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Voices: We now know Trump’s Big Lie cost his supporters millions of dollars — and taxpayers even more

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(REUTERS)

Monday’s January 6 hearings revealed that in the wake of the 2020 presidential election and Donald Trump’s continuous repetition of his election fraud lie, the former president’s campaign team sent fundraising emails requesting donations for a fictitious “Official Election Defense Fund.” Trump raised around $250 million in contributions from Big Lie believers who thought they were funding an investigation into election-rigging. Instead, people’s donations were spent in ridiculous ways — such as reportedly paying $60,000 to Kimberly Guilfoyle for a two-minute speech in which she introduced her boyfriend at the January 6th ‘Stop the Steal’ rally.

But as expensive as upkeep on Trump’s Big Lie has been for his supporters, that is nothing compared to the hundreds of millions it has already cost taxpayers — and will continue to cost us in the future.

As the House Select Committee attempts to measure the impact of Trump’s Big Lie in broken norms, criminal statutes, and acts of violence, it is worthwhile to reflect that its cost to the American people can also be measured in literal dollars and cents. After all, in the United States, money has always been our most trusted yardstick.

Back in February of 2021, just one month after the attack on the Capitol, the Washington Post estimated that Trump’s election fraud lie had already cost over $500m in United States taxpayer dollars. By the Post’s calculations, at least $488m went to costs related to the January 6 insurrection and inauguration, including for enhanced security measures and repairs. At least $28m went to state-level insurrection and inauguration security costs. And at least $2m was spent on state legal fees for failed challenges to the election as well as elections officials’ security.

These calculations account for the months Trump spent mounting baseless lawsuits challenging the results of the election at the state level — all of which were more or less laughed out of court. They also account for the immediate aftermath of the insurrection, which included not just physical repairs to the Capitol building but also security responses to violent threats across the country. Expenses like State Troopers and National Guardsmen and SWAT teams called in to stave off violent Inauguration Day plots and extra security for election workers directly targeted by Trump’s conspiracy theorists.

Now, more than a year later, the financial toll continues to grow, added to a never-ending tab opened by Trump in the taxpayers’ name. Increased Capitol police presence continues to be funded by the government, as do the ongoing prosecutions of Capitol riot defendants. The January 6 committee itself spent $1.6m in the past quarter, according to ABC News. Meanwhile, individual states are spending more and more money on election security. The Michigan Department of State, for instance, recently announced $8m in grants for local elections officials to improve security. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger has called for increased funding for elections officials and has also supported bills that would fund two new election “investigators.”

And this still only accounts for what has already been spent. The fact is that increased election security will likely have to be baked into states’ (already strained) spending budgets from now on. Then there is the likelihood of copycat election challenge lawsuits in future elections, which have already been foreshadowed by Raffensberger’s proposed election investigators and Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano.

Meanwhile, with unsurprising irony, every spending bill put forth by Congressional Democrats in the past two years — bills which would address income inequality and improve vital infrastructure — have lagged in the Senate as Republicans (plus Joe Manchin) fret about the deficit and government spending. Every day we lose more and more precious tax dollars to the enormous effort of propping up democracy with our bare hands while voting rights legislation withers on the vine. People are bleeding money on rent, at the gas pump, and in the grocery store while simultaneously footing the bill for Trump’s petty fascism.

If there is a place where the lasting impact of the Big Lie may be felt most directly and acutely, it is not in the looming, intangible threat of authoritarianism — it’s in the bank.