Donald Trump’s Pennsylvania supporters say they’re happy to pay his legal fees

HARRISBURG — Rebecca LaFleur gave former President Donald Trump’s campaign $50 last year — not an insignificant amount for the retired addiction counselor from Schwenksville.

And LaFleur, who has backed Trump in each of his presidential runs, has no problem if some of that money offsets payments for the former president’s legal fees.

“I say, good! Use it! The judicial weaponization has to be stopped,” LaFleur, 61, said at the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, a huge expo dedicated to hunting, fishing, and outdoor sports, sponsored by the National Rifle Association. Trump will make his first Pennsylvania campaign stop of 2024 at the expo Friday afternoon.

As Trump turns his sights to a general election battle in which he’s poised to be the GOP nominee, he’s also fighting unprecedented legal challenges for a former president in both criminal and civil court. Trump’s latest campaign finance filings show his campaign and affiliated committees spent nearly $50 million of contributions to pay lawyers and other expenses associated with the 91 felony counts he faces.

His supporters say they don’t mind a bit, though some expressed concerns about Trump’s ability to financially compete in an expensive contest.

Interviews with a dozen supporters in Pennsylvania, some of them donors, underlined how Trump’s popularity with his base has fueled his domination in the Republican primary. In Pennsylvania, where Trump won by less than 1 percentage point in 2016 and lost by a little more than 1 point in 2020, holding onto his faithfuls will be key.

There’s little sign avid supporters in the state have abandoned him over his legal troubles.

At the Harrisburg exposition cardboard cutouts of Trump, 2024 Trump flags, T-shirts, and hats filled in displays between taxidermy elk, guns, and fishing and hunting equipment in the cavernous halls.

“I’m not saying he’s innocent on every single thing but I feel like they’re really fishing,” said Vance Monroe, founder of a social media site for hunters called CamoSpace, at the expo. “I’d like his name cleared so it doesn’t impact his campaign.”

Pennsylvania ranks sixth among states that have donated to Trump, both in terms of dollars and total donors — in line with its population as the fifth largest state. Pennsylvania donors gave $9.2 million to Trump’s campaign fundraising committees in the last three years. A smaller amount of nearly $520,000 from the state went to Trump-aligned PACs, Save America and MAGA Inc., which have paid the bulk of Trump’s legal bills. Fundraising spiked for Trump after his first indictment in March, an Inquirer analysis showed.

Joseph Mariutti, a 38-year-old Trump supporter from South Philadelphia, gave Trump’s campaign $2,000 this year. Mariutti, who owns a concierge pharmacy service, said in a phone interview that he felt an obligation to donate, partly because of Trump’s court cases.

“The guy gets up every day and there’s another AG coming at him with new charges,” Mariutti said. “It’s a joke.”

Trump, the first president in U.S. history to be indicted, faces multiple cases across several states, including four criminal cases. He’s charged with efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Washington, D.C., with election interference in Georgia, allegations he paid hush money to a porn star in New York, and allegations he hoarded classified documents in Florida.

He’s also defending himself against a civil suit in New York over alleged padding of the Trump Organization business empire’s worth. And his eligibility to appear on the ballot in Colorado’s primary is under review by the U.S. Supreme Court. While the legal timelines are fluid, the cases could unfold during the heat of the presidential campaign.

Mariutti sees defense against the cascading legal issues as synonymous with supporting Trump’s campaign.

“So, if it’s defending himself from staying out of jail or utilizing it to go on the road to campaign, at the end of the day, tomato, [tomatoh], he’s got a job to get done,” he said.

Some Trump supporters said they do worry about whether the legal expenses will gobble up money needed to compete in a close race, including in an expensive state like Pennsylvania.

Sean Logue chairs the Republican Party in Washington County, which saw one of the largest countywide increases in votes for Trump between 2016 and 2020.

“The money thing is scary,” Logue said, adding that Trump needs to be able to defend himself. “If he wasn’t running for president he wouldn’t have $50 million in legal fees. It’s the cost of doing business and we all recognize that.”

The RNC reported its lowest fundraising totals in 10 years earlier this month, recording a cash balance of $14.3 million on hand. Combined with Trump’s principal campaign committee, Republicans have approximately $41 million in cash, compared to $67 million between the Democratic National Committee and President Joe Biden’s campaign.

Walter Sprenkle, a retired arborist and hunting enthusiast, said he thinks a lot of Trump loyalists are wary of the RNC. He stopped donating after 2020, frustrated, he said that the party “did nothing about voter fraud.” There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

“I gave them $200 the first time and I said, ‘Dammit, if they could not get that election verified that it was stolen, I’m keeping my money.’”

Asked about fundraising, Trump’s campaign said in a statement that Trump’s record would deliver him the state. A spokesperson for MAGA Inc., a Trump super PAC that has helped foot his legal bills, said the group would work to ensure President Joe Biden “is defeated in November.”

Ultimately, Trump’s legal woes are unlikely to matter much to core supporters. But they could have an impact on the broader GOP electorate. A recent Bloomsburg News/Morning Consult poll of swing state voters found a majority of voters – 53% – would not vote for Trump if he’s convicted of a crime.

“It’s a little worrisome for me,” said Logan Dubil, a 23-year-old volunteer with the conservative group Turning Point USA, who was working to register attendees to vote at the expo. “I don’t think the majority of the Republican Party would say that but obviously if he ends up getting found guilty it’s not a good look for the party.”

Dubil initially supported Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ bid for the White House, partly because Trump’s legal problems concern him. DeSantis dropped out and endorsed Trump last month.

“I will gladly give him my vote this time around,” Dubil said of Trump. “As long as everything works out for him with these cases.”

Trump, who is neck and neck with Biden in most recent Pennsylvania polls, has used the appeal that he’s the victim of a judicial witch hunt in his fundraising solicitations. One sent out by the this week read:

“They want me off the ballot. They want me locked away. They want me COMPLETELY ERASED!…But what they don’t know is this: YOU WON’T LET THAT HAPPEN!”

For many supporters at the outdoor show in Harrisburg this week, the feeling of urgency matches the tone of the emails. David Lazer, a Johnstown native who now runs bus tours in Alaska, propped a “Trump 2024″ sign up in his booth next to pictures of the Alaskan wilderness and bear hunts.

Lazer said he’s for Trump no matter what happens.

“I’d vote for him if he was in prison.”

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