Trump Campaign's Meal Contests Are 'Out-and-out Fraud' if Nobody Wins, Says Ex-White House Lawyer

If the Trump 2020 campaign is holding phony contests to raise money by offering a prize of meeting President Donald Trump that is not honored then it is "out-and-out fraud," a former White House lawyer said, and could lead to prosecutions.

The Popular Information newsletter reported that the Trump campaign has held 15 contests since 2018 offering the prize, which includes a meal, travel and hotel expenses, and a photo with Trump for the winning donor.

Other campaigns have used the same cash-raising tactic, including those of Jeb Bush, Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg. These contests are typically followed up with an announcement of a winner and images from the meal.

But there appears to be little, if any, public evidence of any winners to date of the Trump campaign's contests, raising questions about who has won the prizes.

When asked for comment, Kayleigh McEnany, national press secretary for Trump 2020, directed Newsweek to a tweet by the campaign's communications director, Tim Murtaugh. "People win the contests each time," Murtaugh tweeted, without elaborating further.

Newsweek asked McEnany if any public photos or statements about the contest winners were put out by the campaign and, if not, why? McEnany did not respond.

In one instance, a contest was held to win lunch with Trump at a hotel in Chicago ahead of a scheduled visit to the city during October.

The author of Popular Information, Judd Legum, a journalist and former staffer on Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign, asked The Washington Post's pool reporter who was traveling with Trump to ask about the lunch contest.

No information on the contest winner came back from the campaign or the White House.

Ann Ravel, a former chair of the Federal Election Commission, told Newsweek that holding fake contests would be "a fraudulent misrepresentation."

But election law "only prohibits misrepresentations where a candidate or other individuals or committees misrepresent themselves as having authority to solicit contributions for other candidates," Ravel said.

If the dinner contests were never fulfilled with a random draw for a winner, and the offer of a prize was not honored, there is potential exposure to prosecution for fraud at both the federal and state level.

"I think there's a mail fraud and wire fraud issue," Richard Painter, an associate counsel in the Bush White House and now a law professor at the University of Minnesota, told Newsweek.

"You're raising campaign cash, you're lying to people. If you obtain money from people through false pretenses that's a violation of federal mail fraud and wire fraud statutes."

The campaign, individuals who authorized the contests, and even Trump himself would be liable if the advertised contests did not take place. "It's just an out and out fraud," Painter said, adding that states attorneys should open investigations if there were no dinners.

This is not the first time questions have been asked about Trump campaign dinner contests.

In July 2017, Yahoo News reported that the Trump campaign announced someone had won dinner with Trump at the Trump Victory Dinner in Washington, D.C. But no name was released and Yahoo reported that there is no public record of the winner.

Did you win a Trump campaign contest or know someone who did? Get in touch: s.croucher@newsweek.com

Donald Trump 2020 campaign dinner contests
President Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a rally in Manchester on August 15, 2019 in Manchester, New Hampshire. The Trump campaign regularly holds contests to win dinner with Trump. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Trump Campaign's Meal Contests Are 'Out-and-out Fraud' if Nobody Wins, Says Ex-White House Lawyer | Politics