Trump Groups Raised Millions, Then Paid It Out to Loyalists and a Trump Hotel

Trump International Hotel in Washington has emerged as the spot for those seeking to rub elbows with those closest to the president.

WASHINGTON — A pair of groups supporting President Trump say they raised $30 million last year, then spent tens of thousands of those dollars at the Trump International Hotel here and on payments to a few Trump loyalists like the former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and the former Milwaukee County sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., according to new campaign finance reports and news reports.

Of the millions raised, at least $1 million came from a coal company that has gained extraordinary access to the Trump administration to push for pro-coal policy changes.

The campaign finance reports shed light on a network of groups that were formed to support Mr. Trump, but have spent less than other groups bolstering his agenda, while steering money to the president’s businesses and his most ardent surrogates.

One of the groups — a “super PAC” called America First Action — spent nearly $33,000 at the Trump International Hotel, primarily on events for donors, and paid tens of thousands of dollars each to Mr. Lewandowski; Brad Parscale, a digital strategist for Mr. Trump’s campaign; and Katrina Pierson, a campaign spokeswoman. Those figures were revealed in a report filed on Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission, which shows that the group raised $4 million last year.

An affiliated nonprofit group, America First Policies, raised $26 million last year, according to a report by Axios. That group is registered under a section of the tax code — 501(c)(4) — that allows it to shield most information about its finances, including the identity of its donors.

The America First groups have been viewed as something of an enigma in campaign finance circles. While many of the Republican Party’s traditional elite donors have publicly kept their distance from the groups, the organizations have the blessing of the administration and have projected confidence in their fund-raising.

But Republican operatives have grumbled that the amount the groups say they have raised have dwarfed the amount they have spent to support Mr. Trump’s political and policy goals during his first year in office.

Reports filed with the election commission show that the groups combined to spend about $3.2 million — just over 10 percent of what they raised — supporting Republican candidates in special elections, including former Senator Luther Strange and Roy S. Moore, who lost their bids for an Alabama Senate seat, and Karen Handel, who won her House campaign in Georgia.

Figures provided by a Republican ad buyer indicate that the groups spent an additional $2.8 million on television ads promoting efforts championed by Mr. Trump to overhaul the tax code and repeal the Affordable Care Act, though there were no records of television ad spending by the groups since the passage last month of the tax overhaul. Other Republican groups have been advertising heavily this year to bolster public approval of the tax overhaul, which is considered critical to the party’s midterm election prospects this year.

Brian O. Walsh, the president of America First Policies, said the group had paid for online ads “highlighting President Trump’s leadership on key issues.” Those ads can be harder to track, and Mr. Walsh declined to provide an “item-by-item breakdown at this time.”

A person close to the groups told Axios that they had $14 million in the bank headed into this year, which could provide the basis for a major midterm election campaign.

But very few of the party’s elite donors were listed among the contributors to America First Action in the report filed on Wednesday with the election commission.

By far the biggest donor was the Los Angeles developer Geoffrey H. Palmer, who donated $2 million of the $3.7 million raised in the second half of the year by America First Action. Mr. Palmer donated generously in 2016, giving $3 million to a different super PAC that supported Mr. Trump, and an additional $310,000 to a committee associated with Mr. Trump’s campaign.

An additional $1 million came from Murray Energy, a coal company based in Ohio that has assiduously courted Mr. Trump as it pressed the new administration to repeal President Barack Obama’s climate change policies intended to shut down old coal-burning power plants. The company had previously donated a combined $550,000 to help fund the Republican convention in Cleveland and Mr. Trump’s inauguration.

In the weeks after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, Murray’s chief executive officer, Robert E. Murray, wrote confidential memos to Vice President Mike Pence and the energy secretary, Rick Perry, laying out a wish list of environmental rollbacks, which he discussed in a meeting with Mr. Perry. The administration is on track to fulfill many of the items on Mr. Murray’s list.

Murray Energy’s donation to America First Action came about five months after Mr. Murray’s meeting with Mr. Perry. Asked whether there was any connection between the donation and the administration’s receptiveness to Mr. Murray, Gary M. Broadbent, a spokesman for Murray Energy, said that “President Trump and his administration have always supported the United States coal industry.”

America First Action has spent heavily to try to court other major donors, as well, paying consultants with significant fund-raising experience, including Cara Mason, the former finance director of the Republican National Committee, and Marty Obst, a longtime aide and current policy adviser to Mr. Pence. Their respective firms were paid $60,000 each in the second half of last year by America First Action.

The super PAC hosted a Christmas party for donors at the Trump International Hotel, which has emerged as a go-to destination for donors and others seeking to rub elbows with Trump family members and insiders. The party was attended by Mr. Pence, as well as Trump family members and several members of Congress. In addition, America First Action spent more than $57,000 on gifts for donors at upscale jewelry stores, the White House Historical Association and 800-CEO-READ, a company that sells bulk orders of books about business, including many of Mr. Trump’s titles.

The super PAC also paid $55,000 to a firm owned by Mr. Lewandowski, $40,000 to one owned by Ms. Pierson and $137,000 to one owned by Mr. Parscale. He is in charge of digital outreach for America First Action and Mr. Trump’s campaign, and it is possible that his firm is using the money it received from the PAC to buy digital advertising. Mr. Clarke, who is a spokesman and senior adviser to America First, was paid $32,000 through his firm.

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