WASHINGTON — First-time candidate Donald Trump got a late start on fundraising in 2016, holding his first big-ticket donor event only five months before Election Day. That won't be the case next time.
Some 40 months before he stands for re-election, the president holds court at a $35,000-per-plate donor event Wednesday night at his hotel in Washington.
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there was nothing unusual about raising political cash so early.
"He's raising money for the party," she said. "I don't think that's abnormal for any president."
Sanders' statement that Trump is raising cash for the GOP tells only part of the story, though.
The first cut of the money raised goes to Trump's 2020 re-election campaign. The rest gets spread among various Republican Party entities. Having multiple beneficiaries is what allows Trump to ask for well above the usual $5,400 per-donor maximum for each election cycle.
Those contribution limits are likely to change because this fundraiser is so early that new donation limits for 2020 have not been set by the Federal Election Commission.
Breaking with tradition, the White House initially planned to bar reporters from seeing Trump's speech at the fundraiser. But it relented after reporters objected, and agreed to let a pool of reporters watch the president's remarks.
Trump's historically early campaigning comes with benefits and challenges.
In the first three months of this year, the Trump campaign raised more than $7 million, through small donations and the sale of Trump-themed merchandise such as the ubiquitous, red "Make America Great Again" ball caps. The Republican National Committee also is benefiting from the new president's active campaigning, having raised about $62 million through the end of last month.
Trump's re-election money helps pay for his political rallies. He's held five so far, and campaign director Michael Glassner says those events help keep him connected to his base of voters.
The constant politicking, however, means it is challenging for government employees to avoid inappropriately crossing ethical lines. Some watchdog groups have flagged White House employee tweets that veer into campaign territory. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters says the employees work closely with lawyers to avoid pitfalls.
Walters also says the White House takes care to make sure that Trump's political events and travel — including the Wednesday fundraiser — are paid for by the campaign and other political entities.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.