“I don’t need anybody’s money.”
Those are the words, or some variation of it, that Donald Trump uses when talking about the amount of Super PAC money from large donors who support his opponents for the Republican presidential nomination. As Jeb Bush, his main target in countless appearances and Twitter wars, raised more than $100 million for his PAC, Trump touts that he has no need to raise cash outside of his own. Still, he has been able to bring in just under $4 million in the last quarter, totaling just under $6 million total for his campaign (that figure includes more than $1.9 million from the self-proclaimed self-funder).
But now, there are reports that Trump’s aversion to super PACs and big-money donations are only for the camera. In a Washington Post report, the current Republican frontrunner and his top campaign staffer have connections to a super PAC that is collecting those big-money donations to support the billionaire businessman’s run for the White House.
The story states that Trump himself appeared at at least two events for Make America Great Again PAC, the committee that borrowed the campaign slogan adorning the popular hats worn by the candidate at many public appearances. The same organization also received financial backing from his daughter’s mother-in-law and the consultant for the super PAC is a GOP worker who previously worked with Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager.
In commenting on the story, Lewandowksi denied the connections between the campaign and the super PAC, going so far to say that “Unlike other campaigns, we don’t have a quote-unquote designated super PAC that we tell people to give money to.” Later on, he threatened The Washington Post with a lawsuit if the paper reported that The Donald had given his blessing to the group.
Still, there are links apparent between Make America Great PAC and Donald J. Trump for President. Not the least of which is that Mike Ciletti, a Republican operative who told Politico of his role as a consultant for the super PAC, was seen at Trump campaign offices in May and June, according to people familiar with the visits. Further, the printing company where Ciletti works, WizBang Solutions, is listed as a vendor to the campaign, collecting more than $40,000 in payments last quarter, according to Federal Election Commission documents, with the last payment coming in September this year.
This one facet can complicate things for Trump’s campaign. Because the campaign paid Ciletti’s printing firm over the past several months and Ciletti has been serving as the super PAC’s consultant since July, strict firewalls must be in place to prevent any type of coordination between the campaign and the super PAC. The Washington Post has been unable to determine what firewalls exist since neither the company’s president nor Ciletti has returned the paper’s request for a comment.
Lewandowski has not been helpful in the matter, either, denying knowing the super PAC consultant in one interview, acknowledging familiarity with Ciletti after being confronted with the campaign payment’s to WizBang Solutions (“I know a lot of people. I know of Mike Ciletti”) before hanging up when pressed for more information.
This type of perceived relationship would bode poorly for Trump as he has been outspoken on the amount of money and influence permeating through his opponent’s campaigns.
“They’re in total cahoots with their [super] PACs, which they’re not allowed to be,” he told The Washington Post earlier. “They’re all in total cahoots. They put their friends in there. One good thing about me: I’m not.”
This stems from the creative ways campaigns work in coordination with super PACs after the required amount of time between last contact before the two must work independently from each other in efforts to gain as much of an advantage as possible.
“You know the candidate’s not allowed to talk to the PAC, right?” Trump said to a crowd outside of Atlanta last week. “You think that Bush is talking to his PAC?” The response was a chorus of affirmation. He did the same with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential frontrunner, getting the same response.
For Bush’s part, his spokeswoman said the campaign is fully complying with all campaign rules.
There have been many non-sanctioned super PACs in support of Trump that have launched since the real estate mogul skyrocketed to the top of the polls. But only one has been operating with his support, according to four people who spoke to The Washington Post anonymously.
The Post’s sources said the PAC came out sometime in the spring as Trump was getting ready to formally launch his campaign. The PAC was designed to keep others from creating scam organizations to take advantage of the businessman’s supporters, needing a sanctioned group instead. These occurred before Trump announced his campaign.
Lewandowski denied such activity happened.
“Mr. Trump has $10 billion,” he told the Post. “He doesn’t care about a super PAC.”
But it may not be Trump who is at the center of attention regarding the super PAC and the campaign. Ciletti’s company was a vendor for Americans for Prosperity at the time Lewandowski was an official there, according to the Post’s investigation. In 2014, WizBang Solutions received $46,000 from AFP for work in Colorado, North Carolina and North Dakota. Prior to Trump formally declaring his candidacy, WizBang printed shirts and cards for the businessman’s campaign. The company has been a regular vendor since, receiving payments each month from April to September, the last month of public records.
When pressed by The Washington Post regarding WizBang, and Ciletti specifically, Lewandowski gave multiple answers, first saying he did not make the decision to hire the company then saying he did not remember if he did hire them. He also declined to disclose how he actually knew Ciletti.
Lewandowski gave conflicting statements to The Post about whether he had made the decision to hire Ciletti, at first saying he had not and then in a subsequent conversation saying he did not remember. He declined to say how he knew the Colorado consultant.
WizBang Solutions is located in Commerce City, a suburb north of Denver, and known for its printing operation of glossy mailers and signs. When Trump’s team was working towards the June announcement, Ciletti was seen visiting Trump Tower a number of times, according to people who saw him there. In July, he was listening to pitches from vendors who wanted work from the PAC, based on The Washington Post’s conversation with a consultant who did a presentation for Ciletti.
On July 1, just two weeks after Trump announced, Make America Great Again PAC was registered with the FEC. A Denver lawyer filed the paperwork. The PAC’s website is adorned with Trump’s image and quotes, with very little information on issues or other non-donation related materials.
Also registered by the same Denver lawyer, John Anderson, was the non-profit organization Make America Great Again. Super PACs and Nonprofit groups are popular with campaigns now because of the unlimited donations they can receive for campaigns. Nonprofits, however, cannot have political activity as their main purpose.
During this time, Trump attended at least two events for the super PAC. The first was in Manhattan at the home of a longtime Trump business associate,the second was at the home of Ivanka’s in-laws in New Jersey. Her in-laws, Seryl and Charles Kushner, did not require donors to give to the super PAC to attend, but they were encouraged with information about how to contribute.
Seryl Kushner herself gave $100,000 to the super PAC but Trump was not the one who solicited the donation, according to a spokesman for the fmaily.
FEC regulations allow for candidates to appear at super PAC fundraisers, but donation requests from the candidate are limited to $5,000. Trump’s campaign manager said the gatherings were not super PAC fundraisers, going so far to say the Kushner gathering was a family event.
Based on FEC laws, all disclosures for contributions for the Make America Great Again PAC do not have to be reported until January 31, two days prior to Iowa’s caucus.