A political action committee affiliated with former President Donald Trump that formed to spread debunked voter fraud claims and try to overturn Joe Biden's win in the 2020 presidential contest has since raised millions and come under attack for how it has spent its dollars and allegations it misled donors.
Trump and his allies have used the money to donate to far-right campaigns, pay for events, including Trump's Jan. 6, 2021, speech that preceded that attack on the Capitol, and to compensate a fashion designer who styled Melania Trump, USA TODAY found.
The Save America PAC received scrutiny from the House Jan. 6 committee investigating the Capitol riot this summer. The committee found Trump disseminated false claims about the election to raise millions of dollars that benefitted the committee even though he lacked evidence of widespread voter fraud..
The Save America PAC still has millions of dollars of cash on hand and Federal Election Commission regulations leave Trump positioned to use the funds if he chooses to launch a 2024 presidential campaign.
Save America paid Melania Trump's designer: Trump PAC formed to push debunked voter fraud claims paid $60K to Melania Trump's fashion designer
Here's everything you need to know about the Save America PAC.
What is the Save America PAC?
The Save America PAC is a Trump-backed political action committee (a commonly used vehicle for candidates to raise money) that formed six days after the 2020 presidential election to spread debunked voter fraud claims.
It is classified as a leadership PAC, a designation given to a political action committee that allows politicians to raise funds for other candidates. The Save America fund differs from a candidate committee which is used to raise money directly for the politician who formed it.
How can Trump spend Save America PAC money? He has some options.
The FEC prohibits candidate committees from purchasing personal items with money raised. However, because the Save America PAC is designated as a leadership committee, donations can be used for a wide range of purposes, campaign finance expert Michael Kang said.
"What that range encompasses is not so well defined right now," he said, referencing a lack of campaign finance guidance and regulations from the FEC.
Kang, a professor at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, said leadership PACs are less restrictive than campaign PACs. The boundaries are often unclear for how leadership committees can spend donations.
"There's not firm regulations that make clear that you have to use the money in a clearly directed way and there's still a lot of discretion in how the money's used especially on the leadership side," he said.
More on the Save America PAC: Trump committee raised millions to fight election fraud before Jan. 6. Here's how that money was spent.
Save America paid Melania Trump's designer $60K
In one example, USA TODAY found the Save America PAC distributed $60,000 to a fashion designer who styled Melania Trump’s clothes when she was serving as first lady.
The four payments to Hervé Pierre Braillard started April 7 and went through June 24, according to FEC records.
Zang said the FEC hasn't drawn clear lines whether an expense like clothing is allowable. He said there could be an argument made that the former first lady's image serves as a political function.
"That's at least the argument that either there's not a restriction on personal use of this money or this, while seemingly sketchy, still falls within the vague boundaries of a legitimate use of the money," Zang said.
Taylor Budowich, a senior official with Save America, told USA TODAY last week that “Mr. Pierre serves as a senior adviser to Save America, involved in event management and special projects."
Where did the money come from?
Trump raised millions of dollars telling his supporters their donations would be used for election fraud claims. Most of the money went to the Save America PAC.
Amanda Wick, senior investigative counsel with the House Jan. 6 committee, said the Trump campaign sent millions of fundraising emails to supporters between Nov. 3, 2020 and Jan. 6, 2021.
This included as many as 25 emails per day.
The emails continued to fill inboxes as Trump spoke near the White House on Jan. 6. Exactly 30 minutes after supporters received the last fundraising email, the Capitol was breached.
Jan. 6 committee hearings: Trump ignored aides and evidence he lost, panel says he ripped off donors
The emails, which contained language warning a “left-wing mob” was undermining the election and asked supporters to “step up to make sure we have enough resources” to protect election integrity, told supporters Trump activated the “official election defense fund.”
The House select committee concluded no such fund existed.
Former Trump Campaign Digital Directory Gary Coby told the committee the election defense fund was a marketing tactic.
The committee concluded the Trump campaign knew these claims of voter fraud were false, yet continued to send emails asking for money to support the election defense fund.
How much money did the PAC raise?
Save America raised $135.2 million from its inception to June 30, 2022, according to FEC data.
Most of the money – around $84.3 million – came from the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a fundraising apparatus that led the email campaign.
Between Jan. 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022, a majority of individual contributions to Save America PAC were less than $200.
As of the last FEC filing deadline, Save America raised $103.7 million from Jan. 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022. The fund presently has $103.1 million cash on hand.
How is the money spent?
The Save America PAC has spent less than a third of the money raised and has tens of millions of dollars remaining.
Money has been used for political consulting, various donations to other campaigns, travel-related expenses and for holding events.
The Jan. 6 committee found the Save America PAC contributed $1 million to the Conservative Partnership Institute, former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadow’s charitable foundation; $1 million to the America First Policy Institute, a conservative organization that employs former Trump administration officials; $204,857 to the Trump hotel collection and over $5 million to Event Strategies, the company that ran the Jan. 6 rally near the White House.
The PAC has given the maximum donation to dozens of right-leaning congressional candidates including Harriet Hageman, who is running to unseat Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.; Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who replaced Cheney in Republican leadership; Mark Finchem, who is running for secretary of state in Arizona; Kelly Tshibaka, a Republican running against Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Herschel Walker, a Republican running for a Senate seat in Georgia; Joe Kent, a GOP candidate for Congress in Washington; Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo.; Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
USA TODAY found the donations to the Save America PAC paid "payroll" expenses of $98,716 to Trump social media strategist Dan Scavino and $78,381 to former aide Stephen Miller, who runs an organization that poses legal challenges to the Biden administration.
The committee gave $2.6 million to a political action committee called Take Back Georgia and $500,000 each to a super PAC called Wyoming Values and Get Georgia Right.
The New York Times has also reported Trump and his allies have paid or promised to pay for the legal fees of witnesses who were questioned as part of the investigation on the attack on the Capitol.
Of the $31.8 million spent from Jan. 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, 68% was spent on operating expenditures while about 16% was contributed to other committees.
Why is the Save America PAC receiving scrutiny?
The Jan. 6 committee found most of the money donated that went to the Save America PAC was not used for election-related litigation.
“Not only was there the big lie, there was the big rip off,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. said during a Jan. 6 hearing in June. “Donors deserve to know where their funds are really going. They deserve better than what President Trump and his team did.”
Lofgren said Trump continued to push a stolen election narrative even though he and his allies knew his litigation efforts failed. She added he “misled” campaign donors when saying their donations would be used for election fraud claims.
Campaign finance expert Michael Kang said this use of funds is troubling. He defined "scam PACs" as when a committee takes advantage of donors' excitement and political energy, but money given isn't used to support those certain causes.
However, he said there are no campaign finance regulations for when money is raised for a specific purpose and used for something else.
If Trump decides to run for president, Kang said he has concerns over how donations from the Save America PAC could be used in a presidential campaign.
"It's still kind of a wild west of campaign finance right now where practitioners decide how best to interpret the rules," he said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jan 6 committee scrutinized Trump's Save America PAC. Here's why.