First-time candidate Donald Trump got a late start on fundraising in 2016, holding his first big-ticket donor event only five months before Election Day. That won’t be the case next time.
Some 40 months ahead his next election, the president held court at a $35,000-per-plate donor event Wednesday night at his hotel in Washington, just a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.
About 300 people attended the event, which pulled in about $10 million, said Lindsay Jancek, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.
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President Donald Trump, speaking on Wednesday night at the fundraising event, raked in about $10 million on Wednesday night for his re-election campaign and for the Republican National Committee, entertaining around 300 donors at his own hotel near the White House
Protesters start to gather outside the Trump International Hotel in Washington on Wednesday afternoon
The $35,000-per-plate donor event took place just a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there was nothing unusual about raising political cash so early
The demonstrators chanted ‘Dump Trump’ when the President arrived with his motorcade
Police sectioned off an area for the dozens of protesters, who hoisted signs with slogans like ‘Health care, not tax cuts’
Among those present were major party financiers, including Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn.
One attendee stood out: Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, part of a small group of Republicans whose objections just a day earlier had doomed – at least for now – the Senate’s effort to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Trump did not single out Heller, but Wynn, the lead fundraiser for the Republican National Committee, gently jabbed him by urging all Republicans to come together to support the president’s agenda.
Joined by first lady Melania Trump and top advisers, he held court for about two hours at the event.
Emergency no parking signs are posted in front of the Trump Hotel
A call to liberal protesters for when the president’s motorcade rolled up
The $10 million raised is to be spread among Trump’s campaign, the RNC and other GOP entities.
Security was tight at the hotel, where guests in long gowns and crisp suits began arriving around 5pm.
But the event also drew critics. The president’s motorcade was greeted by dozens of protesters, who hoisted signs with slogans like ‘Health care, not tax cuts’ and chanted ‘Shame! Shame!’
Among the event’s guests: Longtime GOP fundraiser-turned television commentator Mica Mosbacher and Florida lobbyist and party financier Brian Ballard.
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there was nothing unusual about raising political cash so early.
A Trump fundraiser… in a Trump hotel
Trump’s decision to hold a fundraiser at his own hotel has raised issues about his continued financial interest in the companies he owns.
Unlike previous presidents who have divested from their business holdings or interests before taking office, Trump moved his global business empire assets into a trust that he can take control of at any time.
That means that when his properties – including his Washington hotel – do well, he stands to make money.
Trump technically leases the hotel from the General Services Administration, and profits are supposed to go to an account of the corporate entity that holds the lease, Trump Old Post Office LLC.
It remains unclear what might happen to any profits from the hotel after Trump leaves office, or whether they will be transferred to Trump at that time.
Under campaign finance rules, neither the hotel nor the Trump Organization that operates it can donate the space for political fundraisers. It must be rented at fair-market value and paid for by the Trump campaign, the RNC or both.
Asked Wednesday at the White House whether the fundraiser indicates that the president is running for re-election, she said: ‘Of course he’s running for reelection,’ but he’s primarily ‘focused on the midterms. That will be the first election.’
‘He’s raising money for the party. I don’t think that’s abnormal for any President.
Sanders’ statement that Trump is raising cash for the GOP tells only part of the story, though.
The first cut of the money raised goes to Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. The rest gets spread among the RNC and other various Republican entities. Having multiple beneficiaries is what allows Trump to ask for well above the usual $5,400 per-donor maximum for each election cycle.
Those contribution limits are likely to change because this fundraiser is so early that new donation limits for 2020 have not been set by the Federal Election Commission.
Breaking with tradition, the White House initially planned to bar reporters from seeing Trump’s speech at the fundraiser. But it relented after reporters objected and agreed to let a pool of reporters watch the president’s remarks.
Trump’s historically early campaigning comes with benefits and challenges.
In the first three months of this year, the Trump campaign raised more than $7 million, through small donations and the sale of Trump-themed merchandise such as the ubiquitous, red ‘Make America Great Again’ ball caps.
Pedestrians walk by the security fence in front of the hotel yesterday
The RNC also is benefiting from the new president’s active campaigning, having raised about $62 million through the end of last month. The party has raised more online this year than it did in all of 2016 – a testament to Trump’s success in reaching small donors.
Trump’s re-election money helps pay for his political rallies. He’s held five so far, and campaign director Michael Glassner says those events help keep him connected to his base of voters.
The constant politicking, however, means it is challenging for government employees to avoid inappropriately crossing ethical lines. Some watchdog groups have flagged White House employee tweets that veer into campaign territory. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters says the employees work closely with lawyers to avoid pitfalls.
Walters also says the White House takes care to make sure that Trump’s political events and travel – including the Wednesday fundraiser – are paid for by the campaign and other political entities.