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Trump asks for ‘election defense’ donations, but the money also benefits his new leadership PAC

President Donald J. Trump speaks during an election event in the East Room at the White House in the early morning hours on Nov. 4, 2020, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

(CNN) — President Donald Trump has established a leadership PAC, a fundraising arm that could allow him to continue to exert influence in Republican politics even after he leaves office.

“The President always planned to do this, win or lose, so he can support candidates and issues he cares about, such as combating voter fraud,” campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in an emailed statement Tuesday when asked about the PAC.

The committee is dubbed Save America, according to its filings with the Federal Election Commission. And Trump’s team already has begun fundraising for the PAC, adding Save America to the list of political organizations that will receive a share of the funds the President’s operation is scrambling to raise for what it calls his “election defense task force.”

The fundraising could keep Trump on the political stage, funneling money to his preferred candidates in the midterm elections and beyond. He also can tap the PAC’s money to fund his own political activity by underwriting polling, travel, staff and other expenses.

Leadership PACs can accept donations of up to $5,000 from each individual donor a year. They also can accept money from other political action committees.

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Trump’s plans to start a leadership PAC were first reported by The New York Times.

The Trump campaign has relentlessly barraged supporters for campaign money, sending more than 149 fundraising emails since 11 p.m. on Election Night.

One solicitation sent Tuesday morning calls on “every single Patriot … to help DEFEND the integrity” of the election.

Save America, however, gets an early cut of the funds raised. The fine print shows that 60% of the funds go first to Save America — up to the $5,000 legal donation limit — and then to the Trump campaign’s recount account. Forty percent will go to the Republican National Committee’s operating account.

Campaign finance experts say Trump is engaging in a bait-and-switch tactic with his supporters.

“He’s saying that he needs donors’ money for election-challenge litigation, but he’s putting the money into an account to be used for his political future,” said Paul Ryan, the vice president for policy and litigation at Common Cause.

Fundraising limits are higher for leadership PACs than candidate committees. A donor could only contribute a maximum of $2,800 at this point for a 2024 presidential campaign but can contribute $20,000 to a leadership PAC in four, annual installments by that date, Ryan notes.

The rules on spending by leadership PACs also are far more relaxed than those for campaign committees and do not restrict politicians from using donors’ funds for personal expenses — a use forbidden in a presidential campaign account.

“Leadership PACs are notoriously abused by politicians as slush funds without violating any laws,” Ryan said.

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump so far has not conceded his election loss to President-elect Joe Biden, and has instead repeatedly aired unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud, though CNN has reported that some in his inner circle are urging him to come to terms with his defeat.

But he is viewed as certain to continue weighing in on the state of the country even after leaving the White House, and will hold considerable influence as Republican presidential hopefuls vie for the party’s 2024 nomination.

In one sign of the President’s hold on the Republican Party, top GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill have not acknowledged Biden’s victory. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump is “within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration so far has refused to sign off on a key document needed to begin the transition process and give Biden access to the resources he needs to begin to prepare to take office in January.

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