US Capitol Building in spring of 2021 with metal security fence

Trump’s Fundraising Rip-off Is Bad for All of Us

In the recent House hearings about the January 6 coup attempt, the media seemed shocked by the revelation that the GOP raised $250 million after the 2020 election for an “Official Election Defense Fund” that did not exist. Their solicitations were filled with questionable tactics and a large chunk of the resulting contributions was apparently misdirected to Trump’s hotels, and to the side projects of his friends and staff.

While this was treated as a shock by the media, it is no surprise to those of us who have monitored Republican fundraising efforts over the years. My office is filled with GOP solicitations dating back decades, and many utilize highly unethical and manipulative tactics that the Democratic Party would never, ever consider.

One of my favorites (and by favorite, I mean most outrageous) is a Republican National Committee (RNC) solicitation sent many years ago that involved two mail pieces. The first solicitation is standard and not unlike those sent by the Democratic Party … it is signed by the RNC chairman and includes a membership card and request for funds. However, the second follow-up solicitation is the most underhanded and unethical direct mail piece I’ve seen in my 37-year career.

This letter is signed by a female RNC staff member. It begins by saying, “This is one of the hardest letters I’ve ever had to write.” The signer then explains that she had been directly instructed by the party chairman to add the words “Charter Member” to the recipient’s previously mailed membership card, but she screwed up and failed to do so, and implies her job may be in trouble. “I cannot tell you how sorry I am. And I wanted you to know right away that it was my mistake …” She goes on to say that one way or the other, she must reach her fundraising goal. “I know you must be very disappointed in me for making this mistake. But I hope you see I’m doing everything I can to correct it. And I pray you’ll help me out …” And, as if this were not bad enough, she goes on to tell the recipient that she’s a single mother who’s afraid she may not be able to provide for her daughter.

I cannot imagine a more manipulative piece of fundraising copy. A struggling, god-fearing, single mother may lose her job if you do not respond today. This letter is even more outrageous when you consider the Republican Party’s horrific war upon women’s rights … they are actually using their own suppression of women as a selling point and sympathy generator. This letter was written many years ago, but the unscrupulous tactics continue today. Trump’s solicitations for his supposed “Election Defense Fund” were also based on lies and devious tactics calculated to generate an emotional response and contributions from easily misled conservative supporters.

While Democrats like me may laugh about the wasted expenditure of funds by these Republican donors … after all, that’s a quarter-of-a-billion dollars of GOP money down the drain that will not be spent to defeat Democrats … this episode is still very bad for every other entity that struggles to raise money for their cause. Scandals like this make potential donors of every stripe more cynical about fundraising. Over the years, I’ve watched donors become more cynical about the legitimacy of fundraising efforts, probably due to the multitude of scandals over the decades. In the late 1980’s, it was misspending of assets by the United Way. More recently, it was the misuse of funds raised in the aftermath of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. And today, it’s Trump’s fake “Election Defense Fund.” All these incidents make it more difficult for all of us to raise money for our causes. Today, we must expend much more effort to prove the legitimacy of our clients’ efforts than we did when I first started my fundraising career almost four decades ago.

So … not only should someone throw the book at Trump concerning his efforts to sabotage our constitution and overthrow our form of government, but I also hope that the appropriate authorities act to fully investigate these allegedly fraudulent fundraising efforts.

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