President Trump is a con man. He conned people into giving to his now-defunct foundation only to use the donations for personal expenses. He conned people into spending more money than they could afford on the now-dissolved Trump University. He conned lenders into subsidizing his floundering real estate projects. The list goes on, and, as is made clear on a near-daily basis, it’s not limited to Trump’s life as a private citizen.
The pettiest grift of Trump’s presidency may be a scheme that was recently uncovered by Popular Information’s Judd Legum. As Legum notes, the Trump campaign has held at least 15 online contests in which the winner was promised a meal with Trump. Many of them also promised travel accommodations. All supporters had to do to enter the contests, which were promoted heavily on social media, was donate to the campaign. “I just saw the most recent list of Patriots who have contributed to win a trip to meet me in Chicago on October 28th, and I noticed you STILL haven’t entered,” read one email regarding a contest for a supporter and a guest to have lunch with Trump in Chicago.
This may sound great for Trump supporters, but there’s one problem: despite the untold sums of money raised off the contests, no one appears to have actually sat down for a meal with the president.
1. The Trump campaign has held 15 contests since 2018 offering the chance to win breakfast, lunch, or dinner with President Trump.
An investigation by Popular Information did not uncover evidence that anyone has ever actually wonhttps://t.co/Icp8qF2Fyp
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) November 4, 2019
The campaign certainly hasn’t been able to provide any proof. After Legum’s original piece on the potential scam published, Trump campaign Communications Director Tim Murtaugh tweeted that “[p]eople win the contests each time,” but offered no additional evidence. Nor have any of the “top supporters” and “patriots” who entered any of the 15 contests come forward with pictures or other proof that they sat down for a meal with Trump. It does appear some people have met the president before rallies as a result of winning contests, but the promise of grabbing breakfast, lunch, or dinner with him seems to be a sham.
If it is, it’s a pretty clear case of fraud. “You’re raising campaign cash, you’re lying to people. If you obtain money from people through false pretenses that’s a violation of federal mail fraud and wire fraud statutes,” Richard Painter, a lawyer in the Bush White House and frequent Trump critic, told Newsweek on Wednesday. Legum also points out that it’s in several states where contests were held it’s illegal to not disclose the names of the winners.
Hours after Newsweek‘s story ran on Wednesday, the Daily Caller published a piece attempting to prove the contests were not scams, calling the idea they were a “conspiracy theory.” The outlet highlighted two contest winners who were able to take pictures with Trump, although neither dined with the president, as the contests promised.
“While the president did not attend the buffet breakfast as the contest details would suggest, Kamis was able to mingle with the likes of Donald Trump Jr., Kimberly Guilfoyle, and Elizabeth Pipko before being ushered into another room to meet the president and have their photo taken together,” the story notes in an essential admission the contest was a scam.
6. We know this one contest was a fraud.
But there is still no evidence that anyone won the 14 other meals with Trump that were promised by the campaign
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) November 7, 2019
Nevertheless, the Trump campaign has cited the story as proof the contests were real. “People really do win,” Murtaugh tweeted in response to the story. The story was also retweeted by Trump campaign Deputy Director of Communications Matt Wolking, whom Legum initially reached out to about the legitimacy of the contests but did not receive a response.
Rolling Stone reached out to the campaign seeking additional information substantiating claims the contests were legitimate, but did not received an immediate response.