The Most Surprising Ways 2024 Candidates Spent Donor Money

How political candidates spend their money can say a lot about them: their instincts, their attention to detail, their concern for money or lack thereof.

So last week's year-end reports with the Federal Election Commission served as an MRI of sorts. They showed how some campaigns had thrived, while others had suffered from slowed donor oxygen flows, hemorrhaging of uncontrolled spending and old-fashioned bloat. In some cases, the documents were more akin to an autopsy. (Presidential candidate Tim Scott spent $16.8 million on media and advertising, and he was ruined before a single vote was cast.)

Then there were the weirder objects.

Case in point, the $655,000 spent on “gift card exchange services” by Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez, a reminder of an ill-fated effort to lure donors to his dubiously viable presidential campaign. Or the $218,500 paid by one of former President Donald J. Trump's political committees to Hervé Pierre Braillard, a stylist who worked with Melania Trump, for “strategy consulting”.

Here are other examples of surprising or strange campaign spending.

You could be forgiven for missing it, but Texas pastor and businessman Ryan Binkley is still running for the Republican presidential nomination.

And he spent $772,000 on hats.

His file unfortunately provides few details, but according to This picture According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, at least one of the hats is a drawing of a trucker emblazoned with the letters “WTF” – “Way to Freedom.” The overall hat spending was part of a $5 million outlay to Victory Enterprises, an Iowa political consulting group.

“To date, the Binkley campaign has produced more than 50,000 hats,” said Heath Flock, Mr. Binkley’s campaign manager. “Yes, that’s a lot of hats.”

Mr Flock added: “We used Binkley branded hats as giveaways at all of our campaign events and as an incentive to contribute. While other presidential campaigns solicited donations by offering free gas cards or tuition incentives, we simply offered our hats as a thank you to people who donated to our campaign.

Mr. Binkley was not the only candidate whose company spent heavily on merchandise. The Ron DeSantis-supporting super PAC, Never Back Down, paid a vendor $43,000 to “source field operations uniforms” as it deployed door knockers in early candidate states.

Representatives for Never Back Down did not respond to requests for comment.

The super PAC also paid $13,858 for “collateral materials” – jackets, pins, flags – from ACE Specialties, a Louisiana company.

Interestingly, the company also bills itself as the “official merchandiser” of Mr. Trump’s campaign. The former president's joint fundraising committee paid CAC nearly $79,000 for items such as “Collaterals: Flags and Hats” and “Collaterals: Clothing, Hats, Stickers and Freight.”

If you're running for president and you're not wearing an iconic hat, you must have good hair.

It's clear that politicians need to pay attention to their presentation and polish – but voters tend to raise their eyebrows at large expenditures on personal hygiene and clothing. Remember John Edwards' $400 haircuts? Or Sarah Palin's $150,000 wardrobe, provided by the Republican National Committee?

Never Back Down, the DeSantis super PAC, made two payments last year totaling $6,675.93 to Haus of Beauty, a Tallahassee beauty salon, for “Staff Services/Facilities.”

A representative for Never Back Down declined to comment. The beauty salon did not respond to a request for comment.

Ice cream stops are such a political cliché that “Veep” built an entire episode around a visit to a frozen yogurt shop. So far this cycle, candidates and political committees have spent more than $10,000 on ice cream events, according to a New York Times analysis.

A few favorite spots stand out, including Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, a chain that started in Ohio, and Ice Cream Jubilee in Washington, DC.

Most expenses amount to several hundred dollars. One exception is Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, whose campaign reported a $17.52 expenditure at a Jeni store in Virginia in November.

Oddly enough, the ice cream eater in chief – President Biden – hasn't listed any obvious ice cream expenses so far this year. On Monday, he ordered a pink boba tea during a campaign stop in Nevada.

Michael C. Bender And Nicolas Nehamas reports contributed.

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