Here are some of the lucky winners of the Save America PAC lottery
Trump’s deceitful fundraising feathered the nests of a number of familiar birds.
Thanks for checking out this edition of Public Notice. I hope you appreciate this piece from Sam Thielman about Trump’s shady fundraising. I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon with a recap of the next January 6 hearing. If you haven’t already, click the button below and subscribe to get it right in your inbox. Cheers — Aaron
Among the most infuriating revelations of the January 6 committee hearings has been that Trump used the opportunity of his own election loss to fundraise off his refusal to concede, funneling hundreds of millions of dollars into the Save America PAC even after he was repeatedly told he had in fact lost the election and had no legally viable path to change the result. The PAC was assembled on Nov. 9, 2020, and was the entity that received the funds raised by a nonexistent “Election Defense Fund” the campaign told its victims in emails it would be using to contest the election results — presumably legally, although the Trump camp seems to have strategically avoided the phrase “legal defense fund.”
The House committee investigating January 6 is focused on Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, but it has also uncovered old-fashioned Trump-style possibly-not-quite-illegal bilking, primarily of the conservative base of small-dollar donors that the former president’s various puppets now essentially control. (More on that a little lower down.) For decades before he took office, Trump, his allies, and his family established a trademark style, repeatedly swindling real estate clients and narrowly avoiding legal liability with various greasy settlements and backroom deals. Now, he’s brought that style to the entire Republican Party.
RELATED: "The big ripoff": the J6 committee's revelation about a fake Trump election defense fund, explained
Save America was not much more than a piñata for Trump’s cronies and influential donors. According to the PAC’s FEC filings, more than $200,000 went to Trump’s hotels for facility rentals, catering, and other services. Anti-immigrant Trump advisor Stephen Miller appears to have drawn a regular salary from Save America for most of the last year, beginning on July 30, 2021, and continuing until the end of April. He made $4,181.91 every two weeks, even though the election he was supposedly working to overturn had been over for nine months by the time he started drawing those paychecks.
Others who received biweekly payouts labeled “payroll” from the group were Trump special adviser Eliza C Thurston, Dan Scavino, Melania Trump’s former chief of staff Hayley D’Antuono, Nicholas Luna, and Molly Michael. Last year, Insider reported that all of these people were also still drawing exorbitant government salaries until July 2021, when the official transition period ended and they started receiving money from Save America. (That money usually goes to rent office space and establish a presidential library; a former staffer told CNN that ex-presidents don’t usually max out their allowance.)
Trump’s digital director, Brad Parscale, who oversaw Trump’s 2016 digital campaign, did especially well: His firm Parscale Strategy LLC collected $10,000 a month for 14 months. The same monthly amount went to Belmont Strategies, an influential Republican PR firm that has represented Steve Bannon and Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two men who laundered Russian money that went to a PAC supporting Trump.
Save America still has $106.7 million on hand, potentially making it a major player in the midterms, though Trump (technically his treasurer, Bradley T. Crate, who handles financial services for Republican campaigns and handled Trump’s various PACs in 2016, as well) seems to have other plans for the money. Altogether Save America has donated $200,000 to various midterm campaigns, a little less than 1/16 of the largest line-item on Save America’s most recent expenditures report: an “unclassifiable” $3.2 million to Event Strategies, Inc, the firm run by Tim Unes, a Trump 2016 campaign vet and “stage manager” of the Stop the Steal rally.
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Trump’s toadies also run the Republican payment processor that managed the transactions. Between Save America’s post-election launch and the Jan. 6 insurrection, the organization paid $343,168.63 in fees to WinRed, the Republican fundraising platform launched with Trump’s personal endorsement and pushed by party officials, who “offered $20,000 to $30,000 in discounts for party dues if the members’ campaign committees sign up for and use WinRed,” according to a July 2019 report by RealClear Politics’s Susan Crabtree. Last August, the New York Times reported that WinRed had been inundated with fraud complaints after donors discovered they had been automatically signed up for recurring contributions. WinRed charged transaction fees to refund the coerced “donations.” WinRed is run by Gerrit Lansing, Trump’s former digital director, who was fired after failing a background check in 2017 when the FBI learned that Lansing had declined to divest his stake in digital payment processor Revv, which merged with voter data repository Data Trust to form WinRed two years later.
As anyone who has tried to untangle the snarl of shell corporations that is maybe the most distinctive feature of the Trump organization can tell you, one legal entity is never enough for the former president. Democratic representative Zoe Lofgren told Jake Tapper that another group, Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point Action, paid $60,000 to Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former Fox News host who left the network to join yet another pro-Trump organization, America First Policies. The service Guilfoyle provided? Introducing her fiancée, Donald Trump, Jr., at the Stop the Steal rally on the Ellipse immediately before the insurrection. Guilfoyle bragged about having raised millions for the rally in text messages to Trump flack Katrina Pierson, ProPublica reported last year.
It’s easy to look at all this self-dealing and feel discouraged. What can we do in the face of so much textbook corruption, so little of it even concealed? We tend to think of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election in terms of installing himself in power, and it was, but he is first and foremost a greedy little creature, and watching his goons squirm publicly as they’re forced to account for every nickel is worth doing. People didn’t give Trump money because he’s an avaricious bully. They gave him money because they thought he would be their bully. He wasn’t. He didn’t care about his donors or his constituents. He just wanted to take whatever they had for himself.