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In this May 20, 2016 photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the National Rifle Association convention, in Louisville, Ky.

Mark Humphrey/AP

Billionaire Donald Trump routinely boasted he would "self-finance" and pay for his bid to be president out of his own pocket.

"I am really, really rich," said the New York property magnate, sometime reality TV star and presumptive Republican nominee as the next president of the United States.

And, as Mr. Trump has repeatedly reminded voters since he launched his bid last summer, by paying his own way – and being the only presidential hopeful to do so – he wouldn't be "controlled by my donors, special interest or lobbyists," in supposedly sharp contrast to his Republican rivals and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

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"I am only working for the people," Mr. Trump says.

It's a siren song that has lured hundreds of thousands on social media, including some self-described wounded veterans who have offered up small donations from disability pensions.

That was then. The Donald, once the star of a TV reality series, has a new one and it now involves seeking money from big donors.

To date, Mr. Trump has spent roughly $50-million (U.S.) securing the Republican nomination – far less than some of his now-defeated rivals like former Florida governor Jeb Bush whose campaign and a Super PAC backing him blew through nearly $150-million.

And even $50-million spent by the Trump campaign is chump change compared to what it will cost to reach the Oval Office.

At least $1-billion, maybe "as much as $1.5-billion" is needed, Mr. Trump says.

Except that, so far, Mr. Trump may not have actually spent a dime of his own money.

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Last August, Mr. Trump vowed to spend up to $1-billion "if I have to" to win the presidency.

Since he entered the race, Mr. Trump has lent, not given, his own campaign $38-million. At least $5-million of that has been paid to Trump-owned businesses, like chartering his own plane and staging events in Trump buildings.

Lending, rather than giving, your own campaign money isn't uncommon for the rich with political aspirations. Four years ago, Mitt Romney, then the Republican candidate who lost to Barack Obama, lent himself $40-million during his successful run in the primaries and then made it an outright contribution.

If Mr. Trump wants his $38-million back, the money needs to be raised and returned by the end of the Republican Party's convention in Cleveland in July.

In his latest pivot, Mr. Trump is keen on donations – the bigger the better – and there is no more talk about self-financing.

Hours after he sealed the nomination – ending the last-gasp hopes of the StopTrump movement with a convincing primary win in Indiana – Mr. Trump named a former Wall Street insider, Steven Mnuchin, to lead the $1-billion effort that eradicates his self-financing pledge.

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Mr. Trump once scorned "hedge-fund guys [who] didn't build this country … they are paper-pushers. They make a fortune. They pay no tax. It's ridiculous." He has apparently decided to overlook the fact that Mr. Mnuchin ran a hedge fund.

Long gone – but not forgotten by his opponents and some of his supporters who may feel betrayed – are the days when Mr. Trump tweeted: While I'm beating my opponents in the polls, I'm also beating lobbyists, special interests & donors that are supporting them with billions."

Instead he is tapping out grateful notes to the biggest of donors. "An incredible honor to receive the endorsement of a person I have such tremendous respect for. Thank you, Sheldon!" tweeted Mr. Trump. It came after Sheldon Adelson, the pro-Israel casino owner who spent $100-million on negative ads excoriating Mr. Obama four years ago, urged Republicans to back Mr. Trump who "will be a tremendous president when it comes to the safety and security of Israel."

Whether Mr. Adelson's willingness to open his wallet for Mr. Trump rubs off on other super-rich Republicans remains uncertain. Some, like the Koch brothers (Charles and David, reputedly the richest and most lavish political donors on the planet), who originally earmarked $900-million for the 2016 cycle, now say they are sitting out this year.

Mr. Trump insists he could – if he still wanted to – pay for his presidential bid. "I mean, do I want to sell a couple of buildings and self-fund? I don't know that I want to do that necessarily, but I really won't be asking for money for myself, I'll be asking money for the party."

Doubts persist over just how wealthy Mr. Trump really is and whether he has the kind of cash flow to burn through roughly $200-million a month for the next five months.

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Although he continues to refuse to make public tax returns – something every other presidential candidate has done for decades – Mr. Trump did file the legally required financial disclosure statement, with the Federal Election Commission, earlier last week.

Eventually it will be made public. In the meantime, he released a statement saying the disclosures show his "net worth is in excess of $10-billion," and he enjoys a "tremendous cash flow and a revenue increase of $190-million (which does not include dividends, interest, capital gains, rents and royalties)."

None of this seems to matter any longer. Mr. Trump has hitched his presidential wagon to the vast fund-raising capacity of wealthy donors, bundlers and individual backers.

Mr. Trump has now signed two joint fundraising pacts with the Republican National Committee: The "Trump Make America Great Again Committee" will spearhead the $1-billion-plus national effort to pour money into the presidential campaign and key Senate and governors' races; the "Trump Victory" committee is another joint venture focusing on key states.

Its last line helpfully notes: "The max contribution an individual can give to Trump Victory is $449,400."

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