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Trump And Other Republicans Use Impeachment Process As Fundraising Opportunity


In the days following the House Democrats' announcement of an impeachment inquiry, President Trump raised more than a million dollars from big-dollar donors for his reelection. In the months since, impeachment has been a central component of his fundraising strategy, and he's not alone. Politicians of all stripes are using these hearings to bring in money in advance of the 2020 races. Dave Levinthal from the Center for Public Integrity has kept an eye on these efforts. He joins us now in studio.

Welcome to the program.

DAVE LEVINTHAL: Hey. Good to be with you, Audie.

CORNISH: Let's start with President Trump. How much has he raised since the start of this process?

LEVINTHAL: Going into the impeachment inquiry, Donald Trump's presidential campaign had already raised more than $100 million. You've got to imagine, even though we don't have numbers yet and won't until January, that he's raised millions upon millions, likely tens of millions of dollars from all the appeals and all the efforts that he's put forward to raise money off the issue of impeachment.

CORNISH: Because we don't have the data yet, how are you gauging how much they're raising and the pace at which they're raising? I mean, what makes you think that impeachment has been a moneymaker?

LEVINTHAL: We got a good glimpse right in the last few days in September, right after Nancy Pelosi had announced the impeachment inquiry - and analyzed the data that we did have available then. We saw a huge spike in big-dollar donations to Donald Trump's campaign that were bigger than anything that he had raised during this calendar year, so it's very clear that impeachment is a moneymaker. And given all of the messages that have gone out by presidential candidates across the board since, you got to expect that they're raising a heck of a lot of money right now.

CORNISH: What do these asks look like to donors? I know emails go out. Text messages go out. But what kind of language is being used, especially since the impeachment process has begun?

LEVINTHAL: The language is often very angry. It plays on people's fears. It's even vengeful, and a lot of the kind of keywords that Donald Trump often uses in his tweets and other messages, such as witch hunt and hoax - these are the types of terms that are getting used in these email messages, these text messages that are getting them to open up their wallets and donate money to his reelection campaign.

CORNISH: Who is the campaign targeting, big or small donors?

LEVINTHAL: The campaign is targeting both. And Donald Trump has walked a sort of very interesting line in contrast with many of his potential Democratic opponents in the sense that he's going after the big-dollar donations. And he wants you to donate big if you can. But also, too, he's building one heck of a grassroots, small-dollar donor army. We've seen evidence - and this is both on the Republican and the Democratic side but certainly for Donald Trump - people who will make 50, a hundred, even a thousand contributions over the course of a campaign. It's rare, but it happens.

CORNISH: Let's talk about Democrats for a bit because we're hearing a lot on the House floor today - many Democrats getting up and saying, nobody runs for election to impeach a president. But what do the fundraising messages tell us about the last couple of weeks?

LEVINTHAL: Impeachment has been great political business for Donald Trump. It's also been pretty good political business for Democrats, too. And sure, lots of people care about health care. Lots of people care about transportation, the environment. But, really, when it comes down to it, impeachment is overriding pretty much every other issue that's on the dance card right now.

CORNISH: Did we see anything like this during the Clinton impeachment?

LEVINTHAL: Nothing at all, and there's two reasons for that. No. 1, there was a philosophical aversion to fundraising off of something that so many people then considered the most solemn affair that Congress could engage itself in; the impeachment of a president. They just weren't willing to, by and large, take that step. But also, technology, Audie, is a huge issue here. The Internet was pretty much in toddlerhood. There were effectively no politicians who were using the Internet to fundraise.

CORNISH: Any signs this might slow down as impeachment heads to the Senate?

LEVINTHAL: No signs at all that this is going to slow down - one has to expect that if Donald Trump goes to his Senate trial and gets acquitted, as is almost certain to happen, that he's going to take a victory lap and encourage people to donate to what he hopes is going to be his ultimate victory in November. He's going to ride this money train for as far as he possibly can. And the Democrats, too, are probably going to get in the game, too, and do the same.

CORNISH: Dave Levinthal of the Center for Public Integrity, thanks so much for speaking with us.

LEVINTHAL: My pleasure - thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.