Sir Roger Gale was puzzled when a string of emails from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign landed in his inbox. As a Briton and a member of Parliament, Gale is barred by U.S. law from giving Trump money, much less voting for him.
“I’ve gotten rid of most of that rubbish,” Gale said in an interview.
The emails to Gale were among a wave of fundraising pleas inexplicably sent by the Trump campaign in recent days to lawmakers in the United Kingdom, Iceland, Australia and elsewhere. The solicitations prompted watchdog groups in Washington to file two separate complaints Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission alleging that the Trump campaign was violating federal law by soliciting funds from foreign nationals.
“The scale and scope of this does seem somewhat unprecedented,” said Brendan Fischer, associate counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, which joined Democracy 21 in one of the complaints.
The episode is only the latest fundraising stumble by Trump’s presidential campaign, which entered June with $1.3 million and has been scrambling to put together a financial operation to take on the well-funded campaign of likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Last week, Trump dispatched his first official fundraising email, casting a wide digital net for small donations that he hopes will infuse his cash-strapped campaign and the Republican Party’s coffers at a time when Clinton is lapping him in the money chase.
So far, his effort has both shown promise and hit speed bumps. His campaign said it raised $2 million in less than 12 hours after blasting out its first email. But the emails to foreign nationals have caused a distraction, at best, and some experts have raised questions about whether his initial appeals landed in supporters’ spam folders at a higher rate than normal.
Whether the snags prove to be growing pains for a campaign that until recently eschewed traditional fundraising or a sign of more serious stumbles to come is a key question facing Trump and the Republican Party as the general election comes into focus.
Trump’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment on the complaints to the FEC or questions about why emails were sent to foreign lawmakers.
The emails were sent both before and after Trump’s trip to Scotland last weekend to visit two of his golf courses, and their message focused on the “Brexit” vote in Britain to leave the European Union.
The mogul is trying to build out his once-lean campaign operation with experienced hands. As a part of that process, Trump recently enlisted the help of the Prosper Group, an Indiana-based digital strategy firm, to help with online fundraising.
Gale, a Conservative who has served in the House of Commons for more than three decades, said the hostile tone of the Trump emails he received was off-
putting. One from this week that he shared with The Washington Post was signed by Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr.
“We’ve set another Trump-sized goal to raise another $10 million by Thursday at midnight. Please chip in what you can to help make Donald J. Trump the next President of the United States,” said the email, which was sent to Gale’s official parliamentary account.
Another fundraising pitch sent to the same account last week was signed by the candidate himself. “Hillary Clinton is a world-class liar,” it said.
“I don’t know if someone at Team Trump was stupid enough to think that all Conservative Party MPs would consider themselves Republicans,” Gale said. “But I asked around, and it seems that most others did get these emails, too.”
In reaching out to British MPs in particular, Trump’s team isn’t courting a particularly sympathetic audience. Members of Parliament from all major parties spent more than three hours debating Trump in January, ostensibly to consider banning his entry into the United Kingdom. Words such as “fool” and “buffoon” were used to describe Trump. Not one MP stood to speak in his defense.
In Iceland, Katrin Jakobsdottir, the chairwoman of the Left-Green Movement, a democratic socialist party that focuses on feminist and environmental issues, said she unexpectedly received a Trump campaign email and has “no idea” how she got on his list.
“I am a Left-Green politician and would not support his campaign,” she wrote in an email to The Post.
There have been other complications with Trump’s online fundraising.
Tom Sather, senior director of research at Return Path, a data firm that performs email studies, said he noticed that Trump’s campaign switched domain names when he sent his first email out, causing many email services to flag it as spam and not recognize that it was coming from a familiar source.
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said Return Path works with the RNC. David Wendland, a spokesman for the company, said the RNC “is not yet a direct customer of Return Path. It is possible that might change, though, as Return Path is in talks with the RNC to determine how it can help them with their email program this election season.”
Sather said he and his company also noticed a big jump in the size of Trump’s distribution list on June 21, signaling that the campaign may have added another list or lists to its existing file.
Renting email lists from former candidates is common practice in politics, and there is evidence suggesting Trump is doing that now. A Trump fundraising email sent out Wednesday afternoon came from “info@ chrischristie.com.” Christie, a former presidential candidate and the Republican governor of New Jersey, supports Trump.
In last week’s fundraising email, Trump vowed to match the $2 million raised with his personal funds. Trump is also holding in-person fundraisers across the country more often.
But he will need to keep up an intense pace if he wants to catch up to Clinton. Compared with Trump’s $1.3 million, campaign finance filings showed Clinton had $42 million at the start of this month.
Trump is still adjusting to a more traditional fundraising structure after spending the primary relying heavily on his own money and on earned television media through countless interviews — as opposed to pricey paid TV ads that lesser-known candidates are often forced to purchase.
Trump often points out that he is raising money in part to help the rest of the GOP through a joint fundraising agreement he recently finalized with the RNC.
At a campaign rally Wednesday in Bangor, Maine, Trump suggested that he does not need to haul in much cash to help himself.
“First of all, I don’t even know why I need so much money,” he said. “You know, I go around, I make speeches. I talk to reporters. I don’t even need commercials, if you want to know the truth. Why do I need these commercials?”
Jose A. DelReal contributed to this report.