Despite being called by all major media outlets over the weekend, the 2020 Presidential Election went into a second week. Obviously, this is not entirely normal. In the Bush/Gore election at the turn of the millennium, the election dragged out too, but there was a much more pressing legal challenge that had to do with “hanging chads” and other stupid early-2000’s Florida stuff that forced the Supreme Court to intervene. In this case, there does not seem to be a genuine legal issue at play here, yet the election is dragging on. Why are such shenanigans still occurring, and how do we stop them from occurring in every election after this? Well, let’s follow the money.
In the last week or so, President Trump has filed a plethora of lawsuits in swing states in an effort to change the results of the elections in these states. These lawsuits pertain to claims of various shenanigans, including Trump ballots being thrown out for being marked with Sharpies, Trump election observers not being allowed to stand close enough and votes being cast after election day. There are no merits or evidence to these claims, and they have been mostly rejected in court so far. Perusing through the lawsuits, it’s clear that many of them are simply lawsuits for lawsuit’s sake, so why is Trump filing them? The answer, perhaps, is fundraising.
Starting from 11 p.m. on election night, the Trump campaign has sent out nearly 150 fundraising emails to supporters asking for money. In many of these messages, the president is asking supporters for money to help fund his legal defense team spearheading these lawsuits. However, by analyzing where the money from these donations are going, it becomes clear that these lawsuits are not actually about contesting the election results. Money donated to the legal defense fund actually goes to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, of which the funds are split with 60 percent going to paying off Trump’s legal debt and 40 percent going to the Republican National Committee. Essentially, Trump supporters are being duped and milked dry in order to cover the exorbitant costs of a failed campaign. Other Trump allies are joining in on the grift, such as South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem who is asking for funds to “help us bring it home for the president” but actually depositing the donations into her reelection account, and Turning Point USA who is asking for donations to send a legal team out to Arizona for some reason.
On a larger scale, this kerfuffle is an excellent example about why our nation needs to divorce money from politics. Political campaigns should not be an industry opportunistically looking for the best way to sucker donors out of their money. Super PACs and other mechanisms of the fundraising process just pivot the political process away from issues and towards money-raising tactics. If Trump’s strategy of recouping campaign debt through an impassioned plea to bring about election justice works, then it will only accelerate the commodification of the campaign cycle to enrich politicians and their consultants. It is suddenly much more urgent to push for reforms such as overturning the ruling in Citizens United that allow for certain groups to exploit campaign finance laws and the country should transition away from our current system for funding campaigns and move towards completely publicly-funded campaigns to start putting an end to these fundraising stunts.
Vincent Rendon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @VinceSagebrush.