THE BLOG
08/12/2016 04:57 pm ET Updated Aug 13, 2017

Trump's Missing Money

If you're watching the Olympic games, you may have noticed "Hillary for President" ads. She's bought $13.6 million worth, while Donald Trump has bought none. In fact, since garnering the Republican nomination, he's spent $0 on TV. Nonetheless, the Trump campaign spent $63m in July. What happened to it?

Open Secrets uses FEC data to report that, at the end of June, the Trump campaign had $20m on hand. According to the latest Trump reports, they raised an additional $80 million in July and, early in August, had $37m on hand. If you do the math, that means Trump spent $63m in July. He didn't spend it on TV advertising. How did Trump spend the money?

In a conventional campaign, we'd assume Trump spent a substantial part of the $63m on his field operations - setting up an elaborate get-out-the-vote (GOTV) operation in key states. That doesn't seem to be happening. The key states for Trump are Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. Trump has a miniscule operation in each state. (In 2012, President Obama spent $87m on his field operation.)

According to his website Trump has 5 offices in Pennsylvania; none in Philadelphia. (Clinton has more than twenty offices and at least 200 full-time staff members.)

According to an Ohio news source, Trump just opened an office in Columbus and has four paid staff members. (The same news source said Clinton has a dozen Ohio field offices and about 250 paid staffers.)

According to Politico, Trump has one office in Florida and one paid staff member. Politico quotes a Bush operative, "The Trump campaign is about to rapidly ramp up and have 25 offices open throughout the state by early September." (Politico says, "The Clinton campaign has hundreds of volunteers canvasing neighborhoods across the state, and 12 campaign offices.")

So what happened to Trump's $63m? There are three possible explanations. One is that Trump plans an "October surprise." That is, Trump has put the money aside and, come October, is planning to flood the airwaves with pro-Trump ads. But that doesn't seem to be happening; there's no evidence that Trump has reserved ad space in October.

Trump may still open more field offices after Labor Day, but that's cutting it perilously short in terms of mounting an effective GOTV operation. Five thirty eight reported that Trump doesn't believe in analyzing voter data and targeting certain voters; instead, he relies upon "his personality and rallies." (CNET noted that while Trump tweets he doesn't use email or a computer.)

Of course another explanation for the missing $63m is that Trump doesn't know what he is doing. Some political observers say that Trump has minimized having his own operation in key states and is relying upon the Republican Party: "Trump is largely outsourcing what's typically called a campaign's ground game, which includes the labor-intensive jobs of identifying and contacting potential supporters." So we might assume that the $63m was transferred from the Trump campaign to the Republican National Committee (RNC). There are several problems with this approach. One is that the RNC is concerned with the entire ticket and not just Trump. The other problem is that Trump's base is roughly 33 percent of probable voters; to win, Trump needs to expand this by having his volunteers interact with persuadable voters.

There's a third explanation for the missing $63m. The end-of-June FEC report indicates that Trump had lent his campaign $50m. Although Trump promised to forgive this loan, NBC news reported that he never filed the papers to actually do this. Perhaps Trump repaid himself from the $63m, leaving little money for ads and field staff.

By Labor Day, the Trump campaign will file another FEC report and we'll see how many money he has raised and what he has on hand. Media reports will tell us whether he had made advertising ad purchases and set up a substantial GOTV operation in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Before the conventions, Trump bragged that the Republican affair would dwarf the Democratic gathering. In fact, the Democratic convention had better ratings and demonstrated that Clinton is a better manager. That's probably true for the next three months; ad buys, GOTV operations, and money management, in general, will demonstrate that Hillary Clinton is a better manager than Donald Trump.