The fundamental purpose of political fundraising has always been to advance policy, either through advocating for issues or by funding the campaigns of political candidates. But there’s a new trend in the goal of some political fundraisers. Instead of raising money to put candidates in office, they’re trying to keep them out of jail.
The Washington Post reported Monday that former President Donald Trump’s political action committee, Save America, has spent over $40 million dollars this year alone on legal fees for Trump and his allies. None of this is for filing election paperwork or using attorneys to handle normal campaign tasks. Instead, it’s being spent on defending Trump as well as several of his associates from numerous existing and pending criminal charges, including some that could be filed any day by Fulton County, right here in Georgia.
In a separate case related to the 2020 elections, 16 GOP activists who assembled at the state Capitol in December of 2020 to cast electoral votes for Donald Trump as a “contingency” in case the state’s election results were overturned are being investigated for potential charges of fraud and related crimes. As of May, the Georgia Republican Party had already spent $317,000 to cover their legal fees.
And now the state GOP has launched a web site specifically to raise money to further fund the legal defense of these contingent electors. This, at least, is honest. Unlike donors to Trump’s PAC or the Georgia GOP general fund, anyone who donates here is aware up front that their money won’t be used to help elect any candidates or advocate for any ideas.
But with an impending presidential election coming in which the Democrats hold the incumbency, as well as a state’s worth of seats in the House of Representatives and the entire state legislature at stake, becoming Legal Aid for crimes in politics seems like a particularly poor use of whatever funds donors are willing to contribute. Every dollar that goes to a criminal defense attorney is one that won’t be used to fund mailers, TV ads, yard signs, door knockers, or any of the myriad other productive things campaigns and political parties spend money on.
I certainly don’t begrudge anyone their Constitutional right to counsel in a criminal case. But I question the wisdom of asking donors to pay for it. Just a few short years ago, the Georgia GOP was in serious financial straits due to legal expenses incurred by a former chairman. A big part of David Shafer’s support when he was elected was thanks to his promise to right the party’s financial ship. And now he himself, along with 15 others, are again receiving six-figure largesse from the party’s donors to cover their own legal fees.
Trump’s situation is even less excusable. At least the contingent electors were acting on behalf of a Republican candidate for office, misguided though their plan may have been. Most of Trump’s legal troubles are unrelated to any actions he took as President or any he’s taking to get reelected. And his entire public persona upon entering politics was that of a self-made billionaire businessman. In just about any other context, a rich man asking for money to spend on what his supporters believe is a good cause, but then spending it on himself instead, would be at the very least unethical, if not actual fraud.
People are free to donate their money however they like. But I’ll be saving my donations for candidates and causes where I know the money is actually going to elect those candidates and advance those causes. If we want to beat Joe Biden next year, we all should be doing the same.