Hours before the Republican Party’s first presidential debate, the chief strategist for the super PAC that has effectively taken over Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign met with donors in Milwaukee.
“Now let me tell you a secret — don’t leak this,” the strategist, Jeff Roe, told the donors last Wednesday, according to a recording of the meeting reviewed by The New York Times. “We need to do this now. We’re making a move now.”
Then Mr. Roe made a bold sales pitch: “The day after Labor Day we’re launching and we need your help to stay up and go hard the rest of the way. We need 50 million bucks.”
With urgency in his voice, Mr. Roe told the donors he required much of the $50 million in the next month before the second G.O.P. debate on Sept. 27. He said he needed $5 million a month just to sustain his Iowa operations. And he said Mr. DeSantis needed to beat Donald J. Trump in “the next 60 days” and separate from all of his other rivals “now.”
The audio revealed that the people running the DeSantis super PAC, Never Back Down, are placing big bets now in the hope that donors will cover them later. And it underscored just how steep a task the group confronts as it heads into the fall with its candidate far behind Mr. Trump in the polls, a campaign that is low on cash and a growing recognition that a Trump victory in Iowa could accelerate the end of the Republican race.
Donald J. Trump’s legal problems aren’t just piling up — his legal bills are, too.
New financial reports show that the former president’s various political committees and the super PAC backing him have used roughly 30 cents of every dollar spent so far this year on legal-related costs. The total amounts to more than $27 million in legal fees and other investigation-related bills in the first six months of 2023, according to a New York Times analysis of federal records.
That $27 million in legal costs includes Mr. Trump paying at least eight law firms more than $1 million each in the first half of 2023, part of a sizable set of legal billings expected to spiral upward in the coming months as his overlapping criminal cases wind their way toward courtrooms in New York, Florida and Washington, D.C.
The new disclosures revealed the remarkable degree to which Mr. Trump’s political and legal cash are intermingled, much like his own political and legal fate.
Democrats are worried about a potential drop next year in turnout among Black voters, the party’s most loyal constituency, who played a consequential role in delivering the White House to President Biden in 2020 and will be crucial in his bid for reelection.
Their concern stems from a 10 percentage-point decline in Black voter turnout in last year’s midterms compared with 2018, a bigger drop than among any other racial or ethnic group, according to a Washington Post analysis of the Census Bureau’s turnout survey. Such warning signals were initially papered over by other Democratic successes in 2022: The party picked up a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania, Sen. Raphael G. Warnock won reelection in Georgia and anticipated losses in the House were minimal.
But in key states like Georgia, the center of Democrats’ plans to mobilize Black voters in large margins for Biden in 2024, turnout in last year’s midterms was much lower among younger and male Black voters, according to internal party analysis.
The drop in Black turnout has become a focus for Democratic leaders as the party reorients to next year’s presidential contest. Biden’s election in 2020 hinged on narrow victories in states like Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that former president Donald Trump had won in 2016. Democratic activists are cautioning that the party can’t afford to let support from Black voters slip.
Facing multiple intensifying investigations, former President Donald J. Trump has quietly begun diverting more of the money he is raising away from his 2024 presidential campaign and into a political action committee that he has used to pay his personal legal fees.
The change, which went unannounced except in the fine print of his online disclosures, raises fresh questions about how Mr. Trump is paying for his mounting legal bills — which could run into millions of dollars — as he prepares for at least two criminal trials, and whether his PAC, Save America, is facing a financial crunch.
When Mr. Trump kicked off his 2024 campaign in November, for every dollar raised online, 99 cents went to his campaign, and a penny went to Save America.
But internet archival records show that sometime in February or March, he adjusted that split. Now his campaign’s share has been reduced to 90 percent of donations, and 10 percent goes to Save America.
The effect of that change is potentially substantial: Based on fund-raising figures announced by his campaign, the fine-print maneuver may already have diverted at least $1.5 million to Save America.
And the existence of the group has allowed Mr. Trump to have his small donors pay for his legal expenses, rather than paying for them himself….
“I think in this particular situation, specifically because of the use of the leadership PAC to pay legal expenses and potentially other expenses that would be illegal personal use of campaign money, there’s an unusual incentive for the leadership PAC to take in more than it normally would,” said Adav Noti, senior vice president and legal director of Campaign Legal Center.
In the run-up to Mr. Trump’s latest campaign, his legal bills exploded in size. Save America spent $1.9 million in what it identified as legal expenses in the first half of 2022. That figure ballooned to nearly $14.6 million in the second half of last year, federal records show.
In late 2022, a Trump adviser said that about $20 million had been set aside by Save America PAC to cover legal expenses.
Since then, Mr. Trump has been indicted twice, once by a Manhattan grand jury on charges stemming from a hush-money payment to a porn star, and once by a federal grand jury in Florida on charges including violations of the Espionage Act arising from Mr. Trump’s possession of classified material and government records long after he left office….
It remains unclear whether Mr. Trump will try to use his campaign funds to pay for lawyers, should he run into difficulties with the political action committee — and whether such a move would run afoul of spending rules.
“He can use the campaign to pay for legal bills that arise out of candidate or officeholder activity — and of course, some of the current legal matters fall into that category, and some do not, and some are in a gray area,” Mr. Noti said. “It really depends on what matter we’re talking about.”
Jason Torchinsky, a Republican election lawyer, said he believed Mr. Trump was barred from using Save America donations to pay his personal legal expenses now that he’s a candidate, arguing that doing so would be “an excessive contribution” under Federal Election Commission precedent. And he said Mr. Trump could not use campaign money at all, because it would qualify as personal use.
Super PACs have been growing in strength for more than a decade, but this cycle are swimming in more money than ever. They have started earlier, with more than $14 million in independent expenditures in the primary already, according to federal data, compared with around $950,000 at this time in 2015. The groups are also taking new approaches, deploying staffing at campaign events, paying for door-knocking operations and even sending fundraising texts on candidates’ behalf.
Some of the new strategies could test the legal limits on coordination between campaigns and super PACs, though campaign finance experts say the groups so far seem to be complying with how the Federal Election Commission has interpreted the rules. But the greater on-the-ground presence of super PACs has not gone unnoticed.
“There does seem to be a new level of brazenness about how much super PACs are appearing at campaign events and vice versa,” said Saurav Ghosh, director of federal campaign finance reform at the Campaign Legal Center.
What began a few months ago as a slow drip of fund-raising emails and promotional images composed by A.I. for political campaigns has turned into a steady stream of campaign materials created by the technology, rewriting the political playbook for democratic elections around the world.
Increasingly, political consultants, election researchers and lawmakers say setting up new guardrails, such as legislation reining in synthetically generated ads, should be an urgent priority. Existing defenses, such as social media rules and services that claim to detect A.I. content, have failed to do much to slow the tide.
As the 2024 U.S. presidential race starts to heat up, some of the campaigns are already testing the technology. The Republican National Committee released a video with artificially generated images of doomsday scenarios after President Biden announced his re-election bid, while Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida posted fake images of former President Donald J. Trump with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former health official. The Democratic Party experimented with fund-raising messages drafted by artificial intelligence in the spring — and found that they were often more effective at encouraging engagement and donations than copy written entirely by humans.
Some politicians see artificial intelligence as a way to help reduce campaign costs, by using it to create instant responses to debate questions or attack ads, or to analyze data that might otherwise require expensive experts.
At the same time, the technology has the potential to spread disinformation to a wide audience. An unflattering fake video, an email blast full of false narratives churned out by computer or a fabricated image of urban decay can reinforce prejudices and widen the partisan divide by showing voters what they expect to see, experts say.
The technology is already far more powerful than manual manipulation — not perfect, but fast improving and easy to learn. In May, the chief executive of OpenAI, Sam Altman, whose company helped kick off an artificial intelligence boom last year with its popular ChatGPT chatbot, told a Senate subcommittee that he was nervous about election season.
I canvass a lot of these risks to elections in Cheap Speech.
Carissa Byrne Hessick, Michael Morse, and Nathan Pinnell, Donating to the District Attorney (forthcoming, UC Davis Law Review):
The United States is the only country that elects its local prosecutors. In theory, these local elections could facilitate local control of criminal justice policy. But the academic literature assumes that, in practice, prosecutor elections fail to live up to that promise. This Article complicates that conventional wisdom with a new, national study of campaign contributions in prosecutor elections. The study offers a more complete empirical account of prosecutor accountability by analyzing contributions to local candidates as well as their election results. It details the amount of money in local prosecutor elections, including from interest groups, and the relationship between candidate fundraising and success. The stark differences across the country underscore that the more than two thousand local prosecutors are not a monolith; some offices are best understood as political, with contested elections and significant amounts of campaigning, while most appear more bureaucratic, with neither. Recognizing this distinction suggests that accountability efforts require a multifaceted approach. If some prosecutors are more akin to bureaucrats, reformers should not limit themselves to recruiting electoral challengers; they should also consider layering bureaucratic accountability on top of political accountability. Further, at least for now, money in prosecutor politics has served as a moderating, rather than punitive, force.
Rachael Rollins, the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, improperly used her U.S. Justice Department position to meddle in a local district attorney election by leaking to newspapers dirt about a political rival – one of many ethics violations cited in two reports by government investigators on Wednesday.
The reports by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz and the independent U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) were released a day after Rollins, appointed by Democratic President Joe Biden as the first Black woman to serve as U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, announced she would resign by Friday.
The scathing 161-page inspector general’s report described a host of ethics lapses, from Rollins improperly attending a Democratic fundraising event with U.S. first lady Jill Biden in her capacity as a prosecutor to accusations that she “knowingly and willfully made a false statement” during her interview with Horowitz’s office.
Over in the Boston Globe, “Newly released federal reports fault Rachael Rollins’s conduct as US attorney for Mass.”
And in the Wall Street Journal, “U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins to Resign in Wake of Damning Ethics Reports.”
A special counsel appointed in President Donald Trump’s administration issued a highly critical report on how the FBI handled allegations linking Mr. Trump to Russia in 2016, ending four years of work Monday after having lost the two criminal cases he took to trial.
In his 306-page report, John Durham, the former top federal prosecutor in Connecticut, repeated prior criticisms faulting the Federal Bureau of Investigation on a number of points.
And in the New York Times, “Durham Finds Fault With F.B.I. Over Russia Inquiry“
The trade association representing Washington political consultants wants to curb the use of “deep fakes” in political advertising before it gets the chance to take off, as political campaigns become the latest space scrambling to respond to the proliferation of AI technology.
On Wednesday, the American Association of Political Consultants announced that its board of directors had voted unanimously to formally denounce the practice at the association’s annual conference last month.
This is an intriguing decision, analogizing the challenge to cases protecting advocacy groups’ right to circulate petitions without undue regulation.