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The Neverending Story (of Trump’s Grift)

Trump’s legal troubles have inspired a relentless fundraising campaign. The appeals are grandiose, petulant, cynical—and very effective.
September 29, 2022
The Neverending Story (of Trump’s Grift)
(Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Within hours of learning that he, his family business, and three of his children were being prosecuted on civil charges for fraud, Donald Trump was trying to make money off of it.

“Can you believe it?” the former president exclaimed in a fundraising email sent on the afternoon of September 21. “Radical New York Attorney General Letitia James is SUING ME and MY FAMILY. This is an absolute WITCH HUNT, Friend.”

Trump assured recipients of this appeal that he was “prepared to FIGHT BACK,” but just needed to know “that I have your support.” He asked supporters to “add your name IMMEDIATELY to publicly stand with me,” something that would be accomplished by going to a page that allowed for a range of contributions, with the box for a $20 donation highlighted in sky blue and shaking back and forth like a hula dancer. After a few seconds on the page, this pop-up message appears:

There is nothing new about the Maximum Grifter seizing every opportunity to raise huge sums from his gullible supporters for no clearly designated purpose, other than that it will “benefit” his Save America Joint Fundraising Committee. In recent weeks, many of these appeals have focused on the FBI serving a search warrant on August 8 at Trump’s Florida home to seize unlawfully hoarded government documents, many classified.

Here’s what Trump had to say about it in a recent fundraising email:

Friend, You’ll never believe this. Not only did the FBI steal my passports in the FBI raid of my home, Mar-a-Lago, but it has just been learned through court filings that they also improperly took my complete and highly confidential medical file and history (at least they’ll see that I’m very healthy, an absolutely perfect physical specimen!).

They also took my personal tax records (this is ILLEGAL) and lawyer-client privileged information – a definite NO, NO. This reminds me of the Soviet Union!

They will NEVER stop coming after me, Friend. They’re out to get me because they’re afraid we’ll SAVE AMERICA from Joe Biden’s terrible presidency. I need YOU to go on record with what YOU think about this:

This appeal includes a one-question poll: “Do you agree that I am being politically persecuted?” This time it was the $100 box, among the many options, that was blue and dancing. Underneath this survey question was this box:

Let’s say it is a safe assumption that those who click on this option are not just being urged to donate an additional $50 automatically, but agreeing to it.

As I have discussed in a previous article, I receive messages like these from Donald Trump about a dozen times per day, having somehow found my way on to his email list. Some offer opportunities to buy merch. Some tout his rallies. Some include what appear to be defenses of his most violent supporters (“Dozens of amazing Patriots who stand for America, including wonderful young people, are being targeted and harassed by the Department of ‘Justice’ and FBI”). All ask for money.

A particularly brazen one found its way to my inbox on September 20:


Pelosi is a failure.

We know it.

You know it.

And she knows it.

It’s recently been exposed that Nancy Pelosi was warned about the potential of too many people coming to the Capitol on January 6th and FAILED to take the proper steps to secure the building.

The Democrats will NEVER stop LYING to cover up their tracks. They need to be held accountable.

This led to a single-question survey (“DO YOU AGREE THAT NANCY PELOSI IS A FAILURE?”) and a range of donation amount options, including a dancing $250 box.

And then there was this missive, sent September 23:


I recently was at my home in Florida, Mar-a-Lago, and I saw firsthand the aftermath of the unwarranted, unjust, and illegal raid.

Instead of focusing on solving problems for our country, the Washington Swamp has put us through one monstrous witch hunt after another:

Russia, Russia, Russia

The Mueller Scam

Impeachment Hoax #1

Impeachment Hoax #2

The sham Unselect Committee on January 6th

And now, the unprecedented break-in and raid of the home of a former president of the United States

The people behind these savage witch hunts have no shame, no morals, no conscience, and absolutely no respect for the citizens of this country.

It goes on, ending in an appeal to “contribute $50 IMMEDIATELY to stand with me as an Official AMERICA FIRST FREEDOM DEFENDER.”

Misleading pressure tactics to compel donations are hardly uncommon in the world of political fundraising. One recent email solicitation I received from Democratic Leadership—a project of AMERIPAC, a leadership PAC that Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer launched in 1992 to help elect members of his party to Congress—opened with this strangely hostile appeal from “Alyssa B.” regarding a survey that leads to a donation page:

Hello Bill,

We’re currently [14] responses short from your state in this critical poll, so I’m asking you to please respond immediately. As a top informed local Democrat, your input is vital to our polling. If our smartest Democrats like you don’t respond, I’ll have no choice but to disqualify your state from our results.

But nothing can compare to the sheer aggression of Trump’s appeals, some of which resemble a “your money or your life” stick-up. Consider this plea from a recent Trump email: “We are in the battle of our lives, Friend. If we don’t raise enough money, our nation is dead.”

According to the fine print that appears on the donation pages for these fundraising appeals: “Save America JFC is a joint fundraising committee on behalf of Save America and Make America Great Again PAC (‘MAGAPac’). Joint fundraising proceeds shall be allocated among the committees as follows: 90% to Save America, 10% to MAGAPac.”

This notice mentions that there is a $5,000 annual cap on how much any one individual can give to Trump’s cause, whatever it might be, in any one year, and that the campaign will do its best to record the names, address, occupation, and employer of each donor of more that $200 per year.

An analysis by the Washington Post found that nearly two-thirds of the more than 2.5 million individual contributions to the various tentacles of Trump’s fundraising apparatus “came from people who listed their occupation as ‘retired,’” and they accounted for 57 percent of the total contribution volume overall. And, as the New York Times reported last year, millions of dollars of donations were garnered from people who did not realize that they had authorized “automatic recurring contributions by prechecking a box on its digital donation forms to take a withdrawal every week.

According to Open Secrets, a campaign finance tracker, Save America JFC has raked in $107 million in the 2022 election cycle, through June 30. The committee spent a total of $99.6 million during this period, including disbursements to other funds. Brendan Glavin, a senior data analyst with Open Secrets, says in an email that the Save America joint fundraiser “distributed $54.6 million to other committees, including $49 million to the Save America leadership PAC.”

In all, the Save America leadership PAC has raised more than $135 million and spent $42.5 million since its inception less than a week after the November 3, 2020, election, through August 31. The group reportedly has about $93 million cash on hand.

As Amanda Carpenter noted in a recent piece for The Bulwark, many of the appeals for the Save America PAC have sought money for an “Official Legal Defense Fund” that has never actually existed. Some money from the PAC has gone to pay Trump’s legal fees, including $3.8 million in the month of August alone. (If Trump is actually paying his lawyers, even if it is with other people’s money, you know things have gotten serious.)

The Save America PAC has given nearly nearly $8.7 million to the company that organized Trump’s pre-riot rally on January 6th, and $60,000 to Trump’s future daughter-in-law, Kimberly Guilfoyle, to give a speech at this event. Money from the PAC has also gone to a nonprofit group that employs Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and to a think tank that hosted a presumably paid speech by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. It even paid the Smithsonian $650,000 to pay for portraits of the former president and first lady.

A grand jury looking into events leading up to the January 6th riot has expanded its probe to include how Trump’s Save America PAC raises and spends money. “The fact that federal prosecutors are now seeking information about the fund-raising operation is a significant new turn in an already sprawling criminal investigation into the roles that Mr. Trump and some of his allies played in trying to overturn the election,” the New York Times noted.

But Trump’s fundraising prowess isn’t extraordinary just in its reach and potential criminality. There is also the massive delusion, insolence, bravado, and contempt for his supporters that these appeals reflect—so much so that it’s impossible not to wonder whether Trump writes them himself.

Here is some of the content of an especially wordy recent fundraising email with the subject line, “I’ve been harassed, investigated, defamed, slandered, and persecuted like no elected leader in American history”:

The unhinged persecution of me, my staff, and my supporters by the Radical Democrats and the Deep State is a form of political repression unlike anything our Nation has ever seen. Everyone associated with this travesty will go down in history as scoundrels and arsonists who tried to demolish our justice system, shatter our most sacred traditions, and wipe out the very foundations of our democracy – for their own selfish partisan gain. . . .

But no matter what our sick and deranged political establishment throws at me, no matter what they do to me, I will endure their torment and oppression, and I will do it willingly. They will NEVER get me to stop fighting for you, the American People. I will never quit—because the fate of our country is at stake. Our cruel and vindictive political class is not just coming after me – they are coming after YOU. NOW is your chance to STAND WITH ME and show the Left that this is YOUR COUNTRY, not THEIRS.

Please contribute $50 in the next 2 HOURS to make sure you are on my Official AMERICA FIRST FREEDOM DEFENDERS roster.

Thank you, and God bless,

Donald J. Trump
45th President of the United States

If that isn’t enough to get you to dig into your retirement funds, what would be? The big brains in Trump World, quite possibly including the never-acknowledges-he’s-an-ex-president, are working on it.

Bill Lueders

Bill Lueders, former editor and now editor-at-large of The Progressive, is a writer in Madison, Wisconsin.