Column: Trump’s latest grift — the ‘Save America PAC’ $100-million hoard
Donald Trump says he’s naming me “Patriot of the Month.” But the defeated president has told me that month after month in fundraising emails, including every day this week.
No service to country is required on my part, only payment to Trump: A contribution to his growing political coffers at the “Save America PAC.” Helpfully, he has already checked the box that says I agree to “make this a monthly recurring donation.”
That’s patriotism, Trump-style.
“For your eyes only,” the pitches may start, or “DO NOT SHARE.” Get a signed copy of his rally speech, they promise, or get markers like the ones he used to sign bills as president, or vulgar “LET’S GO BRANDON” baseball caps for your donation.
Jackie Calmes brings a critical eye to the national political scene. She has decades of experience covering the White House and Congress.
I’ve declined to participate — I know, hard to believe. But a lot of hardworking, cash-pinched Americans are taken in by such cons, er, offers. Trump has raised well over $100 million for his PAC since he left office.
Here’s what’s more disgusting: So-called Republican leaders are so cowed by Trump, they don’t speak up when he’s conning their own constituents. And the grift isn’t even what bothers them.
What bugs them is that Trump is vacuuming up so much from small donors and funneling almost none of it to party candidates. That’s despite his claims to would-be donors that he’s helping Republicans capture control of Congress in this year’s midterm elections.
Democrats were quick to lambaste Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, when they were in office, for not sharing more of their take from donors, but even privately Republicans are notably quiet about Trump’s hucksterism.
It’s a toss-up as to whether Republicans can hold onto a Senate seat in the not-red state of North Carolina.
“I don’t hear a ton about it,” longtime national Republican strategist Doug Heye told me, “in part because, as with all things Trump, there’s a resignation that this is just what he’s going to do. You do hear a lot that he’s not spreading the wealth. He’s hoarding the money and keeping it — that’s what people are talking about.”
As with most things Trump, it’s norms-busting. “To my knowledge, no other former president has ever maintained a PAC, much less a PAC with cash-on-hand in the nine figures,” Adav Noti, who for more than a decade was a counsel at the Federal Election Commission, told me. “As they keep hitting up donors and engaging in extremely unsavory and deceptive fundraising practices, I think one major question is where all of this money is going to go.”
Money in so-called leadership PACs is supposed to go to candidates. By law, however, Trump can convert it to personal use — unless he becomes a candidate himself again. As Noti said, “The laws around candidates helping themselves to their own campaign money are fairly strict.”
Non-candidate Trump’s money-grubbing has picked up lately, bringing in as much as $1 million a day, the Washington Post reported, as he exploits his and his supporters’ sense of grievance over what he falsely calls the unwarranted FBI “Break-in” at Mar-a-Lago Aug. 8. He needs the cash, he pleads, to fight back.
GOP leaders are deserting the rule of law and stoking dangerous disorder instead.
Similarly, days after the 2020 election, the Sore Loser created the Save America PAC and started relentlessly emailing small-dollar donors, claiming he needed money for an “Official Election Defense Fund.” But “no such fund existed,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the San Jose Democrat on the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, said at its second hearing in June. “So not only was there the ‘Big Lie,’ there was the ‘big rip-off.’”
Trump keeps raking it in even as the Republican Party struggles. Its Senate campaign arm, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is so strapped that it shelved plans to buy television ads for its candidates in several battleground states, according to the Post, while Democratic candidates are dominating the airwaves and the fundraising.
That has provoked Republicans to openly complain, but not about Trump, about Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the chair of the Senate campaign committee. Yet if Republicans don’t win a Senate majority, it won’t be Scott’s fault. After all, Republicans have other sources of campaign money, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s rich Senate Leadership Fund and, as the New York Times reported this week, a new conservative fund seeded with $1.6 billion from a little-known nonagenarian electronics tycoon and run by right-wing activist Leonard A. Leo.
No, if Republicans fall short in Senate races, it will be because Trump — with his endorsements of sycophantic, election-denying MAGAts over more mainstream rivals — has saddled them with nominees who are extremist losers, including Herschel Walker in Georgia, Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Blake Masters in Arizona.
Letting the unrepentant former president get away with treasonous activities poses a bigger constitutional threat than prosecuting him.
Even McConnell no longer sounds confident about Republicans’ Senate chances. “Candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome,” he said last week, without, of course, naming Trump as the quality-control offender.
Trump, of course, has no qualms against naming and shaming McConnell. In both a post on his Truth Social site and in a fundraising email I received Wednesday, the defeated president suggested without evidence that McConnell and his wife, Elaine Chao, who was Trump’s Labor secretary, could be criminally liable for conflicts of interest in mixing their government roles with her family’s shipping business with China.
“A new Republican Leader in the Senate should be picked immediately,” Trump wrote in his email — above the usual red “DONATE” button. The separate Truth Social post was richly ironic: McConnell, Trump wrote, “should spend more time (and money!) helping [Republicans] get elected.”
As usual, Trump is projecting, attributing his sins onto others. But if Republicans don’t care enough to stand up to the man who’s hurting their electoral prospects, why should the rest of us?
Here’s why: Because millions of well-meaning citizens are literally buying Trump’s lies with their meager savings. Whether the huckster is a Nigerian email scammer or a former president, that’s just wrong.
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