Trump re­elec­tion ef­fort:

Mil­lions of dol­lars flow to con­sul­tants.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MICHELLE YE HEE LEE AND ANU NARAYANSWA­MY [email protected]­post.com anu.narayanswa­[email protected]­post.com

Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in 2015 had no poll­ster, rapid-re­sponse team or fundraiser. A bare-bones staff fu­eled by pizza and en­ergy drinks toiled in a makeshift of­fice at Trump Tower. His op­po­nents vastly out­spent him — and lost.

But as pres­i­dent, Trump’s cam­paign ma­chine has dra­mat­i­cally es­ca­lated, pow­ered by a his­tor­i­cally large war chest of dona­tions large and small that has given him a head start over the even­tual Demo­cratic nom­i­nee.

At this point in the last elec­tion, Trump’s cam­paign em­ployed 19 con­sul­tants. Now, there are more than 200. When Trump had all but locked up the nom­i­na­tion by May 2016, he had spent $63 mil­lion. Thus far, proTrump com­mit­tees have spent $531 mil­lion.

Trump’s over­flow­ing cof­fers have al­lowed him to spend lav­ishly early in the race. For in­stance, the com­mit­tees re­cently launched a $10 mil­lion ad offense tar­get­ing Democrats, in­clud­ing for­mer vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den.

The spend­ing has also cre­ated a fi­nan­cial boon for a po­lit­i­cal-con­sult­ing class he once shunned.

Since 2017, nearly $92 mil­lion has flowed to dozens of firms pro­vid­ing po­lit­i­cal con­sult­ing ser­vices to Trump’s 2020 re­elec­tion ma­chine, ac­cord­ing to an analysis of cam­paign spend­ing by The Wash­ing­ton Post.

Ben­e­fi­cia­ries of that money in­clude a mix of ex­pe­ri­enced hands who have long been part of the GOP es­tab­lish­ment and a newer crop of strate­gists who rode Trump’s coat­tails to a po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive ca­reer in pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics.

The hir­ing of these con­sul­tants marks a ma­jor shift from 2016, when Trump’s up­start cam­paign won the GOP nom­i­na­tion on a shoe­string bud­get and with­out a ro­bust staff to carry out ba­sic cam­paign func­tions such as polling, door-knock­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing.

Trump’s team in 2016 was “build­ing the air­plane while it was in flight. To their ev­er­last­ing credit, they landed that air­plane,” Trump cam­paign spokesman Tim Mur­taugh said. “Last time, it was in­sur­gency. And this time, there is a feel­ing of in­sur­gency — but the can­di­date, af­ter all, is the pres­i­dent of the United States.”

Trump touted his lean op­er­a­tion as a tes­ta­ment to his busi­ness savvy, com­par­ing it fa­vor­ably with the cam­paigns of his op­po­nents, who were armed with ex­pen­sive cam­paign con­sul­tants: “The con­sul­tants and the fundrais­ers and all of these peo­ple, they take the money. ... Bet­ter than be­ing a real es­tate bro­ker, to be hon­est with you,” Trump, a real es­tate de­vel­oper, joked in 2015.

Now, Trump has a roar­ing re­elec­tion ap­pa­ra­tus. There are six main com­mit­tees work­ing to se­cure his sec­ond term, in­clud­ing the of­fi­cial cam­paign, the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee and a su­per PAC. To­gether, they have al­ready raised over $736 mil­lion — more than any pre­vi­ous pres­i­den­tial can­di­date at this point in the cam­paign.

Nearly $92 mil­lion of that money has flowed to 76 ven­dors that pro­vide po­lit­i­cal con­sult­ing, each one draw­ing at least $50,000 from these com­mit­tees since 2017, ac­cord­ing to a Post analysis of fed­eral cam­paign fil­ings.

Some of those pulling in the most are run by well-known Trump loy­al­ists, in­clud­ing cam­paign man­ager Brad Parscale, for­mer cam­paign man­ager Corey Le­wandowski, long­time body­guard Keith Schiller, and for­mer White House spokes­men Sean Spicer and Raj Shah.

Oth­ers are long­time GOP firms that worked for his 2016 op­po­nents. Top re­cip­i­ents of Trump re­elec­tion spend­ing in­clude Mcintosh Co., for­merly a fundrais­ing con­sul­tant for the su­per PAC that sup­ported for­mer Florida gov­er­nor Jeb Bush, and Plu­vi­ous Group, for­merly a fundrais­ing con­sul­tant for Sen. Marco Ru­bio (R-fla.). Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for these com­pa­nies did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

These pay­ments, re­ported in fed­eral fil­ings, do not in­di­cate whether in­di­vid­u­als run­ning or man­ag­ing the com­pa­nies are per­son­ally prof­it­ing. In many cases, pay­ments are passed on to other ven­dors or pay for staff salaries.

The spend­ing shows how much Trump is ben­e­fit­ing from the de­ci­sion, dif­fer­ent from his pre­de­ces­sors’, to be­gin fundrais­ing for his sec­ond term as soon as he was elected. He has been as suc­cess­ful at rais­ing money from his loyal base giv­ing $20 at a time as he has with wealthy donors giv­ing six fig­ures.

The ex­pen­di­tures also il­lus­trate how dra­mat­i­cally Trump’s op­er­a­tion has evolved since mount­ing his un­ortho­dox cam­paign for the White House four years ago.

When he was the un­der­dog, Trump crit­i­cized the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment as sharply as he at­tacked Democrats. He even ac­cused lead­ers of his own party of try­ing to un­der­mine him.

“I’m not part of the cor­rupt sys­tem. In fact, the cor­rupt sys­tem is try­ing to stop me,” Trump said in Au­gust 2016. “The vot­ers in the Repub­li­can Party this year de­fied the donors, the con­sul­tants, the power bro­kers and chose a nom­i­nee from out­side our failed and cor­rupt bro­ken sys­tem. The nom­i­nee is me.”

But Trump’s 2020 cam­paign com­mit­tee and the party are work­ing in lock­step.

No one em­bod­ies this trans­for­ma­tion more than Parscale, a Web de­vel­oper from San An­to­nio with no pre­vi­ous po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence. He was tapped from ob­scu­rity to build the 2015 web­site for Trump’s pres­i­den­tial ex­ploratory com­mit­tee. He has said he did the ini­tial task for a fee of $1,500.

Parscale is now the Trump 2020 cam­paign man­ager. Three busi­nesses as­so­ci­ated with Parscale have re­ceived a com­bined $38 mil­lion since 2017 from five com­mit­tees work­ing to re­elect Trump, in­clud­ing the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee.

Parscale de­clined to be in­ter­viewed for this re­port. The bulk of the pay­ments to Parscale’s com­pany, Parscale Strat­egy, is used for salaries and over­head, cam­paign of­fi­cials said. The cam­paign set up a com­pany, Amer­i­can Made Me­dia Con­sul­tants, to place all ads for the re­elec­tion and to sep­a­rate Parscale’s per­sonal in­ter­ests from the cam­paign’s ad­ver­tis­ing, of­fi­cials said.

Le­wandowski’s firm, Green Mon­ster Con­sult­ing, has re­ceived more than $200,000 since 2017 from two of the com­mit­tees sup­port­ing Trump’s re­elec­tion: the Amer­ica First Ac­tion su­per PAC; and the Great Amer­ica Com­mit­tee, which is Vice Pres­i­dent Pence’s lead­er­ship PAC.

Le­wandowski said his firm is no longer paid by the su­per PAC and de­clined to an­swer ad­di­tional ques­tions about his work. From June 2018 through July, Le­wandowski’s firm re­ceived $10,000 per month from the Great Amer­ica Com­mit­tee.

Both men are now prom­i­nent party fig­ures in Wash­ing­ton, work­ing along­side the es­tab­lish­ment.

Parscale speaks reg­u­larly with Karl Rove about cam­paign fundrais­ing, ac­cord­ing to some­one fa­mil­iar with their con­ver­sa­tions who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity. Rove, one of the most in­flu­en­tial ar­chi­tects of the mod­ern GOP po­lit­i­cal fundrais­ing ma­chine, was pub­licly crit­i­cal of Trump in 2016.

Le­wandowski, now a reg­u­lar tele­vi­sion com­men­ta­tor am­pli­fy­ing Trump’s mes­sage, is con­sid­er­ing a run for a U.S. Se­nate seat in New Hamp­shire. Af­ter the elec­tion, he co-founded a lob­by­ing firm and con­sulted on pol­icy mat­ters. He has since left the firm, and noted he is not a reg­is­tered lob­by­ist.

Shah de­clined to com­ment. Schiller’s at­tor­ney did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment. Spicer said his com­pany is be­ing paid for his work as a se­nior ad­viser and spokesman to the Amer­ica First Ac­tion su­per PAC, and he helps with fundrais­ing and pub­lic­ity for the group.

Asked whether the slew of po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tants has di­min­ished the out­sider ap­peal of Trump’s can­di­dacy, Mur­taugh said: “Don­ald Trump is who he is, and noth­ing will ever change.” Mur­taugh noted the cam­paign is a mas­sive en­ter­prise that has al­ready raised and spent hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars and “re­quires a lot of peo­ple to help.”

Some con­sul­tants have played a cru­cial role in help­ing di­rect donors’ money to the right re­cip­i­ent — a re­flec­tion of the so­phis­ti­cated and or­ga­nized fundrais­ing and spend­ing ef­forts that ex­ist be­hind the scenes.

A key ex­am­ple is the role of long­time Pence aide Marty Obst and the work of his firm, MO Strate­gies, that has re­ceived more than $660,000 since 2017 from four of the six com­mit­tees.

Obst was part of the team that launched the main pro-trump su­per PAC, Amer­ica First Ac­tion. Af­ter he left the group, his com­pany pro­vided con­sult­ing ser­vices for the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee and an af­fil­i­ated fundrais­ing com­mit­tee. He runs the Pence lead­er­ship PAC and is an un­paid strate­gist for the Trump cam­paign.

Obst de­clined to com­ment for this re­port.

Trump is armed with a big­ger re­elec­tion op­er­a­tion than his pre­de­ces­sors had at this stage in their cam­paigns.

By this point in 2011, the of­fi­cial com­mit­tees work­ing to­ward Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s sec­ond term had raised at least $390 mil­lion — a lit­tle over half of what Trump has now, cam­paign fil­ings show.

Dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign, one way Trump saved money was by lever­ag­ing his celebrity, bom­bast and larger-than-life per­son­al­ity to at­tract cov­er­age in the me­dia.

“He was on TV all the time,” said Alex Co­nant, GOP strate­gist and se­nior ad­viser to Ru­bio’s 2016 cam­paign. It “turned out to be a bril­liant strat­egy, and one that doesn’t re­quire much cam­paign in­fra­struc­ture — just a cell­phone and prox­im­ity to a TV cam­era.”

Trump still en­joys those ad­van­tages. But he now has in­ter­nal polling, a sys­tem to test mes­sages on Face­book to fig­ure out which ads res­onate most with vot­ers, and a rapid-re­sponse team tasked with mount­ing a pub­lic re­la­tions of­fen­sive at a mo­ment’s no­tice.

“It’s night and day,” Spicer said. “Be­fore, it was like a forced ar­ranged mar­riage be­tween the RNC and the cam­paign. But now, by launch­ing so early, you can think strate­gi­cally about what ser­vices they need, when they need them, when they need to bring in-house or an out­side per­son.”

Trump’s cam­paign­ing head­start comes on top of the unique perks en­joyed by sit­ting pres­i­dents over their chal­lengers, such as hav­ing the sup­port of mul­ti­ple of­fi­cial com­mit­tees that work in tan­dem for the party’s nom­i­nee.

Al­ready, more than two dozen of the top-earn­ing con­sul­tants are do­ing con­sult­ing work for mul­ti­ple com­mit­tees, high­light­ing how the sprawl­ing op­er­a­tion re­lies on a core group of play­ers. It also raises ques­tions about how the groups are fol­low­ing rules bar­ring co­or­di­na­tion.

Kelly Sadler, a spokes­woman for the Amer­ica First Ac­tion su­per PAC, said the group strictly ad­heres to all fed­eral elec­tion rules and reg­u­la­tions pro­hibit­ing co­or­di­na­tion be­tween ven­dors.

Amer­ica First Ac­tion said many of the ven­dors that worked for the su­per PAC and the party com­mit­tee no longer are paid by the su­per PAC.

“We have hired po­lit­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als, both in-house and ex­ter­nally, who have worked in this field for years and take these obli­ga­tions se­ri­ously,” Sadler said.

RNC of­fi­cials said that as a part of their con­tract­ing process, they re­quire ev­i­dence from po­ten­tial ven­dors that they have es­tab­lished the nec­es­sary fire­walls.

Among other top firms paid for po­lit­i­cal con­sult­ing by the party or the su­per PAC are a hand­ful of lim­ited-li­a­bil­ity com­pa­nies with lit­tle pub­lic pres­ence or pa­per trails, ob­scur­ing the names of those who are run­ning these busi­nesses.

Two of those com­pa­nies were St. James Strate­gies and Red Strat­egy Group, which shared an ad­dress with an­other Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee ven­dor, Red Wave Strate­gies. All three are housed at the Vir­ginia law of­fices of Holtz­man Vo­gel Jose­fiak Torchin­sky.

The law firm said it does not com­ment on its clients.

The six Trump com­mit­tees in The Post’s analysis are Trump’s re­elec­tion cam­paign, the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee, the two af­fil­i­ated fundrais­ing com­mit­tees, the of­fi­cial pro-trump su­per PAC Amer­ica First Ac­tion and the Great Amer­ica Com­mit­tee, which is Pence’s lead­er­ship com­mit­tee.

“Last time, it was in­sur­gency. And this time, there is a feel­ing of in­sur­gency — but the can­di­date, af­ter all, is the pres­i­dent of the United States.”

Tim Mur­taugh, Trump cam­paign spokesman

JABIN BOTS­FORD/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Brad Parscale was tapped from ob­scu­rity to build the 2015 web­site for Don­ald Trump’s ex­ploratory com­mit­tee. He is now the pres­i­dent’s cam­paign man­ager, and sev­eral busi­nesses as­so­ci­ated with Parscale have re­ceived $38 mil­lion since 2017 from five com­mit­tees work­ing to re­elect Trump.

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