Donald Trump is running a surprisingly cheapskate campaign

New FEC data shows The Donald's campaign spending is dwarfed by his rivals. What's truly bizarre, however, is one of the biggest items in his budget.

Paul Sancya/AP
A supporter wears a hat at a Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump campaign event at Dubuque Regional Airport in Iowa Saturday.

Billionaire Donald Trump may be proving that when it comes to presidential politics, money isn’t everything. If you’re a magnet for media attention, that is.

It’s true. Though pundits have long assailed the flow of a vast amount of dollars into United States politics, the current GOP poll leader is running a fairly cheap primary effort, according to just-filed Federal Election Commission reports.

Mr. Trump’s campaign raised about $19 million through the end of 2015, says this FEC data. In contrast, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has taken in about $47 million. Hillary Clinton has amassed a whopping $112 million.

Trump’s spending is positively parsimonious when measured against rivals. His operating expenses through December for the entire presidential cycle were about $12.1 million. Cruz’s were $28 million. Clinton spent $76 million.

A surprising percentage of Trump's spending goes on hats. He’s making the US ball cap industry great again, if nothing else. About $450,000, or 7 percent of his fourth-quarter spending, bought those signature retro “Make America Great Again” chapeaus.

That’s more money than the campaign paid its private voter data vendor, notes Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel. It’s more money than it spent on strategic consulting.

“It’s almost as much as the campaign spent on field consulting ($551,000) or payroll ($518,000),” writes Vogel.

Let’s pause and let that sink in. Donald Trump is spending more money on cheesy giveaway hats than he is paying people to run his campaign, at least on paper. That’s a lean organization.

And most of it is his money. Over the past three months of 2015 he gave his campaign a $100,000 personal donation and lent it $10.8 million. In contrast, supporters donated $2.6 million.

Things might change with further FEC disclosures about Trump’s January financial activity. But for now his boasts about paying for his own campaign appear to be true.

“Donald Trump is now doing what many doubted – investing his own funds in an increasingly organized national campaign,” write NBC’s Ari Melber and Katy Tur.

Of course, the key here is that Trump has not needed to spend money to introduce himself to the American public. He started the campaign with over 90 percent name recognition in the US. Nor has he needed to spend money to promote his policies and positions.

His ability to grab the media’s attention with outrageous and sometimes offensive statements has kept the spotlight on Trump, Trump, always Trump. From his campaign announcement through mid-December he received 54 percent of all media coverage of the GOP primary, figures the data site FiveThirtyEight.

He’s managed to keep upping his ante (if that’s possible), producing more and more provocative statements to continually keep the TV cameras on him.

Maybe he’s perfected an entirely new and efficient means of national campaigning. Expensive on-the-ground voter turnout efforts would be out, in this style. Maximal call-ins to Sunday news shows and "Fox & Friends" would be in.

Could another candidate duplicate this style, however? We’d doubt it. Plus, this is only the pre-game. Actual voting starts tonight, in Iowa. We’re about to find out how successful Trump’s style really is.

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