When it comes to money, Donald Trump‘s history isn’t as clear cut as the Republican nominee would have voters believe. Between his ties to the Clinton Foundation — despite his constant criticism of Hillary Clinton’s organization — and his taking advantage of a 9/11 recovery program designated for small businesses, the New York real estate mogul’s financial dealings are impossible to reconcile with his presidential campaign’s claims to the contrary. So, it’s not entirely surprising that Trump has become the target of what some supporters claim is nothing more than a fraud.
The “fraud” in question is DinnerWithTrump.org, a website run by 25-year-old entrepreneur Ian Hawes. Politico spoke with him and many of the donors who contributed to his website, which promises a meeting and a meal with the White House hopeful. However, none of the more than $1 million collected by Hawes and his American Horizons PAC has gone to the Trump campaign itself. Hawes brushes it off as a big misunderstanding, or “simply a matter of pure chance,” but those who contributed money (and contact) information to the cause are understandably furious:
“I feel ripped off and taken advantage of. This is horrible. That was not my intent,” said Mary Pat Kulina, who owns a paper-shredding company in Maryland and gave $265 to Hawes’s group. Kulina thought she had given to Trump’s campaign until told otherwise by POLITICO. “This is robbery,” she said. “I want my money back and I want them to add up what they stole from people and give it to Donald Trump.”
The website doesn’t actually require a donation, it turns out, as dinner lottery submissions only necessitate one’s name, email and zip code. Yet subsequent emails sent to contestants by American Horizons suggest money given would increase their chances of winning — despite the fine print’s warning that “contributing will not improve chances of winning.” Late revelations such as these led to heated email exchanges between disaffected donors and Hawes himself:
“I’d like to point out that it clearly states that contributing does NOT increase chances of winning both in the rules within the link and at the bottom of the email,” Peavler wrote, adding in all-caps, “EAT SH*T!”
An email signed by Hawes replied. “Monetary contributions don’t increase your chance of winning, but we do multiply your entries. We’re also a political action committee, so it’s our job to collect contributions. So you can eat your own sh*t.”
The FEC is aware of American Horizons and similar groups like Recover America PAC, which operated the dinnerwithtrump.org domain and contest last November. However, as FEC commissioner Ann Ravel told Politico, “there’s very little recourse” in fraud cases like these. “People give money thinking it’s going to go to a particular person or a particular cause, and it’s a consumer protection issue as far as I’m concerned.”