Trump’s push to contest the 2020 election results may be a dubious legal gambit designed to muddy up Joe Biden’s win. But it’s also a gold rush for both him and his allies, as they seek to turn grassroots anger over the election’s outcome into a rare post-election opportunity to go back to the fundraising well, pad their coffers, and pay off election-year debts.
Pro-Trump student group Turning Point is raising money to fund a “team of lawyers” that it says is headed to Arizona to contest former Vice President Joe Biden’s win there. Newly elected Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a one-time devotee of the QAnon conspiracy theory, is hyping claims of a “stolen” election to try and build her list of voter contacts. A Republican state senator in Biden’s home state of Delaware is buying up web domain space to capitalize on the frenzy. A newly formed political group run by a Phoenix telemarketer is hitting America’s phone lines with robocalls that give the false impression of an association with the president’s political team and beg for money to fund a—likely nonexistent—“emergency recount fund.”
And according to the telemarketing and spam monitoring service RoboKiller, the Trump campaign has sent out an estimated 190 million text messages since Nov. 4.
Most of those texts “claim voter fraud and continue to request urgent or rushed donations to help fund recounts in major swing states such as Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania,” according to Giulia Porter, the vice president of marketing for Teltech, the firm that runs RoboKiller. (Full disclosure: Teltech and The Daily Beast are both owned by the company IAC.)
These mad-dash attempts to raise cash reflect the longtime political axiom that one should never let a crisis go to waste. And few are more aware of such dynamics than the president himself.
Though it wasn’t enough to put him over the top in last week’s presidential election, Trump enjoys a massive base of grassroots supporters who have been more than happy to pony up hundreds of millions of dollars to fund his political efforts. In the wake of his election loss, he’s leaning on those donors once again—though not, perhaps, for the reasons that they perceive.
Trump’s campaign has been regularly blasting out fundraising emails over the past few days that, on the surface, claim to be for fighting his loss in court. But the fine print shows that most of the money is being earmarked to pay down the Trump campaign’s outstanding bills.
Aware of the tremendous amount of small-dollar donations to be had, some of the president’s more high-profile supporters are also trying to monetize a piece of that grassroots energy. And while some are actually organizing events and actions to support the president’s claims that the election was marred by fraud, most appear to be efforts to piggyback on the hot political topic of the moment.
Implicit in all these fundraising efforts is an understanding that claims of a stolen election right now are, for Trump fans, the most potent grassroots fundraising appeal that a Republican political organization can muster. Normally, a losing candidate’s supporters emerge from an election despondent and highly unlikely to immediately dip back into their bank accounts for another political contribution. But dubious claims from the president and his team that they were cheated out of a victory have—Trump and his supporters hope—provided an opportunity for another financial gush before the 2020 election cycle concludes.
The apparent opportunity is evident simply in the volume of fundraising appeals the Trump campaign has been sending. According to Twitter user @TrumpEmail—a Daily Beast columnist who tracks Trump campaign fundraising emails—the Trump team sent, on average, a record 25 such emails per day last week.
A spokesperson for Turning Point Action, the pro-Trump youth group, didn’t respond to multiple requests for more information on the “team of lawyers” that its founder, Charlie Kirk, claimed he was dispatching to Arizona. But his plea to potential donors was urgent. “I am on the ground fighting to Protect The Vote,” Kirk wrote in a fundraising email on Friday. “Will you fight back with me and help fund my team of lawyers who are making sure EVERY Trump vote is counted? Rush $50 right away.”
Another group run by a prominent Trump backer, Tea Party activist Amy Kremer’s Women for Trump, has also been hitting up its supporters for money with “stolen election” appeals. Kremer’s group says it’s organizing a demonstration in Washington next weekend. “Please make a generous contribution today,” Kremer wrote in a fundraising email on Saturday. “This event will be huge and very expensive, but with your support, we can make it happen.”
It’s not entirely clear how much money these sorts of appeals are raising. Turning Point Action and Women for Trump are both 501(c)(4) “dark money” nonprofits, meaning they won’t have to disclose information about its 2020 finances for months. And even explicitly political groups getting in on the fundraising rush won’t have to submit additional financial information to the FEC until later this month. Once source of potential revenue has been eclipsed this week, as Facebook has banned all political advertising in the immediate wake of the election. That leaves these groups to lean on email fundraising and other forms of donor contacts.
One such method is the telemarketing call, and a Republican group called Patriots for American Leadership has been on a telemarketing tear in recent days asking people to finance efforts to overturn election results that Donald Trump doesn’t like.
“I’m Donald Trump!” declares a recording of the president at the outset of one recent Patriots for American Leadership robocall. “They’re trying to steal an election. They’re trying to rig an election. We can’t let that happen,” the recording says. It then launches into a pre-recorded fundraising pitch asking donors to give to the group’s “emergency recount fund,” which it says, vaguely, will “help President Trump win the re-election.”
Patriots for American Leadership is almost certainly doing next to nothing to support the president’s post-election legal efforts. The group is an offshoot of another political outfit, Support American Leaders PAC, that used similar robocalls to solicit funds that were largely paid to the people running the PAC, a tactic common for so-called “scam PACs.” Of the roughly $418,000 that Patriots for American Leadership PAC reported spending from its formation in August through mid-October, about $308,000 was paid to the people running the PAC or their companies, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The man running Patriots for American Leadership, a Phoenix telemarketer named Eddie Shivers, did not respond to questions about the group and its fundraising tactics.
It’s not just money that political groups and candidates are hoping to milk out of these still unproven allegations of voter fraud. On the day that the Associated Press and other major news organizations called the election for Biden, Greene, the Georgia Republican congresswoman-elect, purchased the web domain StopTheBidenSteal.com and set it up to redirect to a petition page on her campaign website. Visitors are asked to provide their names, email, addresses, zip codes, and phone numbers, effectively building Greene’s list of potential supporters to hit up for contributions in the future.
Once a visitor “signs” the petition, they’re redirected, of course, to the Greene campaign’s online donation page.
In Biden’s home state of Delaware, Republican state senator Colin Bonini has also been buying up topical web domains. In addition to his existing portfolio of web addresses—which include senilejoe.net, joecriminal.com, and corruptandsenile.com—Bonini has now picked up a new web address: howtostealanelection.com.