now entirely reversed. Trump’s money makes up a tiny percentage of his campaign’s spending. The bulk now comes from outside donors, both small-dollar givers and those writing maximum-limit checks of $2,700.
“Nobody cares when you’re spending your own money, but when you’re spending the donor’s $27, that could cause problems,” the RNC member said, adding that small donors especially may not be sympathetic to Trump’s extravagance. “Most campaigns run on a much tighter budget.”
For many months, Trump’s campaign prided itself on its low-rent operation. It invited reporters in to tour its headquarters on the fifth floor of Trump Tower that had once been used as production offices for “The Apprentice” TV show, which starred Trump. Photos and video from those tours show work space with unfinished ceilings, makeshift drywall partitions, and only a few campaign workers.
Commercial real estate is available in the midtown Manhattan neighborhood in the range of $70 per square foot annually, although Trump has charged more than that. Trump Tower rented 9,000 feet of office space in December at $120 per square foot, but has been unable to rent a 15,000 square-foot office that includes six terraces overlooking Fifth Avenue, even at a discounted rent of $90 per square foot.
Democrat Hillary Clinton has been leasing two entire floors in a Brooklyn office building totaling 80,000 square feet since the start of her campaign. The rent for that space has been about $212,000 per month. Her campaign staff is also several times the size of Trump’s, numbering more than 700 for the better part of a year.
This post has been updated with comments from Trump’s campaign.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.