Donald Trump appeared at a fundraising event for an outside group that can collect unlimited contributions from secret donors, a move in sharp contrast with his public calls for transparency in money and politics.
Trump attended a fundraising event Sunday at the home of real estate developer Charles Kushner and his wife, Seryl – Ivanka Trump’s in-laws – on the Jersey Shore. Some attendees were asked to pony up $10,000 for a group called Make America Great Again. According to an invitation, organizers have set up a super PAC as well as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit. While a super PAC is required to disclose its donors, the nonprofit is not.
Donors were given the option of making contributions to the super PAC or to the nonprofit entity, noting their personal information would be kept private if they chose to contribute to the nonprofit, according to an invitation to the event.
Trump “attended as a guest and did not solicit donations from any of the attendees,” said campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks. “He is self-funding the campaign.”
But there are increasing signs Trump’s allies are ramping up their fundraising efforts to build a war chest for a longer than expected campaign. In addition to the New Jersey event, Trump made an appearance at an event hosted by the super PAC in Manhattan last month, a campaign aide confirmed. On Friday, he is scheduled to attend an event in Massachusetts that the host is billing as a fundraiser.
The apparent shift in Trump’s fundraising strategy hasn’t altered his rhetoric on the stump very much.
Trump has touted his personal wealth as a credential on the campaign trail, bragging that he doesn’t need donations from anyone and calling for an overhaul of the campaign finance system.
Trump gave a hint Sunday that he may be changing his tone, saying, “Certainly I would take contributions, I actually like the idea of investing in a campaign.”
“But it has to be no strings attached. I don’t want any strings attached,” he said on CBS’ “Face The Nation.”
But on Tuesday evening – just days after appearing at the New Jersey fundraiser – Trump railed against the lack of transparency in the system and lamented how difficult it is to identify donors who make big contributions to organizations supporting presidential candidates.
“I think the most important thing is transparency,” Trump told reporters. “You need to know who’s putting up what so when they start making deals in a year or two years or three years, you know what’s happening.”
At a campaign stop Tuesday in Dubuque, Iowa, Trump floated the idea of accepting more donations. He said numerous people have offered to write his campaign checks for millions of dollars.
“I turn down so much money. I feel like such a stupid person,” Trump said. “I’ll just take a vote. How about if I take all of this money – and I promise you, I swear to you – that I won’t do anything for these people. How about that?”
As the packed ballroom broke out in a chorus of “boos,” Trump renewed his pledge that he would not be beholden to donors and their special interests.
“I think one of the things they like about me is nobody’s going to buy me,” Trump said.
And yet, some guests said they attended Trump’s weekend fundraiser and donated – begrudgingly – because they did not want to jeopardize their business relationships with the Kushners or the Trumps, according to an attendee. Both families are powerful forces in the real estate industry and the Kushners have already thrown their support behind Trump’s campaign. Seryl Kushner donated $100,000 to the super PAC supporting him, according to a source close to the family.
The person close to the Kushner family disputed the notion that the New Jersey event was arranged as a fundraiser and denied that there was “pro-active solicitation,” saying guests only received information about the outside spending group if they requested it. A representative for the nonprofit group and super PAC declined to comment.
On Friday, Trump will head to Massachusetts for an event that the host is branding as a fundraiser but the campaign is insisting is not.
Ernie Boch Jr., the chief executive of Boch Automotive Enterprises and the host of Friday’s event, said he had received at least 700 RSVPs from friends and acquaintances. He said the campaign plans to charge $100 per person.
“I’ve always been a Trump fan since the ‘80s,” Boch said. “He’s a hero to most business guys.”
Meanwhile, Trump and his campaign said they had no plans to collect donations from the event.
“It’s just a very small situation, and I don’t consider it a fundraiser,” Trump said. “In fact, people don’t have to pay.”
Trump’s campaign spokeswoman said they would only use the donations to cover the cost of the event, such as food and beverages. Boston chef Tony Ambrose is expected to cater the event, while Massachusetts cover band Fortune will supply the entertainment.
Boch initially reached out to the campaign in the hopes of planning a more intimate affair with a higher price tag. However, Trump’s campaign lobbied for a larger gathering, he said.
Boch said the event is “a chance for me to get up close” to the candidate, but added that he’s not expecting any favors in return.
As for whether he has any reservations about helping a billionaire candidate raise funds, Boch said, “You can never have enough money.”