GOP Donor Who Gave $2.5M to Find Biden Voter Fraud Says He Was Duped by 'True the Vote' Nonprofit

A North Carolina financier gave $2.5 million to a Houston-based "True the Vote" nonprofit that had vowed to find fraud in the 2020 presidential election. But after weeks of frantically jumping from one unfounded claim to the next, the group's legal efforts dried up, and their lawyers say they don't owe Fred Eshelman a dime.

The namesake founder of Eshelman Ventures LLC, a private health-care investment company, is one of countless conservative donors who piled hundreds of millions of dollars into legal efforts aimed at overturning President Joe Biden's election victory. Eshelman has filed two lawsuits, one in Texas state court and another in federal court (later withdrawn), that accuse True the Vote of not spending his total donation of $2.5 million for "election integrity" efforts. Instead, Eshelman's attorneys say, True the Vote is one of several nonprofits in which founders allegedly pocketed the money and are still claiming investigations are "ongoing."

Court filings show True the Vote privately dangled sensational claims of "Democrat ballot harvesting" and voting machine fraud in order to secure funding from pro-Trump donors like Eshelman. An ex-lobbyist with Eshelman remarked at the time, "Please God let this story pan out."

Eshelman told The Washington Post this week that he decided to donate the money after seeing Trump's lead over Biden evaporate overnight on November 3 as mail-in ballots poured into swing state counties. He'd hoped pro-Trump groups could find a "smoking gun" to corroborate the president's longtime claims of "widespread voter fraud."

"I thought about the range of possibilities around vote fraud," Eshelman said in an interview with the Post. "There was already noise around cities like Detroit, Milwaukee, Atlanta and Philadelphia. I wanted to determine if this was legit. Can we find a real smoking gun?"

Eshelman's legal filings include an unfounded claim that True the Vote's president, Catherine Engelbrecht, is "lovers" with Gregg Phillips, the founder of a shadowy intelligence operation called OPSEC Group LLC. According to Engelbrecht's Validate the Vote plan detailed in the lawsuit, $1.75 million was allotted to Phillips, who told the Post he is not engaged a romantic relationship Engelbrecht.

Back in late November, Eshelman filed a lawsuit in Texas federal court against True the Vote, the Charlotte Observer reported at the time. The nonprofit, traces its roots back to the 2010 Tea Party movement, had claimed it needed $7.3 million from Republican donors in order for its Validate the Vote 2020 program to move forward. Tax returns show the group had never previously raised more than $1.8 million in a single year—but Trump's fraud claims presented the perfect opportunity.

"We were just not getting any data or proof," said Tom Crawford, who worked for Eshelman as a lobbyist and as his representative on the True the Vote effort, in an interview with The Washington Post. "We were looking at this and saying to ourselves, 'This just is not adding up.'"

Newsweek reached out to Eshelman's office as well as True the Vote for additional remarks Tuesday morning.

voting booths
GOP donor Fred Eshelman has filed a lawsuit against nonprofit True the Vote, to which he donated $2.5 million in hopes it would fine voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Above, a polling place in New York City on November 3, 2020. David Dee Delgado/Getty