Donald Trump may be really, really rich, but it’s not apparent that he’s using his great fortune to get his delegates to the Republican convention in July.
Trump is lucky his supporters are loyal. Like, beg for money on the Internet loyal.
At least seven Trump delegates have resorted to crowdfunding to send themselves to the convention, setting up pages on GoFundMe, a popular fundraising platform, asking for sums ranging from $1,000 to to $10,000.
While their tenacity is a testament to the enthusiasm surrounding Trump’s campaign, it also calls into question whether his operation is organized enough to secure his nomination on the convention floor in Cleveland if he fails to earn the 1,237 delegates necessary to win outright before July. Because if his delegates don’t show, they don’t get to vote.
These resourceful Trump backers include a former U.S. Navy submariner in the Vietnam War, a chairman of a local North Carolina Republican party, a Texas real estate agent, and a cellphone salesman from Maine.
“From what I was told, everything is out of pocket,” Mark Parsons, 43, a veteran and Uber driver who lives in Las Vegas and was elected to serve as a delegate at his county’s convention, told The Daily Beast in a phone interview. Parsons couldn’t remember who, specifically, had told him that, but he said he learned it at his county’s convention.
“We’re responsible for our own travel expenses and everything else,” he said.
According to Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington, D.C., think tank, that’s not a hard and fast rule. “Candidates and their campaign committees may pay to send delegates to the convention,” Ryan said in an email.
But candidates and their campaign committees haven’t always had incentive to assume responsibility for the cost of their delegates’ travel, which can be astronomical. For example, few hotel rooms are still available in Cleveland during the dates of the July convention, but those that are are going for upwards of $1,000 a night.
Delegates have historically paid their way from the living room to the convention floor, according to Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
“The fact they are responsible for paying their way is not odd,” Olsen told The Daily Beast. “Promises they will do so is a factor some state parties use to recommend or select prospective delegates.”
But the utilization of online crowdfunding—used for all sorts of things, ranging from medical bills to a Nicolas Cage-themed dating website—is a thoroughly modern twist, as well as a risky one. And Trump supporters aren’t alone; delegates for Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders have asked the Internet for help funding their travel, too.
There is no guarantee that the delegate handout campaigns will be successful, meaning the delegates’ presence at the Republican convention is not a guarantee, either. And for the first time since 1976, the year of the last contested Republican convention, delegate turnout could decide everything.
In the event that delegates can’t actually make it to Cleveland, the campaign is typically supposed to have “alternates” lined up, like the Broadway understudy for a singer with laryngitis—only with implications for the fate of the Republic.
“Yes, you need to be there,” Doug Watts, the former communications director for Ben Carson’s campaign, told The Daily Beast. “Getting there is all over the board.”
In recent weeks, Trump has taken steps to professionalize his campaign by hiring seasoned operatives to handle the tricky business of herding delegates—notably Paul Manafort, who helped to manage Gerald Ford’s tussle with Ronald Reagan during the Republican Party’s last contested convention in 1976—but it’s still unclear how or if they’re preparing for the possibility that some of their delegates may need logistical help. Manafort has not responded to multiple requests for comment from The Daily Beast, and he has not spoken publicly about this aspect of his operation. (But Trump is not fundamentally opposed to bankrolling delegate travel. His Nevada state director promised supporters this week that the campaign would provide lodging and travel for the state’s Reno convention in May.)
With or without Manafort’s influence, the fundraising pages might prove to be a savvy tactic. According to Federal Election Commission rules, contributions to an individual delegate are not subject to a per-delegate financial limit.
Theoretically, a legal problem could arise if the delegates are accepting money on their fundraising pages from unacceptable sources—which include corporations, labor organizations, federal government contractors, and foreign nationals—but GoFundMe pages, conveniently, do not disclose these kinds of details about the origins of the money campaigns are collecting.
The would-be Trump delegates reached by The Daily Beast have not had any contact with the campaign about convention logistics. Rather, they’re setting out on their own to make America great again.
Trisha Hope, a real estate agent for Texas-based Logos Real Estate, told The Daily Beast that she had raised $1,000 for a convention trip so far. “I decided to start a GoFundMe account when I began looking at the costs involved in attending the convention,” she said. “I felt this would be an effective way to get support from like-minded voters.”
Hope wrote a blog post, wherein she claimed that she had been chosen by Trump’s campaign as a delegate and was wary of other people who had said they planned on supporting Cruz on a potential second ballot at the convention.
“In my district, Donald Trump won 1 of the 3 Delegates. You can see for yourself from the snapshots below taken from a FaceBook group just how YOUR Delegates are plotting to prevent Mr. Trump from actually receiving his earned Delegates,” she said. “He earned those Delegates through the voting process. To deny him his Delegates, is to deny the VOTER a voice.”
She told The Daily Beast she was not aware of other people attempting to crowdfund for their trips and asserted that she did not want Trump’s campaign to pay her way there. Even though, technically, they are welcome to do so.
“I will be funding myself with the help of friends and family who believe in what I am doing,” Hope said. She is first raising money for the upcoming Texas convention—meant to serve as a national delegate selection process—after which she’ll likely continue the efforts for Cleveland.
“If nothing else, I’m happy with what’s been contributed,” Hope said.
John Yob, a Republican political strategist, told The Daily Beast he was aware of campaigns paying delegates’ expenses for state conventions in the past, but not yet for a national convention.
“I would be surprised if campaigns didn’t help supporters who truly couldn’t afford it,” he said.
Trump’s meteoric rise is owed in large part to his appeal to working-class white voters, many of whom probably do not have several thousand dollars and several unused vacation days to spare to go off to elect him as the Republican nominee.
Mason Carson, 42, an electrician by trade who sells cellphones to make a living in northern Maine, has raised more than half of his $1,000 goal. When friends and acquaintances saw that he was going to be a delegate, he claimed in an interview with The Daily Beast, they “just started sending me money!”
Carson said that even if the Trump campaign offered, he wouldn’t want to take their money. “I’ve never reached out and asked anybody for anything and no one has ever offered anything,” he said. “Ethically, I don’t agree with the campaign paying somebody to go somewhere, you know, if it’s related to a vote. I consider that a form of bribery myself… If they bought me a ticket, that’s one thing, but if they gave me money—that, I would consider bribery.
“I mean, I’m poor, don’t get me wrong,” Carson joked, “I’m not rich or anything. I live paycheck to paycheck.”
But in the end, Carson said, his financial situation wasn’t the point. “We’re completely grassroots. Trump supporters supporting Trump supporters,” he said. “The only contact I’ve had with the campaign is doing calling, you know, I volunteer in the call centers, we call people and ask them if they’re supporting Trump.”
But delegates can’t just show up and speak for their man without being integrated into the schedule. Even in this crazy political season, there’s some rhyme and reason at a convention.
“Where they would get to speak, I have no idea,” Adam Geller, the CEO of the polling firm National Research Inc., told The Daily Beast. “Even in a brokered or contested affair, it’s not just a free for all where somebody can say, ‘Hey I paid to be here, give me the microphone.’”
But for Trump, whose campaign message has essentially been exactly that for the last 10 months, maybe it will be.