Since his first presidential bid, Donald Trump has been an outspoken critic of big-money politics, saying "I don't need anybody's money," mocking Republican candidates backed by the Koch brothers as "puppets" and even calling super PACs a "scam."
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But big donors have found a path to supporting Trump’s reelection bid. Employing the methods honed by a generation of Washington insiders, donors are sending large-dollar contributions to America First Action. The "approved” Trump fundraising committee, known as a super PAC, that is "run by allies of the President" and promises to be a "trusted supporter of President Trump's policies and agendas."
That super PAC has assumed a leadership role in vacuuming up large-dollar contributions -- including more than $10 million from some of the most generous GOP donors, including Las Vegas casino Mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, and $4 million from California real estate mogul Geoffrey Palmer.
America First Action is not the only group lending support to the Trump reelection bid. Some of the same committees formed during his 2016 bid are also attempting a return to support the president's second run.
America First Action
Launched by former Trump campaign aides in April of 2017 and currently headed by GOP operative Brian Walsh, America First Action has quickly locked down its title as the main pro-Trump outside fundraising vehicle, raising nearly $40 million and spending more than $36 million in just the first two years of its operation, with support from some of the most generous GOP donors, including Adelson, according to campaign finance records filed to the Federal Election Commission.
With the absence of a presidential election during the 2018 cycle, the super PAC mainly focused on supporting Trump's allies in congressional races, spending nearly $30 million on some of the key races during the midterms, including the Indiana, the Missouri and Montana Senate races, while its 501(c)(4) nonprofit arm, America First Policies, has been focused on promoting the president's policies on immigration and border security, according to campaign finance records and Facebook ad library data.
The super PAC recently recruited former Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon, a wealthy former professional wrestling executive and a major 2016 Trump campaign booster, as the head of its fundraising operation.
America First Action is also one of the biggest spenders at the Trump hotel in Washington, hosting lavish fundraisers and events featuring some of Trump's closest allies or often the president himself.
Prior to running America First Action, Walsh headed an anti-Hillary Clinton super PAC called Future45 during the 2016 cycle.
Future45, however, really ended up in the spotlight over the last two months of the race when Chicago Cubs owner Todd Ricketts, previously one of the front-runners of the #NeverTrump movement, assumed control of the operation and raised $30 million for Trump, most notably $20 million from Adelson and his wife, Miriam Adelson, who had been mostly silent about the presidential election until then.
The super PAC's nonprofit spin-off, 45 Committee, which wasn't required to disclose donors because nonprofits that report to the Internal Revenue Services don't have the same disclosure requirements as political groups that report to the FEC, appealed to top GOP donors who had previously subscribed to the anti-Trump sentiment but wanted to secretly support Trump, according to a Politico report at the time.
Ricketts, whose family had previously been threatened by Trump over a tweet that "They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!" has since won over the president's heart, being named the Republican National Committee finance chairman last year and recently becoming the finance chair of Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee between the Trump campaign and the RNC. It's still unclear what Trump meant when he said the Ricketts have a lot to hide.
Future45 has continued to raise money from big-name Republican donors, including multiple seven-figure checks from the Ricketts family, hedge fund manager Paul Singer and financing executive Charles Schwab during the 2018 election cycle, FEC records show. Much of the $6 million the group raised, however, went to congressional races.
45 Committee's activities are still largely shrouded, but limited information from various public disclosure reports shows that the group has been diligent in attacking Democrats and supporting Trump's policies such as Brett Kavanaugh's nomination for the Supreme Court.
Great America PAC
Founded by Republican strategist Eric Beach and currently led by veteran Republican strategist Ed Rollins, Great America PAC was one of the few groups that had been loyal to Trump from the very beginning.
One of the biggest pro-Trump super PACs throughout the 2016 election cycle, Great America PAC raised more than $28 million and spent more than $23 million throughout 2016, according to campaign finance records. The super PAC launched a pro-Trump reelection campaign immediately after his inauguration, spending just shy of $10 million already, more than $6 million which has gone to supporting the president.
Last month, Great America PAC blasted out Facebook ads promoting first lady Melania Trump's birthday and calling special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election the "Largest Political Scam Ever," according to Facebook ad library data. More recently, the group launched multiple ad campaigns hitting at Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, calling him "creepy Joe."
Rebuilding America Now
Once touted by then-Trump's running mate Mike Pence as "one of the best ways to stop Clinton and help elect Donald Trump," Rebuilding America Now is now in the middle of a "kickback scheme" allegations.
Launched with help from former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's longtime associate Tom Barrack and run by Manafort's family friend Laurance Gay, the super PAC raised and spent more than $23 million in support of Trump during the 2016 election, FEC records show, but has been mostly been quiet since with no fundraising activities and just minimal social media postings.
The now-dormant group, however, was thrust back into the public eye late last year when it was linked to a mysterious $125,000 payment to Manafort that he lied about to the special counsel's team. In explaining his interest in the payment to a judge, Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann described Rebuilding America Now's operation as a "kickback scheme," designed to profit those running the PAC. While the word "kickback" was redacted in court documents, sources confirmed to ABC News that the redacted portions corresponded with the word.
Gay was paid about $378,000 by Rebuilding America Now during the 2016 cycle and continued to be paid nearly $1 million during the 2018 cycle, according to FEC records.
The New York Times reported in December that Rebuilding America Now has also been examined by New York prosecutors for possible illegal foreign donations.
The Committee to Defend the President
The Committee to Defend the President has been one of the most aggressive pro-Trump super PACs so far this year, already spending nearly $1 million in support of Trump, according to campaign finance records.
The group, previously known as Stop Hillary PAC, however, was founded by Republican consultant Guy Short, who has called Trump a "liar" and said that he "spent thousands of dollars of [his] own money" to become a Colorado delegate for the Republican party "to make sure Donald Trump is NOT our nominee."
The PAC changed its name quickly after Trump took office, raised nearly $9 million and spent more than $4 million in support of Trump during 2018 cycle, FEC filings show.