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A look at campaign money spent by Presidential hopefuls

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

2024 is expected to be the most expensive presidential election in history. And right now, it appears Democrats have the advantage when it comes to money. What does all of this mean, especially as Republican primaries are still taking place? For that, we turn to NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hello.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: How much money are we talking? Like, how much more are Biden and the Democrats bringing in compared to Republicans?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, Democrats really do have a bit of an edge right now. I mean, combined with the Democratic National Committee, Biden's campaign reported having $130 million cash on hand. It's a fairly strong amount, though his campaign itself is lagging behind where Trump and Obama were at this point. Meanwhile, Trump, though, and the groups supporting him, including the RNC, are really struggling. I mean, the RNC only had about $9 million cash on hand at the end of the year. In January, those Republican groups together raised only $13.8 million, which is $3 million less than what Nikki Haley's campaign brought in. And Trump is off pace from, really, the fundraising juggernaut that he had created in 2020, especially with smaller donors.

KELLY: Oh, really? That's interesting 'cause wasn't he famous for doing quite well with smaller donors?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, he had been, you know? But he's not where he was in 2020 or right after the 2020 election when he was raising gobs of money, claiming falsely that the election was stolen. He still had more small donors last year than President Biden did. But Biden has had a huge advantage by fundraising with the DNC, where as president, you can get these big donors to write massive checks. And he doesn't have a primary, you know, like Trump does...

KELLY: Sure.

MONTANARO: ...So - where he needs to spend money. You know, that's partially why Trump is trying to install his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, to the RNC, who said yesterday that every single penny to the RNC should be going to the Trump campaign, which really could hurt down-ballot Republicans and state parties.

KELLY: OK. Any patterns, Domenico, that you are spotting in terms of where the money is rolling in from?

MONTANARO: Yeah. Well, Biden and Haley are really trying hard for big donors. You know, Biden's making a bunch of fundraising trips. Just this week he was in California, for example. Small donors for Trump really are still the huge part of his fundraising base. You know, it's a lot of - what he's raising from MAGA voters is based on his legal troubles. When you look at how much he's raising and when, there are big spikes around these news events related to the half dozen cases that he's been involved in and appearances he's made. The largest amount of any single day came when his mugshot was released. The campaign put out T-shirts, coffee mugs, raised about $80,000.

KELLY: So down in Georgia when he actually showed up. Yeah.

MONTANARO: That's right. You know, and even just today I got an email from the campaign calling for donations with the subject line, hands off Trump Tower. And that's because the New York attorney general, Letitia James, said that she would potentially seize buildings Trump owns if he doesn't pay the almost half a billion dollars he now owes to the state of New York for fraudulent business practices. But his legal problems have also been a big problem for his campaign, too, because they're helping pay his legal expenses - $80 million in the past two years, $50 million just in the past year.

KELLY: Fifty million dollars last year on lawyers. Wow. What are the other big expenses?

MONTANARO: Well, that is really a big drain on his campaign. Even just in January, 1 in 4 dollars, almost, were spent on his legal fees. That might be why we see him hawking $400 gold sneakers, $99 cologne and perfume. Any money diverted away from the campaign itself takes away from running TV ads, which we know is the main way candidates get their message out.

KELLY: And just to briefly underscore a point you nodded to, Trump is still having to spend money on ads against Nikki Haley because he's still engaged in a primary.

MONTANARO: Right. So far, $300 million has now been spent in total on campaign ads. Most of the action right now in South Carolina, almost exclusively in South Carolina, is Nikki Haley on the air there. And she can stay in this race as long as she wants, as long as the money and these donors continue to roll in.

KELLY: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.