More than half the money given to Trump’s PAC was from retirees

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Shortly after he lost the 2020 presidential election, President Donald Trump embarked on a new, wildly lucrative political effort. The Save America political action committee (PAC) was formed two days after the race was called for Joe Biden and has since become a gathering spot for tens of millions of dollars from Trump supporters.

This isn’t a normal campaign PAC, allowing Trump to pay for certain expenses or contribute to other politicians. It’s a leadership PAC, letting him spend money however he wishes. Like, say, hosting a big rally outside the White House in an effort to retain power. Or paying his future daughter-in-law $60,000 to give a short speech at that rally.

The profligate fundraising in which Trump has engaged since the election was a focus of the hearing held Monday by the House select committee investigating the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — the day of the aforementioned rally and speech.

During the hearing, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) pointed to political fundraising as an important vehicle for political speech, one that Trump had exploited.

“Small-dollar donors use scarce disposable income to support candidates and causes of their choosing to make their voices heard, and those donors deserve the truth about what those funds will be used for,” Lofgren said. “Throughout the committee’s investigation, we found evidence that the Trump campaign and its surrogates misled donors as to where their funds would go and what they would be used for. So not only was there the ‘big lie,’ there was the ‘big rip-off.’ “

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It can be tricky to quantify the ways in which people contribute to political campaigns. Not all contributions have to be reported, and Trump’s team, like other politicians, raised money for multiple PACs at the same time. A review of Federal Election Commission records for the Save America PAC and a Save America joint fundraising committee (JFC), though, gives a sense of who was giving to Trump’s effort and how much.

Records since November 2020 include more than 2.5 million contributions directly to the PAC, to the JFC or to either through WinRed, a Republican contribution platform. Contributions reported to the FEC include information about the donor’s occupation or, when applicable, whether they are retired. Those data allow us to see that nearly two-thirds of those 2.5 million contributions came from people who listed their occupation as “retired.” More than 6 in 10 were contributions of $100 or less from retirees.

This is somewhat misleading. If someone gives $50 40 times, they have contributed $2,000 in total but show up as 40 small-dollar donations. That’s the caveat that should be applied to Lofgren’s assertion that the average contribution was $17; lots of people made multiple contributions. (Some of them did so unwittingly.) But these are also probably not big donors, who tend to write large checks in one fell swoop.

We can also look at the total amount raised by the committees identified above, a sum totaling just shy of $121 million. About 57 percent of that total came from people listed as retired. More than a third came from retirees making contributions of $100 or less (with the same caveat applying).

The difference between the two charts, of course, derives from the fact that contributions of more than $100 necessarily make up a larger chunk of the total amount raised. Three percent of contributions were from people who aren’t retired and who gave in big chunks; they gave a fifth of the total amount raised.

It’s not entirely surprising that Trump would receive more contributions from retirees. For one thing, retirees are often more engaged in politics than younger Americans. For another, Americans 50 and older generally preferred Trump to Biden in 2020. Those under 50 were more likely to vote for Biden. Six in 10 Trump voters were 50 or older that year.

This also considers only two fundraising vehicles that Trump deployed. It simply gives a sense of who was giving to Trump and how much they were giving. Most contributions were $100 or less, though individual donors might have given more. Most of the donors were retirees, and most of the money raised came from them.

Where the money went or will go is a harder-to-answer question.

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