Aug 18, 2019 - Politics & Policy

David Bossie’s embarrassing retreat

Data: Presidential Coalition's forms 8872 from the IRS; Note: Chart excludes undated contributions; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios
Data: Presidential Coalition's forms 8872 from the IRS; Note: Chart excludes undated contributions; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Former Trump campaign deputy manager David Bossie, who Axios recently exposed as milking donors by flaunting President Trump’s name, is trying to repair and revive his controversial fundraising operation. 

The bottom line: Bossie suspended fundraising after Axios revealed that very little of the money he was raising was going to political campaigns. Trump was livid, forcing the Bossie retreat. Now, Bossie tells us he is making several changes — presumably to get back into Trump’s good graces and back into the fundraising business.

The impact: Bossie directed his political group, the Presidential Coalition, to cease all fundraising on May 7, 2 days after Axios published the findings of its investigation, done in collaboration with the Campaign Legal Center (CLC).

  • That's in part thanks to the president, who personally authorized the Trump campaign to issue a blistering statement, without naming Bossie, condemning "any organization that deceptively uses the president's name, likeness, trademarks, or branding and confuses voters," in the wake of our story.
  • "The president was pissed," a Trump campaign official told Axios. "He doesn’t like the idea that his supporters would be tricked into donating to things they thought were the campaign ... and he doesn’t like it when people benefit from using his name, especially financially."

The fallout: Bossie told Axios that the group is "currently redesigning our fundraising programs, because of my longstanding relationship with the president and because of my desire to only help the president and the administration."

  • The Presidential Coalition will no longer reference "The Trump Coalition" in its mailers and fundraising materials, Bossie said. He claims they were going to stop using that language after 2019 anyway, "due to the regulatory regime."
  • The group will also be far more clear that the Presidential Coalition is an affiliate of Citizens United: "We will print it in our mailers and on the envelopes to be even more transparent," Bossie said.
  • Despite these changes, Bossie still claims that he doesn't think "there was anything whatsoever that was done outside of the appropriate fundraising avenues."
  • Read Bossie's full response.

By the numbers: The Presidential Coalition's average daily contributions plunged from over $20,000 per day in early May to under $2,000 per day by the end of June, according to a new Axios/CLC analysis of the organization's latest IRS filing from the first half of 2019.

  • Worth noting: The majority of donations made to the Presidential Coalition (62%) in the first half of 2019 came from unitemized, small donors who gave less than $200 in a year — similar to the contributions from previous years. The dates of those small-donor contributions are not known, given IRS regulations.

The state of play: Despite the backlash it faced, the Presidential Coalition is still spending just a small percentage of its money on direct political activity, though the percentage is higher than that of 2017 and 2018:

  • The group spent $5.9 million in the first half of 2019, but devoted just $148,100 (or 2.5%) of its overall spending on political contributions. Another $325,000 was spent on "digital ad buys" that correspond to a July pro-Trump digital ad campaign, according to CLC's analysis.
  • Taken together, the Presidential Coalition dedicated nearly 8% of overall spending to direct political activity, up from 3% in 2017 and 2018.
  • As before, most of the Presidential Coalition's spending went toward more fundraising, as well as rent and payroll.
  • What to watch: Bossie said his group has also been building up a $4.3 million war chest, and that starting after Labor Day, the Presidential Coalition will spend $3 million — or $1 million per month — over September, October and November on ads supporting the president and state and local candidates.

Worth noting: Bossie, a Fox News contributor, was totally absent on the network for nearly 3 months after our story ran. However, he did appear on the network again on July 31 to defend Trump after his tweets attacking Baltimore Rep. Elijah Cummings. A Fox News spokesperson told Axios that Bossie is still a contributor.

The Trump campaign told Axios that it stands by its May statement.

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