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Questions Linger About Trump’s New Shadow Fund

By using this corporation to bring in donations, Trump will be able to defray costs from investigations and criminal indictments against himself and the people in his orbit – plus hide the source of contributions.

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By Pedro L. Gonzalez

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA — In late July, as news of Donald Trump’s campaign finance woes mounted, the Patriot Legal Defense Fund, Inc. was quietly incorporated in Virginia, with two of the former president’s political staffers, Michael Glassner and Susie Wiles, listed as directors. Unlike Trump’s political action committee, Save America, the fund won’t be subject to typical Federal Election Commission oversight because it is registered as a 527 group with the Internal Revenue Service.

The new group is geared to help Trump defray costs arising from investigations and criminal indictments against himself and the people in his orbit. Until now, those costs, stretching into the tens of millions, have been paid by Save America. A chunk of that money was raised on claims about the 2020 election being stolen.


But the Patriot Legal Defense Fund isn’t just a pot for legal bills. As The Daily Beast first reported, it can raise unlimited amounts of money from entities and individuals, grant anonymity to donors, and even allow for straw donations – the practice of giving on behalf of another to conceal the true source of funds, which is otherwise prohibited by federal campaign finance law. For these reasons, 527s often are called “shadow” or “soft money” organizations.

The creation of the Patriot Legal Defense Fund is another indicator of Trump’s financial problems as he mounts another bid for the White House. The New York Times reported in late July that Save America has less than $4 million in its account – down from $105 million at the beginning of 2022. Approximately 90 percent of the organization’s daily expenses go toward legal costs.

The fund also raises questions about transparency and accountability regarding how the money would actually be spent, given the secrecy a 572 organization can provide. Donors could even create companies to conceal their contributions from the eyes of both the public and regulators.


State records name two top Trump advisers as the fund’s directors: Glassner, a campaign strategist, and Wiles, a senior aide who oversees the former president’s fundraising and endorsement operations. Wiles is co-chair of Mercury Public Affairs, a lobbying firm that has served Chinese state-controlled entities like surveillance technology companies Yealink and Hikvision.

By 2017, Hikvision was firmly established in the United States, having captured 12 percent of the surveillance camera market. In 2018, Wiles’ Mercury Public Affairs filed as a foreign agent of the company and billed over $600,000 for six months of “strategic consulting and management services related to lobbying, government relations and public affairs … specifically concerning provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act …”

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Hikvision is majority controlled by the Chinese government through the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, or CETC. The Federal Communications Commission banned certain Hikvision security cameras over national security concerns last year. The company has since been the subject of sanctions due to the use of its technology against the Uyghurs.

In a letter dated Sept. 28, 2021, Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland expressed “serious concerns about the security of audio-visual equipment produced and sold into the U.S. by Chinese firms such as Yealink,” citing a Telecommunications Industry Association report.

Yealink hired Mercury the following year.

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Federal campaign finance law prohibits foreign nationals from directly or indirectly making political contributions and expenditures. The concern is, however, that any such donations to a 527 group, in general, could go undetected because they are only disclosed to the IRS. As a result, they are not subject to the kind of oversight concerning political activity that would occur under the FEC.

In 2006, the FEC collected nearly $630,000 in civil penalties from three 527 organizations accused of violating federal campaign finance laws during the 2004 presidential election. According to the FEC, the enforcement act was triggered because groups whose major purpose is campaign activity must register with the commission after receiving contributions or making expenditures that exceed $1,000 to that end.

Trump’s Patriot Legal Defense Fund appears designed to avoid that kind of oversight. According to its filing with the IRS, its major purpose is not campaign activity but to “raise money and pay for or help defray legal expenses related to defending against legal actions arising from an individual or group’s participation in the political process.”


But Trump’s courtroom drama has become the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. After pleading not guilty to federal charges that he attempted to overturn his 2020 election loss, Trump wrote on Truth Social: “I NEED ONE MORE INDICTMENT TO ENSURE MY ELECTION!”

How his campaign will attempt to raise money in connection with the 2024 election without attracting the attention of the FEC is a good question. A domain that appears to be connected to the group, – which was registered on July 30 – takes visitors to a site featuring Trump's campaign logo. The copyright notice at the bottom of the page reads: “2023 Patriot Legal Defense Fund for Donald J. Trump and His Allies.” There, they are met with the following message:

“Make your mark, show your allegiance, and pledge your early support to our next End-of-Month fundraising blitz. Your contribution isn't just a donation; it's a bold declaration of resistance against these unceasing attacks on truth and justice. Stand with us. Stand for American values.”

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Clicking the “Donate Now” button takes visitors to Trump’s official campaign website.