News & Politics

Trump Boosters Accused of Using Democratic Tactic of Handing Out Cash in Black Communities

President Donald Trump points to supporters after speaking at his Black Voices for Trump rally Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Trump campaign surrogates are being accused of violating their 501(c)3 tax status by holding cash giveaways in black communities across the country.

Politico reports that the first event, held in Cleveland last month, featured Trump supporters giving speeches praising the president while handing out cash to recipients whose tickets were drawn from a bin. The Urban Revitalization Coalition (URC), a cadre of black Trump supporters who are active in business, political and faith communities, sponsored the event where up to $25,000 was handed out.

In most big cities around America, it’s called “street money.” In Baltimore, it’s “walking around money.” In Chicago, it’s part of the “Chicago Way.” New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles — it’s just a continuation of the time-honored American custom of buying votes.

But when a Republican does it, it’s a no-no.

The tour comes as Trump’s campaign has been investing its own money to make inroads with black voters and erode Democrats’ overwhelming advantage with them. But the cash giveaways are organized under the auspices of an outside charity, the Urban Revitalization Coalition, permitting donors to remain anonymous and make tax-deductible contributions.

The organizers say the events are run by the book and intended to promote economic development in inner cities. But the group behind the cash giveaways is registered as a 501(c)3 charitable organization. One leading legal expert on nonprofit law said the arrangement raises questions about the group’s tax-exempt status, because it does not appear to be vetting the recipients of its money for legitimate charitable need.

Democrats have a ready-made political infrastructure that handles the vote-buying. The alderman or committeeman hands out gobs of cash to precinct captains whose job is to make sure the cash gets spread around into the right hands. Today, that means that drug gangs get their cut, as well as friendly pastors and prominent business leaders. Anyone who can help get out the vote is a target.

Republicans have no such infrastructure, so the Trump campaign had to invent a means to challenge Democrats in the contest of vote-buying. The cash giveaway scheme won’t reach as many people as “street money,” but it’s a start.

The parallel tour being organized by the Urban Revitalization Coalition stands out for its promise to shower cash prizes on attendees who listen to speakers promote the president’s initiatives. The first cash giveaway took place last month. Another was scheduled in Virginia for Martin Luther King Day before being scrapped amid a dispute with the college set to host the event. Organizers say they plan to roll out a tour schedule featuring more events soon.

The group’s “Christmas Extravaganza” event in Cleveland last month featured a $25,000 giveaway and an appearance by Ja’Ron Smith, a deputy assistant to the president. A Cleveland native who worked on Trump’s criminal justice reform, Smith is among the highest-ranking black officials in the White House.

The Trump campaign denies any direct knowledge of what the URC is doing and claims it has no connection to the cash giveaways — none that are traceable anyway. But everyone knows about “street money” and no one says a word against it. This despite the fact that the provenance of that cash is as unknown as the anonymous donations to the cash giveaways.

Some American traditions just won’t die.