The Trump sweepstakes have a personal touch that’s just a tad threatening | Opinion

Posted Mar 03, 2020

By Brock Haussamen

Brock Haussamen's letter from Team Trump 2020: “Brock, did you see President Trump’s email? We showed him the first round of Patriots who entered to win the dinner with him….He asked us why you haven’t entered yet, but we didn’t know what to tell him. Please contribute ANY AMOUNT before 11:59 PM TONIGHT.

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Since early February I’ve received solicitation letters from the Trump campaign that are intimidating, almost but not quite illegal, and probably very effective. The president’s flattering/bullying tactics seem to have reached out even to me, a life-long Democrat.

An early letter opened, “Brock, I just got out of a meeting with my team to discuss an upcoming trip to Palm Beach, Florida on March 6th, and I told them I wanted to invite YOU to join me….” It stresses that “All you have to do is contribute ANY AMOUNT and you’ll automatically be entered to win this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Buttons to buy for various dollar amounts and a deadline reminder of “11:59 PM TONIGHT” followed.

On February 19, Team Trump 2020 wrote me: “Brock, did you see President Trump’s email? We showed him the first round of Patriots who entered to win the dinner with him….He asked us why you haven’t entered yet, but we didn’t know what to tell him. Please contribute ANY AMOUNT before 11:59 PM TONIGHT…” And near the closing: “Don’t make us tell him you STILL haven’t entered – get on the list NOW!”

Thinking I had better make my position clear, I wrote back that I opposed President Trump’s re-election and that he was weakening American democracy. I could have clicked “Unsubscribe,” but I wanted to try opting out with my own response. No luck.

Two days later, Lara Trump -- Eric Trump’s wife and a campaign adviser -- wrote me in the same vein as the previous letters. It seems my comment had only, in the jargon of social media, showed I had “engaged” with the email and had triggered another letter.

Then, I noticed the boxed legal statement at the end of each of letter. It begins “NO PURCHASE, PAYMENT, OR CONTRIBUTION NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. Contributing will not improve your chances of winning….” What?! So these invitations to contribute are, legally speaking, sweepstakes. Winning in a sweepstakes depends only on the luck of the draw; unlike lotteries that require paying for a numbered ticket, no purchase is necessary to enter a sweepstakes.

But the Trump campaign seems to have bent the law without breaking it. The letters say, in effect, if you contribute, you’ve entered. But they do not say that if you don’t contribute, you can’t enter, even though they certainly give that impression. I’m not a lawyer, but the “invitations” seem to squeak past a clear illegality. After the Mueller report and the Impeachment trial, the tactic sounded too familiar.

I understand better now the president’s technique for persuading others. I’ve been given a very mild dose of the personal touch that feigns flattery even as it threatens. I wonder what the next letters will bring.

 

Brock Haussamen taught English at Raritan Valley Community College, knocked on doors for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and campaigned for raising minimum wages.

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