The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Long after the lawsuits ended, the money kept flooding in

An advertisement soliciting donations for former president Donald Trump is displayed on a screen during the second public hearing of the House select committee on the Jan. 6, 2021, attack in Washington on June 13. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

On Dec. 31, 2020, Donald Trump’s failed reelection bid filed one of its last lawsuits aimed at overturning the election results. Trump v. Kemp, case 1:20-cv-05310-MHC, targeted Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) in an effort to remove Georgia from Joe Biden’s win column. It was dismissed on Jan. 5, 2021, the day before the riot at the Capitol, one more legal loss in a post-election period littered with them. Then the electoral votes were counted, and Trump’s loss became official.

Yet despite the election being over and Biden being inaugurated as president, Trump’s political action committee continued to vacuum up money. In the first half of 2021, it pulled in more than $62 million. That overlapped with part of Trump’s presidency, of course, but the bulk of it came after he had moved to Florida. In the back half of the year, he added another $23 million.

Essentially none of which went to legal efforts to keep Trump in office. So where did it go?

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During the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot’s hearing on Monday, we learned a little bit about it. In a slide, the committee documented:

  • $1 million to the Conservative Partnership Institute, a charity run by Trump’s chief of staff.
  • $1 million to the America First Policy Institute, an organization that aims to be the core advocate for Trump’s political vision.
  • More than $200,000 to hotels owned by the Trump Organization.
  • $5 million to the company that ran Trump’s Jan. 6 rally outside the White House.

Many of the emails, the committee stated, advertised the “Official Election Defense Fund,” a pool of money that didn’t exist. You can peruse some of those emails at the Archive of Political Emails.

In an interview with CNN taped after the hearing, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) revealed another expenditure.

Donald Trump Jr.'s fiancee, Kimberly Guilfoyle, "was paid for the introduction she gave at the speech on Jan. 6,” Lofgren said. “She received compensation for that” — to the tune of $60,000. The speech was a little more than two minutes long. Guilfoyle had previously raised eyebrows for reportedly being paid large sums of money by the campaign through a third party, allowing the payments to avoid being reported to the Federal Election Commission.

“People were conned by the former president,” Lofgren said at another point in her CNN interview. Lofgren referred to the post-election period as a “grift.”

Remember that the campaign itself has been criticized for tricking donors into signing up for repeating donations, spurring a flood of demands for refunds. But that money, at least, is bounded by legal restrictions and can’t simply be used for things like paying family members to give short speeches. The money that came into the Save America political action committee — the main fundraising vehicle established a few days after the election — was not similarly constrained. Trump can spend the millions he raised on pretty much anything.

That includes tens of millions in the last two months of 2020, money closely linked to the effort to overturn the election results in the courts. The campaign was still pushing the nonexistent Election Defense Fund into mid-December, according to emails I received from the campaign. The latest I’d gotten was from Dec. 13, 2020, the day before states finalized their slates of electors to be sent to Washington for Jan. 6.

By the end of the month, no more court cases would be filed according to Ballotpedia’s index of cases. But Trump’s team kept sending out a barrage of emails and kept pulling in money. According to the Archive of Political Emails, Trump’s team sent out 17 different emails on Monday alone, selling T-shirts and asking people to fill out useless polls.

Oh, and whatever this is.

A big chunk of each contribution made from those appeals goes right into the Save America coffers.

In November 2020, I discovered that the campaign sent more emails in the three weeks after the election than in the three weeks before it. The hustle was underway. And on Monday, even as the House select committee detailed how the effort worked, the hustle continued.