Just days before his 2017 inauguration, Donald Trump coughed up $25 million to settle allegations that he’d defrauded students at his defunct Trump University. Four years later, as he scratches and claws to avoid leaving office, Trump is teaching a final master class in separating fools from their money.
Log on to the DonaldJTrump.com campaign website these days, and you’ll be hit with a popup ad reading “1000% OFFER: EXTENDED. CONTRIBUTE NOW>>”
— Tim Dickinson (@7im) December 1, 2020
The offer is curious. 1,000 percent of what? If you click, you’re taken to a WinRed donation page and encouraged to give under time pressure:
“DEADLINE EXTENDED!” reads the enticement. “President Trump is counting on YOU to DEFEND the Election, so he asked us to EXTEND your 1000% offer for your next contribution. This offer is available FOR 1 HOUR, so you need to act fast. Please contribute ANY AMOUNT in the NEXT HOUR and you can increase your impact by 1000%!”
The default donation is $250. And the “Total Impact” promised is $2,750. But who is going to “increase your impact” by $2,500?
My friends, you are!
The donation site features two check boxes: One that will turn your $250 donation into a recurring monthly contribution, and another that will trigger an additional donation of $250 on December 5th. But the disclosure of what you’re agreeing to is in fine print, following bold-faced screeds about the need to “DEFEND the integrity of our Election!” or to “SAVE AMERICA from the Democrats!”
My friends, the boxes are pre-checked for your convenience.
— Tim Dickinson (@7im) December 1, 2020
Some back-of-the-envelope math reveals that the promised $2,750 impact would, in fact, be created by your donating $250 twice in December, plus another ten times in recurring monthly donations — unless you manage to uncheck the boxes and opt out.
The election is over. Recounts in Georgia and Wisconsin have done nothing to change the Trump losses there. Despite a president-led pressure campaign to have GOP officials throw out vote counts favoring Biden, every critical swing state from Georgia to Arizona to Michigan has now certified its election results. The president’s legal team has lost more than 40 lawsuits, with wild claims of fraud and irregularities that have gotten laughed out of court. So what is this money even for?
My friends, there’s more fine print! The cash collected through Trump’s campaign site is split 75 percent/25 percent between a new Trump leadership PAC called “Save America” and the the Republican National Committee. For its part, Save America isn’t obligated to spend any money on contesting the 2020 election outcome — and is in fact poised to fund Trump’s activities and influence once he has left office. According to the Washington Post, monies raised by leadership PACs like Save America are lightly regulated and “could be used to pay for events at Trump’s own properties or to finance his travel or personal expenses.“
What about continuing to contest Trump’s election defeat? Is the whole fundraising pitch a scam? Not entirely. If (and only if) your donation were large enough to first allocate $5,000 to Save America would any extra money then spill over into the Trump campaign’s “Recount Account,” which says it would be “used in connection with any post-election recounts and election contests.” A call to Save America’s treasurer seeking comment about this bait-and-switch fundraising practice was not returned. The press office at the RNC did not answer phone calls, and the finance department’s voice mailbox was full.
According to the New York Times, Trump’s post-election fundraising haul has been enormous — $170 million — though the precise breakdown of that figure among Save America, the RNC, and the Recount Account is unclear. A Twitter account that tracks Trump fundraising emails counts that the campaign sent out nearly 500 in the month of November, an average of more than 16 a day. Rob Flaherty, Joe Biden’s digital director, lashed out on Twitter. He called Trump’s final fundraising push: “Plain and simple grift.”
Plain and simple grift https://t.co/FX3YkmXJpa
— Rob Flaherty (@Rob_Flaherty) December 1, 2020
Stripped of any campaign-finance complexity, the money blitz looks like a last, cruel con by the president — leveraging the blind allegiance of his base not for any good faith effort to remain in office, but in a scam to continue living the high life with other people’s money. It’s a fitting coda to a presidency defined by putting his most loyal followers through the wringer.