#TrumpSoPoor: Can Trump overcome his big fundraising gap?

Financial presidential filings show that presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump had only $1.29 million cash on hand at the start of June, compared to the $42 million presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had on hand. 

John Locher/AP/File
Donald Trump, shown here speaking in Las Vegas on June 18, had only $1.3 million cash on hand at the end of May.

Donald Trump raised only $3.1 million the month he became the presumptive Republican nominee for president, according to the May 2016 FEC filings released Monday night. This puts him way behind presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who raised $27 million during the month of May.

The differences in cash on hand is even more striking. Mr. Trump's campaign had $1.3 million cash on hand at the end of May, compared to $42 million for Mrs. Clinton.  

Anthony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College and expert on campaign finance, tells The Christian Science Monitor it will be very difficult for Trump to become financially competitive with Clinton. Trump is also leaning more on the Republican National Committee (RNC) than previous candidates by asking them to finance his field operation, he says.

"There's an enormous burden being put on the party at this point, and it's going to be a real challenge for them to maintain any type of financial competitiveness with the Clinton campaign given the size of her operation and the early start the Democrats had on fundraising," he says.

Clinton has raised $240 million throughout her campaign, compared to just $17 million for Trump. Trump, who primarily self-funded his campaign during the Republican primaries, has also loaned himself $45.7 million through the end of May.

Trump has started fundraising for the general election in recent weeks, after making a joint fundraising deal with the RNC. But even the RNC is lagging: It raised $13 million last month, much lower than the $34 million raised in May 2012 when Mitt Romney became the nominee.

On Twitter, #TrumpSoPoor is now trending, as critics revel in the idea of a "poor" billionaire. 

Generally, in the months after becoming the nominee, candidates see "floods" of cash, Michael Malbin, a professor of political science at the University of Albany, tells the Monitor. Professor Malbin says Trump's financial position points to a lack of organization, which is crucial in raising money. Most general election candidates spend the year before the general election getting fund-raising operations up to speed, which Trump hasn't done.

"Then, when they win the nomination, or become the presumptive nominee, the organization they have in place is ready to scoop in other party supporters who have been supporting other candidates up until then," he says. "In the month or so since Mr. Trump became the presumptive nominee, he has not had that organization in place and has not unified the party."

During the 2012 cycle, for example, Republican nominee Mitt Romney raised $23.4 million in May and had $17 million in the bank, as The Wall Street Journal reported.

Professor Corrado says Trump's "stumbles" since becoming the presumptive nominee, including his criticisms of elected Republican officials, controversial comments about a federal judge, and his response to the Orlando shooting, haven't instilled faith in the candidate from donors.

On Tuesday, the Trump campaign said the month of June – not May – represents the first full month of fund-raising for the campaign as it held its first fund-raising event May 25. A statement from the campaign said Trump could have "unlimited" cash on hand if need be as Trump could contribute his own money. "Our campaign is leaner and more efficient, like our government should be," Trump said in the statement.

Trump has also argued that he doesn't need as much money for traditional campaign advertising because he dominates the news cycle, effectively getting his media exposure for free. 

As The Christian Science Monitor's Peter Grier has noted, Trump's unorthodox approach to the presidential campaign is providing political scientists with a unique "live" experiment

Corrado says although Trump could provide some funds to his own campaign, it would be "certainly not the type of money to compete with the amounts the Clinton campaign has raised."

Clinton also has more money available to her through super PACs that support her. Priorities USA Action, Clinton's super PAC, had $51 million in the bank at the beginning of the month, while Great America PAC, Trump's primary super PAC, had only $500,000 in the bank, The Wall Street Journal reported.  

Malbin says Trump may be able to rectify the situation if he has the liquid cash that he has said he has and opens his own checkbook with a large donation to his campaign. Despite saying he will convert the money he has loaned his campaign – which he could hypothetically pay himself back for – into donations, the financial filings showed that the campaign has continued to treat the money as a loan.

"It's hard to imagine too many multibillionares giving multimillion dollar contributions to a Super PAC if the candidate himself is not willing to do so," Malbin says.

The low fund-raising totals are more significant than just correlating with a low amount of cash on hand, he adds. He says it "speaks to a campaign that's in trouble, that doesn't have a lot of time to pick itself up." 

"Money does not buy an election, money doesn't win an election, but without money, you lose it," he says.

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