At last count, Donald Trump is the 100% owner of over 500 companies. Most of these companies exist just to move money between accounts, minimizing Trump’s taxes and maximizing the confusion for anyone trying to make any sense out of his finances. It now appears that Trump took this expertise to his campaign, where a number of campaign aides helped to shuffle dark money from shell companies right into the supposedly independent organizations that organized events leading up to the Jan. 6 insurgency.
Though the permit for the “Stop the steal” rally was supposedly given to the group Women for America First, and the whole thing was supposed to be separate from Trump’s campaign, the Associated Press reported back on Jan. 17 that an attachment to that rally listed a number of people as staff members of that organization who had—just weeks before—been paid directly by the Trump 2020 campaign.
Now OpenSecrets.org has provided a more detailed look at the web of dark money and shell companies that Trump used to fund his “wild” event while pretending it wasn’t his campaign behind the event.
For anyone tuning in that awful Wednesday morning, it was hard to differentiate the Stop the Steal rally from any of the other rallies that had marked Trump’s campaign from the beginning. Not only was Trump coming to speak at the close of events, everything from the signs to the music (almost all of it played over the objection of the artists) seemed like another stop on a campaign that simply failed to halt when the election was over.
But of course, protesting the counting of electoral votes over two months after the election is not the kind of event that is generally sanctioned for a campaign operating under FEC regulations. So they outsourced it. Sort of.
Trump’s campaign paid out over $2.7 million to the list of individuals and firms that were officially on the hook for the Jan. 6 rally. That includes at least half a dozen people who had previously collected six-figure incomes from the Trump campaign. At the top of that list: Megan Powers. Powers was listed as one of two operations managers for Women for America First in the permit for the Jan. 6 event. However, she was also director of operations for the Trump 2020 campaign, a role that netted her $290,000 in pay.
As OpenSecrets makes clear, even the money that flowed to people who miraculously left the Trump campaign just in time to host the rally doesn’t represent the full extent of the campaign’s involvement. Undisclosed to the FEC were a set of transactions where money was moved through shell companies, making it nearly impossible to trace all the funds that flowed out of campaign coffers, or where that money ended up.
As just one example, Justin Caporale was the Trump’s campaign’s advance director up until November 2020. Then he partnered with another former member of Trump’s campaign staff to create a firm called Event Strategies Inc. That firm was then paid over $1.7 million that came either directly from Trump’s campaign or from post-election fundraising. That wasn’t all: The dark money group America First Policies kicked another $2.1 million to both Event Strategies and the “nonprofit” Women for America First.
Even that is just a fraction of the different organizations, shell companies, and PACs created to allow the Trump campaign to operate indirectly, and to funnel campaign funds to activities that aren’t allowed under FEC regulations.
It’s not the first time someone has attempted to make an end run around these regulations. In 2012, Ron Paul’s campaign shuffled money through a vendor, and then a subvendor, in order to hide bribes. They were caught and given serious sentences as a signal from the FEC that this kind of action would not be tolerated.
Trump pardoned everyone involved in December.
In just the months following the election, Trump raised over $500 million from individuals who were asked to help pay for his legal battle in the attempt to overturn the election. It’s clear that Trump spent about $3 million in recount efforts, very little on actual legal issues, and several million more providing behind-the-scenes funding for events like the Jan. 6 insurgency. It’s not clear where the rest of that money has gone.