Donald Trump Changes His Tune And Begins To Court Wealthy Donors

Aug 25, 2015
Originally published on August 27, 2015 1:59 pm
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Donald Trump's view of campaign finance may be evolving, as people sometimes say when a politician's views shift a little bit. The billionaire has said he can't be bought. He has questioned the role of money in politics and even highlighted his own past contributions to some of his critics and rivals. Trump had been talking of paying for his presidential campaign himself but has now signaled an openness to donations. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Donald Trump puts his net worth somewhere north of $10 billion. Other estimates are less than half that much. When Trump announced he was running in mid-June, he drew a sharp line between other candidates - needy candidates - and himself.

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DONALD TRUMP: I'm really rich. I'll show you that in a second. And by the way, I'm not even saying that in a bragging - that's the kind of mindset - that's the kind of thinking you need for this country.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Absolutely.

OVERBY: Trump's first campaign finance report, filed a few weeks later, showed that outside donors put in 5 percent of the money so far - $92,000 versus 1.8 million from Trump himself. But Trump's organization had already spent nearly $22,000 on fundraising. It contracted with Newsmax, a conservative website, to raise money by email. The organization also prepared to solicit wealthy donors through a new superPAC. It's called Make America Great Again, just like the motto of Trump's campaign. The phrase is actually trademarked by Donald Trump. Meanwhile, Trump has derided other candidates for chasing after wealthy donors. Last week, he was in Derry, N. H.

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TRUMP: All of that money that's going to Hillary and Jeb and Scott and Marco and all of them - the people that are putting up that money, it's like puppets.

OVERBY: But this weekend, according to a family friend, the mother-in-law of Trump's daughter Ivanka gave $100,000 to Make America Great Again. Sunday, on CBS's "Face The Nation," Trump allowed that he wants donors. He mentioned a woman who contributed $7.23, then this...

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TRUMP: I would even take big contributors, as long as they don't expect anything.

OVERBY: And to explain the no-strings rule...

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TRUMP: I actually like the idea of investing in a campaign, but it has to be no strings attached. I don't want any strings attached.

OVERBY: Tom Reynolds is a Republican strategist and former congressman from New York. He sees this as a logical progression from a candidate willing to put himself out there to a candidate getting a huge response. And now...

TOM REYNOLDS: The next move he's looking at is I don't want to or I can't fund all this myself. I'm, therefore, looking to fundraise to help me do that.

OVERBY: Another veteran of New York politics, Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf, says the real question now is how Trump's grassroots supporters will react if he starts raising big money.

HANK SHEINKOPF: The truth is the rhetoric he's used is much more important to them than whether he raises money or not, so long as he keeps using the same rhetoric. If the rhetoric changes though and he appears to be softer, he'll likely lose a significant amount of support.

OVERBY: In other words, the campaign can evolve, but the message should not. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.