- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 27, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Donald Trump may have a money problem.

It’s not that he isn’t rich — the business-mogul said his net worth was “in excess of $10 billion” according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission (although Forbes, which has been tracking his net worth for decades, estimates it’s more like $4 billion) — it’s just that we’re nearing the time when he’s going to have to put his money where his mouth is.

To win the general election, experts predict a candidate, and their outside groups, will have to pony-up at least $1 billion.

Mr. Trump has spent about $25 million since he launched his presidential campaign last spring. One of his main rallying cries is that he’s self-funding — that he’s not beholden to any outside interest groups, unlike “corrupt politicians.”

So the question now becomes: Will Mr. Trump be willing to part with $1 billion of his own money (which may or may not be liquid) in order to win the general, or will he start relying on the very outside groups his campaign is dead-set against?

The candidate himself hasn’t been so clear.

“I have not made that decision,” Mr. Trump said during a debate in Miami when asked whether he would take outside contributions in a general election.

“My decision was that I would go through the entire primary season, and I have turned down probably $275 million worth,” Mr. Trump said.

The very next day, at a press conference in Palm Beach, Fla., he said he wouldn’t rely on outside groups in the general and would instead ask the party to help raise funds.

“I wouldn’t be taking money,” Mr. Trump said. “If anything, the party would be taking money. I’m not going to take any money. It’s something I haven’t given much thought to.”

He needs to start.

So far, Mr. Trump’s campaign has been coasting off free, earned media. The New York Times estimates Mr. Trump has received about $2 billion in such ads, and he’s bragged to the paper how little his campaign needs to spend because of it.

Advertisements are one thing — but building a solid campaign structure to defeat Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is another.

So far, Mr. Trump has spent little to nothing on such endeavors, compared to Mrs. Clinton, who is building a general election juggernaut. In February alone, she spent $354,000 on polling, and paid $2.7 million in payroll to nearly 800 employees across the country.

Mr. Trump’s campaign actually spent less in February than it did in January, as his rivals spent more building out their infrastructures. Mr. Trump’s big ticket costs were for hats, mugs, and flights on his airline. His campaign has little more than 100 on the payroll and spent no money on polling firms.

It appears Mr. Trump, instead, is looking to use the Republican National Committee, which finances a get-out-the-vote operation, to fund raise and run his ground game.

But the effort is fraught with danger, party insiders warn.

“Yes, the RNC has a presidential trust they can use to help support in the general, but it’s capped — it’s a drop in the bucket if you look at what Hillary Clinton will be able to do,” a former RNC official said. “And the get out the vote effort is generic — all other past presidential candidates had their own effort in addition to what the RNC was doing.”

The former official said it’s much easier for the candidate to raise funds him or herself than to host joint-fundraisers with the party.

And then there’s the frosty relationship Mr. Trump has with the RNC.

Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, has been named the committee’s chairman of the Presidential Trust — the board in charge of the money the RNC will spend in coordination with presidential campaigns. Mr. Ryan delivered a speech this week that denounced the front-runner and warning of the “ugliness” in politics.

If Mr. Trump wins the party’s nomination, he will have to work with Mr. Ryan. Mr. Trump has already started conversations with the RNC on the infrastructure it can provide, but it hasn’t discussed general election fundraising with any candidate.

Mr. Trump bragged earlier this year he’d be willing to spend as much as $1 billion on his own campaign, but told The New York Times he thought a realistic amount would be far less, and that he would count on the RNC for financial help.

Mr. Trump may just be overestimating what the RNC can do and underestimating what he’ll need to win the general.

“Perhaps there’s a lack of information or a full understanding of what the RNC can really provide — either way, Trump’s going to have a rude awaking. At some point, it becomes every man for themselves,” the former RNC official said.

• Kelly Riddell is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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