Trump cracks down on fraudulent fundraising by others using his name

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Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has spent months baselessly telling Republicans they can be on “Trump’s team” or “support Trump for president in 2024” by donating to his campaign in the US Senate.

“Are you turning your back on Pres? Trump?” asked a Brnovich fundraising ad last year. “Renew your membership for 2022 before it’s too late.”

Such appeals brought Trump’s core advisory team to a breaking point in June, after Trump endorsed Brnovich’s rival, Blake Masters, for the Arizona Senate seat. In a cease and desist letter to the Washington Post, an attorney for Save America, Trump’s political action committee, threatened legal action if Brnovich didn’t stop using Trump’s likeness and name in a misleading way.

Trump’s attorney pointed to a recent email with the subject line “ACCOUNT CLOSURE” that threatened potential donors with loss.[a]no chance of continuing to receive our Trump polls, Trump rally alerts and 2024 endorsement opportunities” if they didn’t give Brnovich any money.

“Your use of President Trump’s name, likeness, and/or likeness is likely to lead individuals to believe that President Trump supports, endorses, or otherwise promotes your candidacy for the US Senate in Arizona – he does not,” wrote the attorney, adding the email’s wording could confuse people into thinking they’re giving Trump something.

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The letter was one of dozens of demands that Trump’s lawyers and advisers have sent out in recent years. But those efforts haven’t stopped the misleading inquiries that flood Republicans’ phones and inboxes daily. Eighteen months after leaving office, Trump remains the biggest draw for GOP donors, particularly those making small contributions. As he continues to rake in money, he also faces armies of independent fundraisers who mimic or mimic Trump appeals, and sometimes threaten or bully Republicans on Trump’s behalf to get money.

At the same time, Trump himself is no stranger to misleading calls for donations. His team often sends out a dozen or more calls in a day to raise money, often with suspicious claims like saying that donations will be matched 700 percent.

In a small example, a text message to Trump’s donation list on Friday began with “LIVE FROM MAR-A-LAGO! Pres. Trump: It’s me, your FAVORITE President.” But Trump isn’t in Mar-a-Lago, having moved to his golf club in Bedminster, NJ, for the summer

The former president has complained that some of his team’s emails are “cheesy” and that they anger his supporters, according to an aide who, others quoted in the report, spoke on condition of anonymity to confide internally discuss considerations. At one point, Trump urged his team to cut back on emails, but was then advised that doing so would cost his PAC money, which he didn’t want, another adviser said.

The data-driven advisors behind the independent appeals have honed their craft to the limits of the absurd, because in online fundraising there is no reward for coloring within the lines and little penalty for misleading donors. Frequently, solicitations are aimed at tricking donors into believing they are donating to Trump himself, a misrepresentation only belied by the fine print.

In a recent text message request from Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), a new golf partner of the president who is not running for election this year, donors were asked to renew their “official Trump membership in 2022” or “as Joe to be designated a Biden supporter.”

“You do NOT want to disappoint Pres. Trump,” the message read, without mentioning that it was from Hagerty’s campaign. A link took donors to a webpage with a photo of Trump and a countdown clock, alongside a text warning that the reader only has “60 minutes to correct the record.” A single line of smaller text on this page reveals that donations benefit Hagerty’s campaign.

The Brnovich campaign did not respond to requests for comment; The Hagerty campaign declined to comment. Brnovich’s campaign is being managed by National Public Affairs, a consulting firm founded by two veterans of Trump’s own campaign team: former Trump 2020 campaign manager Bill Stepien and former deputy campaign manager Justin Clark.

Another tactic is to simply use a large photo of Trump with language suggesting he’s the fundraiser’s beneficiary, with phrases like “10x Patriot Match” and “Red Wave Supporter Status: Unlocked.” This language was used at a recent appeal by the Republican State Leadership Committee, a group that campaigns for state legislature elections, and by Republican state parties in several states, including Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis is running for re-election while his allies are drumming up support for a potential 2024 challenge for Trump. The complaint’s only mention of where the money would go is in the fine print of the legal disclosure.

“This is one of the biggest mysteries facing the Republican Party today. How do you raise funds without a Trump message?” said one of the party’s digital fundraising advisors. “The reason people do these things is because they work.”

The problem has worsened in recent months as small-dollar donations to the Republican Party effort have dwindled, a trend strategists blamed on donors with lower disposable income due to inflation and their fatigue from relentless fundraising. Earnings from small-dollar donors to the Republican National Committee have declined significantly in recent months, people familiar with the matter said.

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Trump’s advisers have been selective in how they attempt to monitor unauthorized use of his political brand, often reaching out to candidates privately in phone calls and text messages to let them know their behavior is not okay. Losing Ohio nominee Jane Timken, who received no support from Trump in her campaign for the US Senate, was pressured into removing a giant photo of Trump from her “endorsement” website after one such call.

“We are not at war with them. We want to play along because we’re all in the same party on the same mission,” said a Trump fundraising adviser. “But we don’t want to be taken advantage of.”

Trump has become particularly angry when an ad threatens one of his constituents with his punishment if they don’t give in, or if candidates he doesn’t endorse use his name and likeness, advisers said.

“In Republican politics, support for President Trump is winning races at an unprecedented rate, and almost every dollar raised and vote earned is credited to the movement and brand he created,” Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich said in a statement. “It’s no surprise that every candidate in the nation is trying to tap into it.”

In March 2021, Trump’s operation sent cease and desist letters to the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senate Committee, and the National Republican Congressional Committee. After some public litigation, the threats were settled with an agreement that Trump’s advisers would be able to approve fundraisers using his name and likeness before they expire.

That has allowed groups like the NRSC to chime in with phrases like “Donate now to protect Trump’s legacy” and “What’s up? Your status as a Trump supporter is unknown!”

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However, similar agreements were not made with other parts of the party. Trump’s advisers have sent a cease and desist letter to Anthony Bouchard of Wyoming, a Republican who is challenging the Trump endorser for the US House of Representatives. They also fired off a letter to Rep. Nancy Mace’s (RS.C.) campaign in April, accusing them of “using the name, likeness and/or likeness of President Donald Trump to Nancy Mace for fundraising.” of Congress to have “unlawfully” used purposes.”

Mace earned Trump’s wrath for criticizing him after the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol. Despite Trump’s endorsement of her main opponent earlier this year, Mace was able to win her seat’s renomination in June. A Mace campaign representative declined to comment.

The confusion of donors in campaign appeals is largely unregulated and goes well beyond references to Trump’s name and likeness. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, raised funds via text message with the phrase, “We MUST hit our quarterly goal if we’re going to roll back the Senate.”

All of the money raised in the appeal will go toward Scott’s personal Senate campaign — but he doesn’t have to be re-elected until 2024. Trump cracks down on fraudulent fundraising by others using his name

James Brien

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