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Trump's campaign is sitting on a fortune built on lies

Americans are paying good money for the privilege of autocracy.
Photo Illustration of former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally and Trump supporters holding signs that say \"Save America.\"
Trump’s ready to buy his way into the 2024 election.MSNBC; NYT via Redux; Getty Images

The 2024 presidential election is more than two years away but make no mistake about it: Former President Donald Trump is a threat to our democracy — and he’s loaded for bear.

Trump is in the crosshairs of the House Jan. 6 Committee, the Department of Justice, the New York attorney general and prosecutors in Georgia — but he has yet to be charged with any crime. Meanwhile, he has amassed massive amounts of that which is most essential for winning elections: money.

Trump raised this money with a combination of small-dollar donations from grassroots supporters — many of whom still think he won the 2020 election.

As The New York Times has reported, he now has $122 million to spend on a bid for the White House in 2024 — more than twice the amount of the Republican National Committee.

Trump raised this money with a combination of small-dollar donations from grassroots supporters — many of whom still think he won the 2020 election — and corporate interests determined to undermine President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress. Trump’s massive email spamming operation reaches out to hundreds of thousands of Americans almost daily. I receive about 10 emails a week from Trump asking me why I’m no longer supporting him (I never did), why there is a problem with my “payment system” (there isn’t), and whether I want to “renew” my membership in various fan clubs I never was a member of to begin with. Whoever is running this spamming operation for Trump, and thinks I’m a fan, obviously has never watched MSNBC.

Before the 2016 election, I wrote about the dangerous role of money in American politics, and reasons why conservatives as well as liberals and moderates should demand campaign finance reform. I warned of foreign dictators and oligarchs using campaign spending to take away the independence that American patriots fought for when they tossed Britain’s East India Company tea into the Boston Harbor in 1773 — the real “Tea Party.” I warned of American business interests plowing money into campaigns to achieve short-term goals potentially disastrous for the economy overall.

But in 2016, we elected Trump, who rose to power with the support not only of well-heeled American,s but also a foreign dictator. Indictments filed by then-special prosecutor Robert Mueller demonstrated that many 2016 social media electioneering communications that purported to be from Americans were bought and paid for illegally by the Russians.

Now Trump is assembling much of his old coalition — foreign and domestic — to make another run at the White House. Trump’s apparent political mentor, Russian President Vladimir Putin, is assembling tanks on Ukraine’s border, seeking, among other things, to make Biden appear weak. Trump will cast himself as a 2024 Ronald Reagan, recalling Jimmy Carter’s struggle to respond to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Never mind that Reagan spent his political career opposing the Soviets, whereas Trump was and probably still is the Kremlin’s favorite candidate.

I receive about 10 emails a week from Trump asking me why I’m no longer supporting him (I never did), why there is a problem with my “payment system” (there isn’t), and whether I want to “renew” my membership in various fan clubs I never was a member of to begin with.

Trump’s money keeps rolling in. A lot of this money is from Americans (under federal election law, all of it is supposed to be from Americans, but law compliance has never been a Trump hallmark). American business interests are again looking to Trump and the GOP to counter Democratic policies they disagree with.

We need to admit that we ourselves — or at least some of us — are bankrolling the political juggernaut that could end American democracy in 2024.

Let’s forget for a moment about the Trump administration’s disastrous policy failures in office, including the mishandling of the pandemic that led to the deaths of more than 500,000 Americans. In the interest of brevity, I’ll focus here only on the criminal allegations.

As professor Claire Finkelstein and I point out in a forthcoming law review article:

“[C]rimes for which Trump could be indicted include but are not limited to: (1) obstructing justice as identified in the Mueller investigation, (2) bribing and/or extorting Ukraine with military aid to investigate his political opponent Joe Biden and conduct another investigation undermining the Mueller investigation, (3) coercing cabinet members and other federal employees to engage in partisan political activity in violation of the criminal political coercion provisions of the Hatch Act, (4) soliciting election fraud in a phone call to the Georgia Secretary of State in November 2020, (5) criminal sedition in authorizing preparation of the unsigned draft Executive Order dated December 16, 2020 pursuant to which President Trump would have ordered the Secretary of Defense to seize voting machines in certain states to look for evidence of election fraud, and (6) inciting insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. These alleged politically-related crimes are over and above the financial crimes being investigated by the Manhattan DA, who has already indicted the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer."

That’s a long list of allegations for a man who wants a second chance to be president of the United States. (He denies them.)

As for the insurrection of Jan. 6, Trump has obstructed Congress’ access to critically important White House documents about what happened that day. He has also floated the idea of pardons for Jan. 6 rioters.

The 14th Amendment, Section 3, disqualifies from public office anyone who took an oath of loyalty to the United States and "shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof."

This provision, enacted after the Civil War, is intended to prevent insurrectionists, and those who give “aid or comfort” to insurrectionists from ever holding public office again. I'd argue Trump did give “aid or comfort” to the insurrection of Jan. 6. He encouraged the insurrectionists to descend on the Capitol and “fight like hell.” And his continued talk of pardons also gives aid and comfort to those insurrectionists worried they may be caught.

Thus, Trump should not be allowed to assume any public office, much less the presidency. He should not be on the GOP primary ballot in states that uphold the Constitution, and his soliciting money with the promise to run for an office should be considered fraud.

And yet, that has not happened. Congress has not invoked the 14th amendment. And Trump keeps on with his lies about the 2020 election, his fundraising, and his preparations for 2024 — because we allow him to get away with it.

Trump has always avoided or evaded the law (it’s called law “avoision”), in his business operations as in his political life. His rhetoric is now escalating even beyond the already frightening tone of his 2016 campaign and his presidency. Too many of us put up with it. And some of us are sending him money — lots of it.

A republic doesn’t just become a dictatorship overnight. Voters choose for it to be that way. Voters get what they vote for.

Americans will go to the polls this November and decide whether to return Trump loyalists in the GOP to Congress. Then we will go to the polls again in 2024. We know that Trump’s insurrectionists will have a lot of money to spend in both election cycles. If we do not make wise decisions in those elections in spite of this knowledge, 2025 could bring an entirely new chapter in American history, and not one that our founders, or most of us, would hope for.