Evening Newsletter

Thousands of Californians give to Donald Trump’s reelection campaign

For thousands of Californians, President Donald Trump’s near-constant attacks on their home state have not caused offense. In fact, they’re kicking in millions of dollars so that he can do it for another four years.

The president’s reelection campaign raised $1.7 million from California donors giving $200 or more in the first three months of 2019 — and no doubt even more from small-dollar donors in the state whose information does not have to be disclosed.

That’s just a fraction of what Trump’s 2020 rivals collectively raised in the Democratic-leaning state. California Sen. Kamala Harris, alone, raised $4.3 million from large-dollar donors in her home state.

The funding gap isn’t surprising. Democrat Hillary Clinton collected 4.2 million more votes than Trump from Californians in 2016, and Trump remains historically unpopular in the state. A Public Policy Institute of California poll conducted in March found that just 29 percent of adults and 34 percent of likely voters in the state approve of how he is handling his job.

State leaders, meanwhile, have filed at least 47 lawsuits challenging Trump administration policies, stalling some of his immigration, environmental and health care initiatives.

The president returns the sentiment, regularly assailing the state and its Democratic leaders on Twitter. In his latest salvo, just last weekend, Trump Tweeted that the federal government has the right to transfer undocumented immigrants to the state, “which is well known (for) its poor management & high taxes!”

The president has a devoted core of fans in California, many of whom are willing to contribute significant sums of money to his reelection campaign despite appearing to lack the kind of wealth that California’s donor class typically possesses.

While leading Democratic candidates like Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker swept up big checks from Silicon Valley tech executives, Hollywood A-listers and high-powered attorneys and investors, the majority of Californians who donated $200 or more to Trump’s reelection campaign identified either as retirees, self-employed or in blue collar professions, including security guard, window cleaner, auto mechanic and secretary.

The president received more contributions from carpenters — $1,590 — than from actors — $805.

Most gave in small increments, totaling $200 or more over the time period, rather than writing a one-time check for $2,800, the federal limit for an individual donation to a campaign.

Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center, an advocacy group, said the Trump campaign reflects a broader fundraising trend, in which campaigns are taking advantage of online platforms to reach a wider pool of donors and encourage them to give over and over.

Trump has proven particularly adept at that tactic, particularly compared to other Republicans, who have lagged behind Democrats in terms of small-dollar donor outreach.

At least anecdotally, Trump does appear to be an outlier,” Fischer said. “He certainly knows his base and I think Brad Parscale, who was his digital director in the 2016 election and now his 2020 campaign manager, has made really effective use of online funding strategies.”

Just as the president has appealed to marginalized voters around the country, many of Trump’s donors in California are likely to have been hurt by the state’s soaring cost of living, left behind by an economic boom that has created immense wealth but also deepening inequality.

They are spread across the state. People living in the greater Bay Area, a noted bastion of liberalism, gave more to Trump’s reelection than those from Republicans’ traditional epicenter, Orange County — $267,000 to $213,000. Donors from the Sacramento metropolitan area donated $112,000, while other Central Valley donors contributed $126,000.

The majority of donations to the president’s reelection campaign came through a joint fundraising partnership with the Republican National Committee, which allows the two committees to team up when hosting events and soliciting donations.

“It’s been three years since we launched the largest online fundraising apparatus ever, enjoying the support of more than one million small-dollar donors since President Trump’s inauguration,” Republican party spokeswoman Christiana Purves said. “The RNC is already investing these donations into our nationwide, permanent, data-driven field program to put President Trump and Republicans in prime-position for another historic election night in 2020.”

Overall, Trump raised more than $30 million for his reelection bid from January through March of this year, well ahead of any of his Democratic rivals. Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders led the Democratic field with $18.2 million.

While Sanders proved his strength among small-dollar donors, raising $15.3 million from people giving less than $200, Trump demonstrated he can compete with Democrats on that front, as well. The president raised $4 million from small donors nationally, slightly less than Harris’ $4.4 million.

The president is poised to receive plenty of wealthy donors, as well. As Fischer pointed out, Trump supporters have formed a Super PAC and a nonprofit, known as a dark money group, that doesn’t have to disclose its donors. Both types of fundraising accounts can accept unlimited amounts of money from individuals, and are likely to be a major factor in the general election.

“Big donors are still finding plenty of ways to support President Trump,” Fischer said, “and presumably curry some sort of influence.”

Update: This story was updated to include a comment from the RNC.

Emily Cadei works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she covers national politics and policy for McClatchy’s California readers. A native of Sacramento, she has spent more than a decade in D.C. reporting on U.S. elections, Congress and foreign affairs for publications including Newsweek, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call.