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Campaign Fundraising Is Close: How Will That Affect The Presidential Race?


This week, the Trump campaign announced it raised more than $80 million in July, and they say the bulk of the money came from small donations. Hillary Clinton brought in about $90 million. The fundraising gap between the two campaigns is closer than it has been all year. To talk more about this, we're joined by Nick Confessore, political reporter at The New York Times. Welcome, Nick.

CHANG: Hey, Ailsa, how are you?

CHANG: Good. Thanks for joining us.


CHANG: So for months, we've been hearing that Trump has lagged in fundraising. What changed in July?

CONFESSORE: What changed is small donors and Trump actually trying to raise money for the first time in his entire campaign. He's mostly been self-funded, and what hasn't been self-funded until now has basically been the proceeds of buying all those hats and T-shirts you see with his slogan on them.

CHANG: Right.

CONFESSORE: And that was basically his entire fundraising operation. And I think a lot of us thought that as soon as he tried to raise money from small donors he could be very successful about it, and, boy, we've been proven right. He has been extremely successful about it according to figures from his campaign.

CHANG: And what does the average Trump donor look like? On average, what is the size of each donation so far? Do we know?

CONFESSORE: What they've said is that the average donation is around $50-$60, which is pretty low. And it suggests that they've managed to tap into the world of people who are not rich or even necessarily affluent but can afford to write a small check or put a recurring charge on their credit card. And, really, if you can tap those people, they're really important in politics, Ailsa, because a rich person who gives the maximum check of $2,700 for the campaign can't give any more after that.

A person or, more importantly, you know, a few hundred thousand people who will write that $25 check every month or put their credit card on file with the campaign, they're an incredibly important financial resources for a presidential candidate.

CHANG: So has the Trump campaign given you any indication of how they're going to use this huge influx of cash now?

CONFESSORE: They haven't given one to me, and it really is the big question. It's pretty late in the campaign, Ailsa. Usually at this point in the modern era of campaigning, let's say, Romney or Obama or even Clinton in '08, if you can, you've already spent a few months or weeks making advance buys on television to lock on rates while they're low. You've hopefully had field staff out in the key swing states for months or more building relationships in their communities, getting ready to turn out the vote. It's not clear how much of that, if any, Trump has done. In fact, there are...

CHANG: Right.

CONFESSORE: ...Signs that he's basically outsourced it to the Republican National Committee, which has had its own program in place for a while to get ready for the nominee. So the big question to come back to again is what do they do with that $74 million cash on hand that they say they have? Well, a big piece of it will probably flow to the party to run those grassroots efforts. And you have to imagine we will finally see some Donald Trump campaign ads in force on the airwaves.

CHANG: And I guess the question is, is there enough time to drastically improve Trump's campaign infrastructure? Is there time?

CONFESSORE: It's not really enough time for Trump to do it. What his campaign will tell you - and what I think is partly true - is that they have the Republican National Committee. After Obama won in 2012, the Republicans, you know, looked ahead to the future and thought, well, Hillary Clinton as a likely candidate for 2016, and if she runs, she'll probably get the nomination. What can we do? Well, the RNC had a good fundraising base, and they had seen what happened when they were outmatched and when they chose a nominee kind of late in the game and got started late.

So around 2013, the RNC began doing some of this work on behalf of their future candidate. I think that in an ideal world, the nominee, Trump in this case, would be bringing more of his own lists and up-to-date data and technology and testing into the mix with the Republican National Committee.

CHANG: Nick Confessore is a political reporter at The New York Times. Thanks so much for joining us.

CONFESSORE: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.