Photograph: Brandon Bell / Getty Images
Donald Trump’s penchant for turning his political and legal problems into fundraising programs has long been recognized, but the former President’s tricks appear to have spread since his loss to Joe Biden, prompting further scrutiny and scrutiny. new criticism from campaign finance watchers and legal analysts.
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Critics note that Trump has built an arsenal of political committees and nonprofit groups, made up of dozens of former administration officials and loyalists, who appear to aim to maintain his political hopes of a return and take revenge on the Republican critics in Congress. These groups have been aggressive in raising funds through sometimes misleading calls to the party base that polls show 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 raked in tens of millions of dollars through SMS and email calls for a Trump “election defense fund.” Ostensibly to fight the results with baseless lawsuits alleging fraud.
The fledgling Pac had raised $ 31.5 million by the end of the year, but Save America spent nothing on legal fees during the 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 actions against Facebook, Google and Twitter, alleging “censorship” over bans imposed by platforms after the Jan.6 attack on Capitol Hill that Trump brought down. helped to stir up. But the move prompted several legal experts to view the lawsuits as frivolous and a fundraising ploy.
Trump’s new legal ploy has raised red flags, in part because he has partnered with the America First Policy Institute (AFPI), a nonprofit group led by the ex-White House official Brooke Rollins. During a press briefing with Trump, Rollins publicly told his supporters they could “join the trial” by registering on a website, takeonbigtech.org, a claim belied by website details that featured a red button with the words “DONATE to AFPI”. .
“Donald Trump is a one-man Pac scam,” said Paul S Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause. “Bait-and-switch is one of his favorite fundraising tactics,” Ryan said, noting that Trump’s Save America Pac told supporters “he needed the money to challenge the outcome of an election. which he clearly lost “, then ended up not spending any on litigation. Last year.
“Now he’s starting over, with frivolous lawsuits filed [in July] against Facebook, Twitter and Google, along with calls for fundraising, ”Ryan added. “This time he has the America First Policy Institute unlimited black money group in the racket.”
Other experts express serious concerns over Trump’s tactics with Save America
He asked them to donate money so that he could challenge the election results, but then he spent their contributions to pay off unrelated debts.
“The president deceived his donors. He asked them to give money so that he could challenge the election results, but he then spent their contributions to pay off unrelated debts, ”said Adav Noti, former deputy general counsel at the Federal Election Commission. and now chief of staff for the non-partisan campaign. Legal center.
Noti added: “It is dangerously close to fraud. If an ordinary charity – or an individual who was not the President of the United States – had raised tens of millions of dollars through this kind of deception, they would be at serious risk of prosecution.
Such concerns haven’t stopped Trump’s fundraising machine from growing further with the launch of a super Pac, Make America Great Again Action, which can accept unlimited donations. The Super Pac and Save America are both led by former Trump campaign manager Lewandowski, who did not respond to calls for comment.
The Super Pac has reportedly hosted at least two mega-donor events at Trump Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey and Dallas, but it’s unclear how many have been carried so far.
The two Pacs are seen as vehicles for Trump to raise more funds to influence the 2022 congressional races, where he vowed to try and defeat several politicians such as anti-Trump Republican Liz Cheney who voted for the to impeach this year after the attack on the Capitol.
Campaign records 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 has banked most of the funds while spending some to pay for Trump’s travel and other expenses, instead of challenging election results in states like Arizona despite bogus fraud claims of Trump there.
Veteran campaign finance analysts say the multitude of Trump-linked groups launched since his defeat raise new questions about his political motives and intentions
Trump may be more interested in fundraising than running
“Trump’s aggressive fundraising, using a variety of committees and surrogates, raises questions about whether his continued hints of showing up in 2024 are primarily a donation ploy,” said Sheila Krumholz, who heads the Center for Responsive Politics, non-partisan. “Trump may be more interested in fundraising than running, especially since his fundraising after the loss is unprecedented.”
In addition to Trump’s fundraising campaigns for his new Pacs and nonprofits, some major Republican groups have collaborated on fundraising since his defeat and continue to build on his appeal to the base of the party, despite repeated lies. of Trump that the election was stolen.
In the eight weeks after the election, for example, the RNC, the Trump campaign and Save America reportedly raised around $ 255 million, but spent only a small fraction on lawsuits.
Additionally, Trump’s stamp with small donors is still exploited by party allies, including the National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC), the fundraising arm of Republican senators.
For example, the NRSC in July, via email, presented a free Trump t-shirt for a limited number of donors writing checks of $ 35 to $ 5,000 to “protect the American majority first.”
Likewise, the RNC, in a July 19 email alert, pitched a pitch to become an “official Trump 2021 life member” for donors who donated $ 45 or more by midnight.
Charlie Black, a longtime Republican agent, said the Republican committees realize that Trump’s name “has the most popular appeal with the grassroots, so naturally they will try to find ways to use it. its brand where they can to raise more funds “. .
But legal analysts warn that Trump’s fundraising modus operandi with his various new Pacs and nonprofits is different and carries obvious risks for unintentional donors and U.S. campaign finance laws.
“Our nation’s campaign finance and anti-fraud laws have failed to measure up to Trump’s schemes,” Common Cause’s Ryan said. “So my only advice to Trump supporters is to watch out for donors! “