This is the online version of the Popular Information newsletter. You can get independent accountability journalism in your inbox every week. Sign up here:
A heavily-promoted contest to win breakfast with President Trump in New York City on September 26 was a fraud. The purported winner of the contest, Joanna Kamis, did not have breakfast with Trump. Instead, she was invited to a breakfast at a New York City restaurant that Trump did not attend. Kamis was later permitted to take a photo with Trump.
The promise of breakfast with Trump was used in hundreds of Facebook ads to entice supporters to donate money. The ads were clear that donors would be entered into a contest to share a meal with Trump. "This is your LAST CHANCE to meet me this quarter, and I really want to discuss our Campaign Strategy for the rest of the year with you over breakfast," Trump said in a Facebook ad in September.
The contest was also promoted extensively over email. A September 20 email to Trump’s list, which reportedly includes at least 20 million people, was sent with the subject line "Breakfast for two." The email contains a copy of a message Trump allegedly sent to his campaign: "Can you send me an updated list of Patriots who have entered to have breakfast with me in New York City first thing tomorrow morning? Are my top supporters on the list? I really want to get their opinion on my 2020 Campaign Strategy over breakfast.”
The Trump campaign sent at least four other email messages about the breakfast in September with subject lines like "The president really wants to have breakfast with you."
The revelation of the fraudulent contest comes two days after Popular Information released the results of an investigation of 15 contests the Trump campaign has held to win meals with Trump. While other campaigns enthusiastically promote photos of candidates dining with low-dollar donors, Popular Information could not find evidence that anyone actually won a meal with Trump.
The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for information about contest winners from Popular Information or a reporter from the Washington Post. But when Vanity Fair picked up the story on Monday, Trump communications director Tim Murtaugh tweeted that "people win the contests each time." Murtaugh, however, did not provide any proof to substantiate his claim.
The controversy continued to gain steam. Richard Painter, a former associate counsel in the Bush White House, told Newsweek that the failure to deliver on the promised meals with Trump could be criminal. "You're raising campaign cash, you're lying to people. If you obtain money from people through false pretenses that's a violation of federal mail fraud and wire fraud statutes," Painter said.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Trump's communications staff started promoting a story in The Daily Caller, the right-wing outlet founded by Fox News' Tucker Carlson. The story purported to rebut Popular Information's reporting by interviewing two "winners" of Trump campaign contests. But neither "winner" actually shared a meal with Trump.
Kamis, the purported winner of the September 26 breakfast, said she attended a buffet where she "was able to mingle with the likes of Donald Trump Jr., Kimberly Guilfoyle, and Elizabeth Pipko." According to Kamis, Trump did not attend the breakfast.
The Daily Caller reports that Kamis enjoyed the experience, but that does not negate that she and untold thousands of others were fraudulently induced to donate to the Trump campaign with the false promise of a meal with Trump.
The other purported winner, Chris Chavez, won a contest to meet Trump at a rally in August 2017. Popular Information's report did not cover this kind of contest, which only required Trump to interact with low-dollar donors for a few seconds. Rather, the report examined whether anyone won any of the 15 contests to have meals with Trump since 2018.
The other 14 meals
The Daily Caller article has the blessing of the Trump campaign, which is promoting it widely. It's likely that the Trump campaign provided the two individuals interviewed to the The Daily Caller. The fact that a woman who did not share a meal with Trump was the best example of a contest winner the Trump campaign could produce raises serious questions about the other 14 contests. There is still no evidence any of those meals occurred.
This updated chart details what is currently known about these contests:
The winner of a 16th contest is supposed to have lunch with Trump in Atlanta on Friday.
Trump is legally required to disclose contest winners
Under numerous state laws, the Trump campaign is required to provide the winner of each contest upon request. That's why the Trump campaign's official rules of each contest state it will do so if you send a self-addressed stamped envelope.
REQUESTING RULES, NAME OF WINNER, OR DESCRIPTION OF PRIZE: To receive a written copy of the Promotion rules, the name of the Promotion winner, or a description of the Prize, please send your request and a self-addressed and stamped return envelope to Trump Make America Great Again Committee, 138 Conant Street, 2nd Floor, Beverly, MA 01915.
(Some contests list a different address.)
But a New York Times reporter, Katie Rogers, revealed on Tuesday that she had sent "several letters" via this process but did not receive a response. The Trump campaign's failure to respond likely violates state law. This, for example, is Texas' contest law:
Popular Information has made its own request for the names of winners and will keep you updated as this scandal continues to unfold.
Thanks for reading!