— Voice over in Announcement of the Lincoln Projectfirst aired September 8
The Lincoln Project, formed by a group of disgruntled Republicans, loves to goad former President Donald Trump.
The ad, which the group says aired on cable in Bedminster, NJ, prompted a furious reaction from the former president, who has a home there. The ad claims that Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him is just a fundraising scheme – “the biggest scam in political history” – that is designed to rip off his supporters — “a sucker game” — because Trump is pocketing the money to prop up his businesses and maintain his standard of living.
In a post on his social media platform, Trump threatened to sue Fox News for allowing the ad to run, despite buying local ads directly from cable companies.
“It’s the ad that pissed off Trump this morning,” laughs the group tweetedearning at least 41,000 retweets and over 109,000 likes.
But is there any evidence to back up his main claim – that Trump embezzled contributors’ money for his own benefit?
We first checked the campaign finance records of two Trump leadership political action committees, Save America PAC and Make America Great Again PAC. Trump has certainly amassed money at the Save America PAC, sitting on around $100 million in cash and giving relatively little to fellow Republicans. (A Leadership PAC is typically used to raise funds to support other politicians.)
But we found no evidence to support the claim that “every dollar you sent him was paid to maintain his sleazy business empire and lavish lifestyle.”
Save America PAC, which Trump created after losing the 2020 election, spent about $36 million, according to OpenSecrets.org. It appears that the money was mostly spent on administrative expenses, attorneys’ fees, salaries, and fundraising activities, such as web advertisements. The MAGA PAC was a joint fundraising committee between the presidential campaign and the Republican National Committee, and its recent expenses appear largely tied to the past presidential campaign, such as attorney fees.
One could perhaps argue that Trump should pay the lawyers out of his own pocket, not use contributors’ money. But it’s been clear in some of his fundraising emails that he wants help defending himself against the Justice Department’s investigation into classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago club. “Donate IMMEDIATELY to publicly stand with me against this NEVERENDING WITCH HUNT,” one email said.
The Washington Post and other news outlets reported this week that the Justice Department is seeking details about the formation and operation of the Save America PAC. But that probe so far appears tied to the ongoing criminal investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol and efforts to overturn the 2020 election results — not whether the funds were diverted.
We relied on summaries created by OpenSecrets because Save America PAC’s July filing with the Federal Election Commission was nearly 50,000 pages. Presumably, if there was something fishy buried deep within these documents, the Lincoln Project would have identified it.
So we reached out to Project Lincoln spokespersons via email, multiple times, asking for evidence to support the claim in the ad. We received no response.
Then we called Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson, who posted a video On Thursday, Trump dared to follow through on his threat of a lawsuit. “Come to me. I can’t wait,” he said. “We’re thrilled that you want to sue us, Donald. Do it!”
Wilson answered our call, but when he heard we had questions about the accuracy of the ad, he replied that he was about to make a Zoom call and hung up. He then also did not respond to text messages or emails.
Hmmm. Experience has taught us that when advertisers evade our requests for factual backing of their claims, they usually have nothing to provide.
We sent emails to the treasurers of both PACs, asking them to verify that Trump did not misappropriate funds for his personal benefit, but we have not heard back. In a statement, Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich said, “Save America PAC is committed to supporting candidates and causes that advance President Trump’s America First agenda.”
Regular readers know that the burden of proof rests with the person or entity making the claim. We tried to verify the ad’s accusation that “every dollar” Trump collected from his supporters was diverted for personal and professional gain. In fact, he spent little of what he raised, and so far there is no evidence that he directed the funds for his own benefit.
When challenged to back up their claims, Lincoln Project officials evaded or ignored our requests. This gives us little confidence that there is evidence to back up the claims in the ad.
As we have well documented, Trump has a habit of making inflammatory claims without any evidence. But that doesn’t allow opponents to use the same playbook. The Lincoln Project gains four Pinocchios.
Send us facts to check by filling out this form
Sign up for The Fact Checker weekly newsletter
The fact checker is a verified checker signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network Code of Principles