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Trump campaign obscured $170 million in payments, complaint says

Bill Allison

Two of President Donald Trump’s re-election committees violated campaign-finance laws by obscuring the true purpose and recipients of almost $170 million in payments, including salaries paid to Lara Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle, according to a complaint filed Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission by a watchdog group.

The Campaign Legal Center, an advocacy organization that seeks to reduce the influence of money in politics, said Trump’s committees broke the law by making payments to companies that were used as conduits, hiding the actual recipients of the money. Political committees have to disclose the actual recipients of their spending.

Kimberly Guilfoyle, right, and Donald Trump Jr., the son of President Donald Trump, left, sit with President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump during Christmas Eve dinner at Mar-a-lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2019.

“These schemes have disguised millions in payments to companies engaged in significant work for the campaign, as well as payments to Trump family members or senior campaign staff,” which is a violation of reporting requirements, the complaint said.

The filing says that starting in 2018, Trump’s campaign and Trump Make America Great Again, which raises money from small-dollar donors for the re-election effort, made payments to two companies controlled by Brad Parscale, Trump’s former campaign manager who was demoted to senior adviser in a shake-up this month.

One of the companies, American Made Media Holding Corp., received $166 million, while the other, Parscale Strategy LLC, got $2.6 million. The payments were for services that included placed media, online advertising, and various types of consulting that were actually performed by other companies and individuals at the direction of the campaign.

Citing media reports, the complaint alleges that Parscale Strategy, owned by Parscale, paid the salaries of the officials working for Trump’s re-election effort, including two women involved with the president’s adult sons. Guilfoyle, national chairwoman of Trump Victory, is dating Donald Trump Jr., while Lara Trump is married to Eric Trump.

Eric Trump, the son of President Donald Trump, and Lara Trump listen as President Donald Trump speaks during an "Evangelicals for Trump Coalition Launch" at King Jesus International Ministry, Friday, Jan. 3, 2020, in Miami.

American Made Media, which received the bulk of the payments, used other vendors to actually perform the services, federal records from other agencies show. For example, broadcasters, which are required to report political spending on their airwaves to the Federal Communications Commission, list Harris Sikes Media, not American Made Media, as having purchased television time for Trump’s campaign ads.

The software company Phunware, Inc., which built Trump’s mobile app, reported in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it had been paid $3 million in 2019 by American Made Media, which was its top client, the complaint says. No payments to Phunware appear in disclosures to the FEC.

Trump campaign assistant treasurer Sean Dollman and counsel Alex Cannon are listed as American Made Media’s directors on its corporate records, the complaint says. The company was controlled by the campaign “and in particular, Brad Parscale.”

In its complaint the Campaign Legal Center asked the FEC to conduct an immediate investigation.