© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute

The RNC Has a Money Problem. Republicans Fear Lara Trump Will Make It Worse.

“You know, we’d love to have a little extra help dealing with our own legal issues,” one state GOP official told NOTUS.

Former President Donald Trump, right, listens as his daughter-in-law Lara Trump
Lara Trump said she believes paying her father-in-law’s legal bills is of “big interest” to Republican voters. Chris Seward/AP

The Republican National Committee’s new leadership isn’t official yet — but Lara Trump’s vision for the party is already raising serious unease that the GOP’s coffers could be drained for Donald Trump’s legal fees.

“There is a lot of concern — from donors, state parties and campaigns that important funding could be sucked away by Trump’s mounting legal bills and that there’s nothing they can do about it,” former RNC Communications Director Doug Heye said.

Since gaining Donald Trump’s endorsement for the job — alongside North Carolina state party Chair Michael Whatley — Lara Trump has said she believes paying her father-in-law’s legal bills is of “big interest” to Republican voters. She’s also said that “every penny” of the RNC would go toward securing Trump’s presidency and securing control of Congress.

The RNC reported its worst fundraising year since 2013 in 2023 and is starting the election cycle at a substantial deficit compared to the Democratic National Committee. Meanwhile, several swing state parties are in disarray, dealing with debt and legal problems surrounding 2020 fake-electors schemes.

“He’s trying to hijack the RNC before he’s even the nominee. And it’s because he’s broke,” Katon Dawson, former chair of the South Carolina Republican Party, told NOTUS. “He has already spent millions worth of PAC money and he’s running out. So he needs another place to go raise money to pay his personal legal bills.”

The frustration extends to those supportive of Trump’s dominance in the party.

“As much as I want Trump to be reelected, I think the RNC’s job is to support not only our political candidates at the federal level, but also our state GOP,” Georgia GOP Treasurer Laurie McClain said.

Trump is estimated to run his own war chest dry over legal fees by July, Bloomberg reported, noting that the former president will then likely need to turn to donors or the RNC for help.

The bills keep piling up. Last week, the judge in his New York civil fraud trial ordered Trump to pay $355 million plus interest after finding that Trump fabricated his wealth on previous financial statements. He already owes $88 million after being found liable in writer E. Jean Carroll’s sexual misconduct and defamation suits.

He’s not the only one dealing with legal fees though. “You know, we’d love to have a little extra help dealing with our own legal issues that result from the 2020 election,” McClain said. NOTUS previously reported that the Georgia state party’s legal expenses in defense of alleged fake electors were directly impacting dollars that could be spent on supporting Republican candidates.

Trump’s campaign has already been trying to quell money fears in the party. A senior adviser told ABC News that “absolutely none” of the RNC’s funds will be used for legal bills.

The RNC is already facing top-line money problems — FEC filings show their current cash on hand, under $9 million, is just over a tenth of what they had at this time in 2020.

Meanwhile, the DNC has $24 million on hand, more than double what they had at this time in 2020 and almost five times what they had in 2016.

State Democratic parties collectively owe more debt than Republicans, though both parties are at least $10 million in the hole — but national Democrats simply have more money. And Democrats aren’t facing the kinds of legal fees that Republicans are.

The DNC has already been using the comments to their benefit. Spokesperson Alex Floyd released a statement Thursday that Lara Trump would “transform the RNC into a shell for Donald Trump and his legal bills.”

But Trump’s appointees aren’t RNC leadership quite yet.

“The hijacking is not going to be as easy as everyone’s saying,” Dawson said. “People have to vote them in, and I promise you, I’ve been on that committee and those votes aren’t that easy to wrangle.”

Calen Razor, Nuha Dolby and Ben T.N. Mause are NOTUS reporters and Allbritton Journalism Institute fellows.