The political action committee that former President Donald J. Trump is using to pay his legal bills faced such staggering costs this year that it requested a refund on a $60 million contribution it made to another group supporting the Republican front-runner, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The decision signals a potential money crisis for Mr. Trump, who has so far refused to pay his own voluminous bills directly and has also avoided creating a legal-defense fund for himself and people who have become entangled in the various investigations related to him.
It comes as Mr. Trump runs a campaign while under indictment in two jurisdictions and, soon, potentially a third, while also paying the legal fees of a number of witnesses who are close to him or who work for him.
It is unclear how much money was refunded.
But the refund was sought as the political action committee, Save America, spent more than $40 million in legal fees incurred by Mr. Trump and witnesses in various legal cases related to him this year alone, according to another person familiar with the matter.
The numbers will be part of the Save America Federal Election Commission filing that is expected to be made public late on Monday.
That $40 million was in addition to $16 million that Save America spent in the previous two years on legal fees. Since then, Mr. Trump has been indicted twice and has expanded the size of his legal team, and his two co-defendants in the case related to his retention of classified material work for him. The total legal spending is roughly $56 million.
The $40 million figure was reported earlier by The Washington Post.
The PAC was the entity in which Mr. Trump had parked the more than $100 million raised when he sought small-dollar donations after losing the 2020 election. Mr. Trump claimed he needed the support to fight widespread fraud in the race. Officials, including some with his campaign, turned up no evidence of widespread fraud.
Mr. Trump used some of that $100 million for other politicians and political activities in 2022, but he also used it to pay more than $16 million in legal fees, most of them related to investigations into him, and at least $10 million of which was for his own personal fees.
Save America began 2023 with just $18 million in cash on hand, which is less than half of what was spent on legal bills this year.
Campaign finance experts are divided on whether Mr. Trump is even able to continue to use the PAC to pay for his personal legal bills, as he became a candidate last November.
Mr. Trump has long told associates that lawyers and other people contracted to work for him should do so for free, because they get free publicity. And he has told several associates that legal-defense funds are organized only by people who are guilty of crimes, according to people who have heard the remarks.
Earlier this year, Mr. Trump began diverting a larger percentage of every dollar he raised online away from his campaign and into his PAC, which he has used to pay for his lawyers. At the start of the 2024 campaign, Mr. Trump had devoted 99 cents of every dollar raised online to his campaign. But he shifted that formula to now give only 90 cents to the campaign and 10 cents to the PAC, which has served as a sort of de facto legal fund.
The move drew sharp criticism from some of his rivals. Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, called it “disgraceful” on CNN during an interview in June.
“He’s going to middle class men and women in this country and they’re donating $15, $25, $50, $100 because they believe in Donald Trump and they want him to be president again,” Mr. Christie said. “They’re not giving that money so he can pay his personal legal fees.”
Yet that increased amount diverted from Mr. Trump’s campaign couldn’t possibly begin to cover the high costs of legal fees that the candidate and his associates have incurred. And whatever money the super PAC returned to the political action committee to cover legal bills in theory means less money being spent in support of Mr. Trump’s candidacy.
A spokesman for Mr. Trump’s campaign, Steven Cheung, would not comment on the refund request. But regarding the overall spending on lawyers, he said, “The weaponized Department of Justice has continued to go after innocent Americans because they worked for President Trump and they know they have no legitimate case.”
He characterized the legal actions against Mr. Trump and his allies as “heinous actions by Joe Biden’s cronies” and said the PAC had contributed to covering legal costs to “protect these innocent people from financial ruin and prevent their lives from being completely destroyed.”
A spokesman for the super PAC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Despite having his political action committee pay his legal fees, Mr. Trump, a wealthy businessman and celebrity, insisted on Saturday at a rally in Erie, Pa., that he would spend his own money on his campaign if he had to.