DOnald Trump’s penchant for turning his political and legal troubles into fundraising schemes has long been recognized, but the former US president’s tricks to seek money appear to have expanded since his loss to Joe Biden. , prompting new scrutiny and criticism from campaign finance supervisors and legal analysts.
Critics point out that Trump has built an arsenal of political committees and nonprofit groups, made up of dozens of former administration officials and loyalists, that appear to aim to uphold his political hopes for a comeback and exact revenge on Republican critics of the Congress. These groups have been aggressive in raising money through sometimes misleading appeals to the party base, which according to polls share Trump’s false views that he lost the White House to fraud.
Just days after his defeat last November, Trump launched a new political action committee, dubbed Save America, which along with his campaign and the Republican National Committee quickly raised tens of millions of dollars through text and email requests. for an “electoral defense fund”. , apparently to fight the results with unfounded lawsuits alleging fraud.
The budding Pac had raised a whopping $ 31.5 million by year-end, but Save America spent nothing on legal expenses in this same period, according to public records. Led by Trump’s 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Save America spent just $ 340,000 on fundraising expenses last year.
In another move, Trump announced last month that he was filing class action lawsuits against Facebook, Google and Twitter, alleging “censorship” over platform bans after the Jan.6 attack on Capitol Hill that Trump helped stoke. But several legal experts criticized the lawsuits as frivolous and as a fundraising tactic.
Trump’s new legal ploy raised red flags, in part because he partnered with the America First Policy Institute (AFPI), a nonprofit group led by former White House official Brooke Rollins. In a press conference with Trump, Rollins told his supporters that they could “join the lawsuit” by signing up for a website, takeonbigtech.org, a claim disproved by website details that displayed a red button with the words ” DONATE to AFPI “.
“Donald Trump is a one-man con man Pac,” said Paul S Ryan, Common Cause vice president of policy and litigation. “Bait and switch is one of his favorite fundraising tactics,” Ryan emphasized, noting that Trump’s Save America Pac told “his supporters that he needed money to challenge the outcome of an election that he clearly lost, and then ended up spending nothing on litigation. ” last year.
“Now it’s back again, with frivolous lawsuits filed [in July] against Facebook, Twitter and Google, accompanied by appeals to raise funds, “added Ryan. “This time he has the unlimited dark money group America First Policy Institute in business.”
Other experts express strong concerns about Trump’s tactics.
“The president misled his donors. He asked them to give money so he could challenge the election results, but then he spent their contributions to pay off unrelated debts, “said Adav Noti, former associate general counsel for the Federal Elections Commission and now chief of staff for the nonpartisan Campaign. . Legal Center.
Noti added: “That is dangerously close to fraud. If a regular charity, or a non-president of the United States, had raised tens of millions of dollars through that kind of deception, they would face a serious risk of prosecution. “
Such concerns haven’t deterred Trump’s fundraising machine from expanding further with the launch of a super Pac, Make America Great Again Action, which can accept unlimited donations. Both the Super Pac and Save America are run by former Trump campaign manager Lewandowski. He did not return calls seeking comment.
The Super Pac has reportedly hosted at least two mega donor events at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, NJ, and in Dallas, but how much has been raised so far is unknown.
Both Pacs are seen as vehicles for Trump to raise more funds to influence the 2022 Congressional elections, where he vowed to defeat several politicians such as Republican anti-Trump Liz Cheney, who voted to impeach him this year after the attack on Capitol Hill.
Campaign filings for the first six months of 2021 reveal that Trump’s political groups led by Save America raised $ 82 million, an unprecedented total for a former president. Save America deposited most of the funds while spending part to pay for Trump’s travel and other expenses, rather than questioning election results in states like Arizona, despite false claims of Trump fraud there.
Veteran campaign finance analysts say the group of Trump-linked groups launched since his defeat raises new questions about his political motives and intentions.
“Trump’s aggressive fundraising, using a variety of committees and representatives, raises questions about whether his continued hints to run in 2024 are primarily a donation ploy,” said Sheila Krumholz, who heads the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. . “Trump may be more interested in fundraising than running, especially given how unprecedented his post-loss fundraiser is.”
In addition to Trump’s fundraising pitches for his new Pacs and nonprofits, some major Republican groups have collaborated on fundraising appeals since his defeat, and they continue to capitalize on his appeal to the party rank and file, despite of Trump’s repeated falsehoods that the election was stolen.
In the eight weeks after the election, for example, the RNC, the Trump campaign, and Save America raised about $ 255 million, but spent only a small fraction on lawsuits.
Additionally, Trump’s prestige with small donors is still exploited by the party’s allies, including the National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC), the fundraising arm for Republican senators.
For example, in July, the NRSC promoted a free Trump T-shirt to a limited number of donors who wrote checks for $ 35 to $ 5,000 to “protect America’s First Majority.”
Similarly, the RNC in an email alert on July 19 released a money proposal to become an “official member of Trump Life 2021” for donors who contributed $ 45 or more before midnight.
Charlie Black, a former Republican operative, said Republican committees realize that Trump’s name “has the most popular appeal to the rank and file, so naturally they are going to try to find ways to use their brand where they can. to raise more funds. ” .
But legal analysts warn that Trump’s new fundraising modus operandi is different and carries clear risks for unwitting donors and US campaign finance laws.
“Our nation’s campaign finance and anti-fraud laws have proven to fall short of Trump’s schemes,” said Common Cause’s Ryan. “So my only advice to Trump supporters is watch out for donors!”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism