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Trump cracks down on deceptive fundraising by others using his name

July 4, 2022 Updated Mon., July 4, 2022 at 7:24 p.m.

Bus driver Randy Reynolds smokes as he walks past a Trump-themed bus at the home of Angela Rubino in Rome, Ga., on May 21. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Michael S. Williamson  (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
Bus driver Randy Reynolds smokes as he walks past a Trump-themed bus at the home of Angela Rubino in Rome, Ga., on May 21. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Michael S. Williamson (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
By Michael Scherer </p><p>and Josh Dawsey Washington Post

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has spent months groundlessly telling Republicans that they can be on “Trump’s Team” or “Endorse Trump for President in 2024” by giving to his U.S. Senate campaign.

“Are you turning your back on Pres. Trump?” one Brnovich fundraising ad asked last year. “Renew your 2022 membership before it is too late.”

Such appeals pushed the actual team of advisers around Trump to a breaking point in June, after Trump endorsed Brnovich’s rival, Blake Masters, for the Senate seat in Arizona. In a cease-and-desist letter obtained by the Washington Post, an attorney for Save America, Trump’s political action committee, threatened legal action if Brnovich did not stop using Trump’s image and name in misleading ways.

Trump’s lawyer pointed to a recent email with the subject line “ACCOUNT TERMINATION NOTICE” that threatened potential donors with losing “[a]ny chance of continuing to receive our Trump polls, Trump rally alerts, and 2024 Endorsement opportunities” if they did not give money to Brnovich.

“Your use of President Trump’s name, image, and/or likeness is likely to deceive individuals into believing President Trump supports, endorses, or otherwise promotes your candidacy for U.S. Senate in Arizona – he does not,” the attorney wrote, while adding that the wording of the email could confuse people into thinking they were giving to Trump.

The letter was one of dozens of demands that Trump’s attorneys and aides have sent in recent years. But those efforts have not stopped the deceptive solicitations that flood Republican phones and inboxes daily. Eighteen months after leaving office, Trump remains the biggest draw for GOP donors, especially those who give small contributions. While he continues to rake in money, he also faces armies of unaffiliated fundraisers who ape or mimic Trump appeals and sometimes threaten or bully Republicans in Trump’s name to get money.

At the same time, Trump himself is no stranger to misleading fundraising appeals. His team often sends a dozen or more appeals in a day to gin up money, often with suspect claims, like saying donations will be matched 700%.

In one small example on Friday, a text message to Trump’s fundraising list began, “LIVE FROM MAR-A-LAGO! Pres Trump: It’s me, your FAVORITE President.” But Trump is not at Mar-a-Lago, having moved for the summer to his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

The former president has complained that some of the emails from his team are “cheesy” and that they are annoying his supporters, in the words of one adviser, who, like others quoted in this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. At one point, Trump told his team to slim down the emails, but he was then advised that would cost his PAC money, which he did not want, another adviser said.

The data-driven consultants behind the unaffiliated appeals have honed their craft to the limits of absurdity, because in online fundraising there is no reward for coloring inside the lines and little punishment for fooling donors. Frequently, solicitations are designed to trick donors into thinking they are giving to Trump himself, a misrepresentation belied only by the fine print.

One recent text message solicitation from Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., a recent golf partner of the president who is not running for election this year, urged donors to renew their “2022 official Trump Membership” or “be labeled a Joe Biden supporter.”

“You do NOT want to disappoint Pres. Trump,” the message said, without any mention that it was from Hagerty’s campaign. A link led donors to a webpage with a photo of Trump and a countdown clock, alongside text warning that the reader has only “60 minutes to correct the record.” A single line of smaller text on that page discloses that contributions benefit Hagerty’s campaign.

The Brnovich campaign did not respond to requests for comment; the Hagerty campaign declined to comment. Among those advising the Brnovich campaign is National Public Affairs, a consulting firm founded by two veterans of Trump’s own campaign team: former Trump 2020 campaign manager Bill Stepien and former deputy campaign manager Justin Clark.

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