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Trump's unintentionally hilarious fundraising emails, explained
"I have something important to tell you but you CANNOT share this with anyone."
I was drinking my morning coffee and putting the finishing touches on Tuesday’s edition of the newsletter when an email from “Donald J. Trump” caught my eye.
“Don’t share this with anyone,” read the subject line.
I’ve subscribed to Trump’s emails long enough to realize that the former president hadn’t really penned me a personal note. Still, I was curious enough to open it and read on.
“Friend, I have something important to tell you but you CANNOT share this with anyone,” it said. “I’m hosting a very important lunch in MAR-A-LAGO, and I’ve requested that YOU be my special guest.”
“My team just told me you hadn’t entered yet. I’ll admit that I was disappointed to hear that, but, you’re one of my BEST supporters, Friend, so I’ve decided to do something I RARELY DO in the hope that you’ll join me for lunch.”
Even though Trump asked “me” not to, I shared a screenshot of the email on Twitter for laughs:
But the joke is on Trump supporters. At the bottom of the email is a pitch for people to “contribute $50 or more” by midnight and be “automatically entered TWICE to win a trip to have lunch with ME in FLORIDA.”
Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW), told me that while emails of this sort “are ridiculous to an experienced and savvy reader, they work on his audience. And I think that’s important to remember.”
“Twitter can look down on them, but Trump has found a way to bleed money out of his donor base and these emails do the job,” he added.
The unending stream of ridiculous emails would embarrass people capable of shame. But they work.
After combing through the fine print, Libowitz told me that people who donate in response to Trump’s Tuesday morning email pitch would be giving to a joint committee split between Trump’s leadership PAC and another political PAC converted from his old campaign account. There are few restrictions on how leadership PACs spend money — Trump could use it to rent out Mar-a-Lago for an event, for instance, and thereby funnel money to himself. The political PAC, meanwhile, can spend money advertising on behalf of Trump’s agenda, as unsavory as that agenda may be.
And here’s the thing — Trump’s offer to fly one lucky supporter to Florida to have lunch with him is almost certainly a scam. As Judd Legum detailed during the 2020 campaign for his Popular Information newsletter, “the Trump campaign had held 15 contests to win meals with Trump, and there was no evidence anyone had ever won.”
Libowitz pointed out that Trump uses other scammy tactics, such as promising potential donors that their contributions will be matched seven or 10 times over, when doing so would be illegal.
“That matching, unless it was coming from him, which we know it’s not — it would be illegal, because it’d be over FEC limits — so he made up the match as a way to get people to give money,” Libowitz said. “It’s at least an unethical fundraising tactic.”
But if Trump is good at anything, he’s good at grifting. On Monday, the Washington Post reported that Trump’s political operation raised a very strong total of $51 million in the fourth quarter of last year. His overall war chest is $122 million — far more than any other Republican presidential hopeful, and more than double the the funds at the RNC’s disposal, which is paying for some of Trump’s legal bills anyway.
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Trump’s prolific fundraising “shows how receptive his supporters remain to the barrage of email and text solicitations distributed in his name,” the Post reported.
“Barrage” is not an exaggeration. As anyone subscribed to Trump’s emails can attest, his team is not shy about sending them fast and frequently. On Monday alone, I received at least 14 emails asking for money. Sometimes they’re written to read like they were actually written by Trump, while others are from “Don Jr.” or other Trumpworld characters.
These missives may seem absurd to you or me, but team Trump is apparently laughing all the way to the bank. Reps for Trump told the Post that more than 98 percent of donors gave under $200 in the last quarter of last year, suggesting at least some Trump fans are responding to these by smashing that “CONTRIBUTE” button.
“Trump has run pretty much every kind of scammy, grifty business you can imagine,” Libowitz pointed out. “And while these seem to hew close to scam emails, scam emails exist for a reason. There has to be someone falling for it, and this clearly works for Trump because he’s pulling in a ton of money.”
And while Trump is currently subject to fewer fundraising regulations because he hasn’t yet officially announced his presidential campaign — once he does so, he won’t be able anymore to coordinate with a Super PAC, for instance — Libowitz pointed out that he has other reasons to keep both his followers and the general public in suspense.
“Trump is a master marketer and has for decades been playing a game of ‘will he or won’t he,’” he said. “Flirting with it gets him more attention than just declaring and doing stump speeches.”