Trump increases advertising spending during pandemic

Donald Trump’s campaign is spending far more on advertising than it did at the same stage of his 2016 race as the coronavirus pandemic limits the opportunities for presidential appearances, according to a Financial Times analysis of Federal Election Commission filings.

The Trump campaign’s advertising expenditure in the first six months of 2020 was $80m, compared with $21m in the first half of 2016. The campaign of former vice-president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, used $65m for ads in the first six months of this year.

Mr Trump’s campaign also has spent $4.9m on polling since the beginning of the 2020 election cycle — more than it spent in the entire 2016 campaign. Mr Biden has spent $317,000 on polling.

Most of the $4.9m went to two groups: Fabrizio, Lee & Associates, Mr Trump’s chief pollster in 2016, which is co-owned by Tony Fabrizio, a former associate of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and a company headed by pollster John McLaughlin, who wrote a memo in June criticising what he called “skewed media polls” favouring Mr Biden.

The new filings reveal how the two presidential campaigns have adapted in the age of coronavirus, with both vastly curtailing expenditures on airfare and other travel costs, while increasing spending on advertising and text-message outreach to supporters.

Bullet chart showing 2020 spending for Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Both candidates' spending ramped up in June, surpassing 2016 levels for Hillary Clinton and Mr Trump

Mr Trump’s campaign spent $50m in June — roughly double what it spent in May — while Mr Biden’s campaign spent $37m. Both figures eclipsed the campaign spending of Mr Trump and Hillary Clinton in June 2016.

At the end of June, Mr Biden had $108.9m in cash on hand — compared with $113m for Mr Trump, illustrating the extent to which Mr Biden has closed the money gap with Mr Trump. At the end of the first quarter, Mr Biden’s campaign had $26.4m in cash on hand compared with $98.5m for Mr Trump.

Line charts showing Donald Trump spent almost as much as he raised in June 2020, while Joe Biden's June fundraising far outpaced his spending

The two campaigns had previously reported the amounts they had raised in June — with Mr Biden and the Democratic National Committee taking in $141m, $10m more than what Mr Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee raised. Both men have raised record sums for a presidential candidate of their party.

David Tamasi, a Republican fundraiser for Mr Trump, said both campaigns had sufficient resources to pour money into additional advertising markets outside a half dozen make-or-break swing states. Mr Biden’s campaign has promised a steep increase in ad spending over the next week, including new ads in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, battleground states that Mr Trump won in 2016.

“If resources are unlimited,” he said, Mr Trump could “throw money” at Democratic leaning-states such as Minnesota, New Hampshire and New Mexico. Democrats, he said, would probably advertise in such Republican strongholds as Georgia and Texas, forcing Mr Trump to play defence.

In June, 77 per cent — or $28m — of Biden’s campaign spending was on ads, compared with 60 per cent — or $20.6m — for Mrs Clinton’s campaign in June 2016. Of the $28m, $380,000 was spent on Facebook ads. So far, the Biden campaign has spent $1.6m on Facebook ads.

The Trump campaign spent $41m on ads last month — 82 per cent of its total expenditures. In June 2016, just 21 per cent of the Trump campaign’s spending went to ads.

Both campaigns are continuing to invest in text messaging. In June, Mr Biden paid $1.6m for “text message outreach/fundraising” to Austin-based Upland Software, while Mr Trump paid $1m for “sms advertising” to American Made Media Consultants, a company created by former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale.

Supporters of both candidates have taken heart that they have been able to take in record amounts during the pandemic, with small donors fuelling both campaigns.

Mr Biden’s team quickly shifted from in-person fundraisers to virtual events held over Zoom, some involving hundreds of supporters and others being more intimate events for Mr Biden’s biggest donors.

Mr Trump has now taken a page out of Mr Biden’s book and will host his first virtual fundraiser on Tuesday.

The president has also begun to host in-person fundraisers at a more regular rate. On Monday, he held a fundraiser at the Trump International hotel in Washington, two weeks after hosting an in-person fundraiser in Florida where tickets were priced at $580,600 per couple. Later this week, Mike Pence, vice-president, will head to Nantucket in Massachusetts for an outdoor donor event, where Covid-19 tests will be administered at the door.