By Tessa Berenson
June 21, 2016

Donald Trump sent out a rare plea for small donations Tuesday after numbers were released showing Hillary Clinton trouncing him in fundraising.

“This is the first fundraising email I have ever sent on behalf of my campaign. That’s right. The FIRST ONE,” the email says. “And, I’m going to help make it the most successful introductory fundraising email in modern political history by personally matching every dollar that comes in WITHIN THE NEXT 48 HOURS, up to $2 million!”

This missive is not, in fact, the first sent by Trump. In June, his campaign sent an email asking donors to “please give $35 to help us stop Crooked Hillary and the dishonest, liberal media.” But it is true that these small dollar email pitches, usually a staple in any political campaign, are few and far between coming from Trump.

It’s been a lodestar of Trump’s campaign messaging from day one that he doesn’t need money. At his campaign launch more than a year ago, he said, “I’m using my own money. I’m not using the lobbyists. I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich.” Throughout the primary, he boasted about self-funding his campaign (which isn’t exactly true), and when asking people in his crowds why they support him, it’s never long before you come across someone who says something along the lines of, “Because he can’t be bought.”

Just this past weekend, Trump told NBC, ” “I don’t ask for money,” and said people were sending donations on their own.

But the general election is promising to be a different beast for Trump’s bare-bones operation. According to new financial disclosure documents, Clinton’s campaign raised more than $26 million in May, and she entered June with $42 million in cash on hand. Trump’s campaign, on the other hand, raised $3 million in May and started June with $1.3 million in cash on hand. He also loaned his campaign $2.2 million. (It’s also worth noting that through staying at Trump properties and using other Trump-branded products, Trump’s campaign has paid at least $6.2 million back into Trump corporate products and services, the Associated Press reports.)

On Tuesday, Trump’s campaign put out a statement about the May numbers, defending their weak showing by saying June was the first real month of fundraising so bigger numbers will be reflected in the next FEC filing. And Trump once again raised the idea of self-funding: “If need be, there could be unlimited ‘cash on hand’ as I would put up my own money, as I have already done through the primaries,” he said in the statement. “Our campaign is leaner and more efficient, like our government should be.”

Still, the money disparity between Trump’s campaign and Clinton’s will start to show in media. The former Secretary of State is on a massive ad blitz against Trump; her biggest super PAC supporter, Priorities USA, has already reserved more than $135 million in ads, including almost $100 million on television. Trump’s team, on the other hand, has no major TV ad campaign planned. And although super PACs have sprung up to support him, they have nowhere near the cash of the Clinton groups.

Political strategists say this imbalance could harm Trump. “It’s kind of going to be a like an arms race where you’ve got to keep building up the arms even though each incremental amount of arms that you accrue doesn’t necessarily make you feel any more secure,” John Geer, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, said of running television campaign ads. “But if you don’t respond, then the other side will have a one-sided message and then you can start to get hurt.”

Still, as Trump begins sending emails to supporters asking for donations as small as $10, he maintains his signature bravado about the campaign process.

“Even without this match, this initial effort would have been the most successful first fundraising email in history. I am certain of this,” his Tuesday fundraising pitch says. “The Democrats are desperate, and they’re throwing everything they have at me. They just keep failing and losing.”

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