The Slatest

Watchdog Says Trump Campaign Paid $170 Million to Companies Set Up to Hide Spending

Presidential daughter-in-law Lara Trump with Brad Parscale at the Conservative Political Action Conference 2020 (CPAC).
Presidential daughter-in-law Lara Trump with Brad Parscale at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference.* Samuel Corum/Getty Images

The Trump campaign is awash with cash, but it’s not always clear where it’s going. Donald Trump, as a businessman and now as president, has never been one to shy away from self-dealing, and the operation of his campaign appears to be no different. Sitting on a huge pile of cash, the Trump campaign has deployed sleight of hand tactics to obscure where it’s going, according to an FEC complaint filed by the Washington-based nonpartisan group Campaign Legal Center. The complaint alleges that the campaign has paid as much as $170 million to Trump-allied intermediaries, skirting federal disclosure rules that, by law, require campaign expenditures over $200 to be itemized and the recipient disclosed.

Two entities in particular raise red flags: American Made Media Consultants and Parscale Strategy, both of which, the complaint says, were established and operated by Trump campaign aide Brad Parscale. Parscale worked for the Trump Organization before being brought on in 2016 to help the campaign’s digital effort; until recently, he was the campaign manager of the reelection bid. The gist of the Trump grift is that these clearinghouse companies receive large payments from the Trump campaign for a myriad of vague political consulting services, including fundraising, digital this or that, print and online advertising, list rental, you name it. But who knows exactly where the money is going; once it’s been paid out the door to a consultant, then it’s hard to track. There have been reports that Trump children and other assorted hangers-on are paid as notional campaign staff through the two companies, instead of from the campaign directly, obscuring how much they’re making off the campaign.

American Made Media Consultants, for example, was registered in April 2018 by Parscale. One month later, the Trump campaign started making sizable payments to AMMC; the campaign has reported payments of $106 million to the company since 2019. The Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint fundraising committee with the GOP, has reported over $61 million in payments to AMMC. Trump campaign organizations have paid Parscale Strategy more than $35 million since 2017, FEC data shows. The Trump campaign has said that it is saving money by using companies like AMMC, though that’s shaky logic.

“Campaign Legal Center’s federal reforms director, Brendan Fischer, [said] it’s not uncommon for campaigns to have sub-vendors that are not itemized, and that’s not unreasonable under some circumstances,” ABC News reports. “One such example, Fischer said, would be if a campaign is contracting with a media consulting firm to produce its TV ads and the media consulting firm subcontracts with a videographer. But it becomes a potential issue when the failure to disclose the ultimate recipient of the money is done in an intentional or substantial manner, Fischer said.”

Correction, July 29, 2020: Due to a photo provider error, the caption on this post originally misidentified Lara Trump as Laura Trump.

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