The Slatest

What Is This Draper Sterling–Trump Deal All About? We Knocked on Their Door to Find Out.

Draper Sterling HQ.

Ruth Graham

On Monday night, Donald Trump’s campaign filed its May disclosure report with the Federal Election Commission. The Trump campaign has about $1.3 million in cash, the report revealed, compared with the Clinton campaigns’s $41 million. Combined with the news that the Trump campaign employs just about 70 staffers to Clinton’s 700, the New York Times calls it “the worst financial and organizational disadvantage of any major party nominee in recent history.” Sad!

But something else stuck out in the FEC paperwork. The Trump campaign paid $35,000 for “web advertising” to something or someone called “Draper Sterling.” The apparently Mad Men–inspired company name lists an address that appears to be a home in a residential neighborhood in Londonderry, New Hampshire. (ThinkProgress’ Judd Legum seems to have noticed it first.)

Here’s where things get sticky. Draper Sterling was registered with the state in March to a guy named Jon Adkins. Adkins co-founded a medical device company called XenoTherapeutics with Paul Holzer, a Dartmouth medical student. Holzer used Adkins’ home address for another payment from the Trump campaign in May. Londonderry is next to Windham, where Trump’s freshly fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is based. Also in the mix: an apparently nonexistent café serving “the New Hampshire spirit with a touch of Southern hospitality.”

Legum has been doing the best online detective work on all of this, digging into the odd connections between Draper Sterling, Grace’s, Adkins, Holzer, and Holzer’s brother, who runs a firm called Patriots for America. The only other apparent evidence for the existence of a company called “Draper Sterling” is a mention in an FEC complaint against Patriots for America. That complaint accuses Draper Sterling of being “mysterious,” and questions why Patriots for America owed it $56,234: “This transaction is highly unusual (or its description highly misleading).” As Legum summarizes the whole mess, “We still aren’t sure what Draper Sterling actually does but these individuals are going to considerable lengths to obfuscate their activities.”

I drove to Draper Sterling on Tuesday to see what was going on at this plucky local advertising firm doing well-remunerated work for a national presidential campaign. The address took me down a winding residential street. Near the end of a dead-end road was a two-story home with a tidy yard. A little girl peeked out the window as I approached, and a woman who appeared to be in her 50s answered the door, opening it just a crack.

This was Sharon, Jon Adkins’ mother-in-law. “I don’t know what he does,” she told me. “All I do is I watch his kids.” That seemed unusual! My in-laws know what I do for a living, and they live in an entirely different state. “He’s in the medical field,” Sharon finally told me warily, eventually naming XenoTherapeutics, another company that Adkins and Holzer have been involved with. “I know that he does a lot of business out of Boston. Whatever he does, I don’t know.”

OK, yes, she went on, he’s done some kind of political work—she wouldn’t say what—but it was in Massachusetts, not New Hampshire. “I don’t get into politics, I don’t care about it, I don’t even think I’m going to vote this year because I don’t like either one,” she told me, repeating what seemed to be the most important point to her: “I don’t get into his business.” That was all she would say. “Go find Trump!” she advised me. Update, Tuesday, June 21, 2016, 3 p.m.: I also spoke with a garrulous, handsy German man who identified himself as Adkins’ father-in-law; when I asked him if he’d heard of Draper Sterling, he replied, “Yes,” but added, “I don’t know nothing.”

A neighbor across the street, Bill, watched from his front yard with his daughter and granddaughters. He told me he thought Adkins worked in pharmaceuticals. They’re a nice family, he said; the kids play together. The Adkinses just moved in a few months ago. When I told Bill why I was in the neighborhood, he laughed: “He’s never talked about Trump to me.”