After Trump endorsement, candidates’ online donations see mixed results

Some saw a spike in the number of donations, but not in dollars raised

North Carolina Rep. Ted Budd saw a significant increase in online donations after former President Donald Trump endorsed his Senate campaign. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
North Carolina Rep. Ted Budd saw a significant increase in online donations after former President Donald Trump endorsed his Senate campaign. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 5, 2021 at 5:30am

Former President Donald Trump’s preferred candidates have lagged behind their opponents in overall fundraising, and a new filing from the top Republican donation platform shows his endorsements having mixed results in boosting online donations.

Trump-backed candidates have also seen mixed results at the ballot box lately. In Texas, Susan Wright lost an all-GOP special election runoff last week to replace her late husband in the House, while lobbyist Mike Carey won a special election primary Tuesday for an open House seat in Ohio.

Wright, Carey and Trump’s other preferred candidates generally saw an uptick in the number of online donations after he endorsed them, according to data in a mid-year report the GOP fundraising platform WinRed filed Saturday with the Federal Election Commission. The online boost is a sign of Trump’s enduring appeal to grassroots Republican donors, but it also shows that his endorsement doesn’t guarantee eye-popping hauls.

“The president’s endorsement is a gust of wind into candidates’ sails, but it’s all about making sure that you’re prepared to take advantage of that,” said Eric Wilson, a GOP digital strategist.  

Boost for Budd

Along with Wright and Carey, Trump has so far endorsed four other non-incumbents ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. Of those candidates, North Carolina Republican Ted Budd saw the most dramatic increase in both the number of donations and the money raised through WinRed after the congressman won the former president’s backing for Senate.

Budd launched his campaign on April 28, and got 143 donations through WinRed during the five-and-a-half weeks leading up to Trump’s surprise June 5 endorsement. The number of donations grew to 247 in the remaining three-and-a-half weeks of June.

The amount of money Budd raised online also spiked after Trump took sides in the GOP primary, which features former Gov. Pat McCrory and former Rep. Mark Walker as well. Budd’s campaign pulled in $84,000 through the platform after the June 5 endorsement, nearly five times times the $18,000 he raised before getting the nod. 

Jonathan Felts, a senior adviser to Budd’s campaign, said in a statement that the campaign saw a fundraising boost “almost immediately” after Trump backed Budd at the state GOP convention.

“Ninety seconds after President Trump endorsed Ted, our finance director showed me her phone so I could see the emails coming in signifying new contributions,” Felts said, later adding, “The Trump endorsement has had a significant, positive impact for our campaign.”

But it wasn’t enough to outraise the rest of the Republican field. McCrory raised $1.2 million from April through June, according to reports filed with the FEC last month. Budd raised $953,000, including a $250,000 personal loan from Budd himself. Walker raised $203,000. 

Mixed results

The latest WinRed filing also shows that even though the number of donations may rise following Trump’s endorsement, that increase doesn’t always mean a candidate raises more money. But that’s not necessarily bad news, since candidates can grow their lists of small-dollar donors’ email addresses and continue to appeal to them throughout the election cycle. 

The number of contributions to Wright’s and Carey’s campaigns doubled after Trump announced his backing. But both candidates only saw slight increases in terms of the amount of money raised. Prior to the endorsement, Wright raised $142,000 through WinRed, and she took in $148,000 online afterward. Carey pulled in $72,000 after the endorsement, compared to $69,000 before Trump weighed in. 

The same was true for GOP Rep. Mo Brooks, who has Trump’s support in Alabama’s open Senate race. Brooks’ campaign gathered 1,578 online donations prior to Trump’s April 27 endorsement, and 1,772 online donations afterwards. But that slight uptick did not translate into more money. Before the endorsement, Brooks raised $168,000 through WinRed, and his campaign raised $101,000 through the platform in the two months after the endorsement. 

Not enough?

All of Trump’s preferred candidates were outraised by GOP opponents from April through June, according to recent campaign finance reports. In addition to Wright, Carey and Brooks, Trump has also endorsed Max Miller, who is challenging Ohio GOP Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, and Kelly Tshibaka, who is challenging Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Gonzalez and Murkowksi voted to impeach and convict Trump, respectively, for inciting the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6. 

Miller, who launched his campaign the same day Trump endorsed him in late February, did not even start receiving donations through WinRed until two days after Trump’s endorsement, according to the platform’s filing.

Trump backed Tshibaka with only 12 days left in the second fundraising quarter, and the WinRed filing shows that nearly 20 percent of the funds raised through WinRed since she formally launched her campaign came in during those 12 days. Tshibaka saw the largest single-day spike in online donations on April 30, with 839 contributions, when she appeared on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast. 

The mixed results in online donations could be a sign that Trump hasn’t leveraged his own email list to encourage his supporters to donate to his preferred candidates. WinRed allows campaigns to easily split donations with other candidates, but a review of roughly 50 recent fundraising emails from a joint fundraising committee benefiting two Trump PACs did not find any mentions of Miller, Budd, Tshibaka or Brooks.

Wilson, the GOP digital strategist, noted that Trump has “the best fundraising list in Republican politics.” He was surprised that Trump did not appear to be leveraging it to boost his preferred candidates. But he said it’s possible that Trump’s leadership PAC, Save America, is sending solicitations to a smaller list of supporters, such as those concentrated in a single state. Trump’s team at Save America did not respond to requests for comment.

“I would expect to see more firepower behind those endorsements,” Wilson said, “because that’s really what’s going to make sure that [Trump’s] successful in picking winners.”

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.