A Trump Supporter Donated $2.5 Million to Fight Election Results. Now He Wants It Back

Fred Eshelman is suing True the Vote, an organization that had filed, and withdrawn, lawsuits challenging the election results.
November 27, 2020, 2:42pm
President Donald Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Room of the White House on Thanksgiving on November 26, 2020 in Washington, DC.
President Donald Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Room of the White House on Thanksgiving on November 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Erin Schaff - Pool/Getty Images)

A North Carolina-based venture capitalist who donated $2.5 million to a group that filed failed and flimsy legal challenges to the election results in hopes of helping President Donald Trump pull off a coup, now wants his money back

Investor Fred Eshelman, a longtime donor to North Carolina Republicans who gave $300,000 to the Trump Victory Fund in 2016, wired $2 million to Texas-based group True the Vote, which calls itself the “country’s largest voter rights’ organization,” on November 5 and an additional $500,000 on November 13.

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The group’s president, Catherine Engelbrecht, allegedly told Eshelman there was “significant evidence that there were numerous instances of illegal ballots being cast and counted in the 2020 general election,” and presented a legal strategy called Validate the Vote which included whistleblowers and “sophisticated data modeling and statistical analysis to identify potential illegal or fraudulent balloting.” 

On November 16, however, the group withdrew lawsuits it had filed in Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania without presenting any evidence of its claims of election and voter fraud. Initially, they had allegedly promised Eshelman to file challenges in seven key battleground states. 

“Yesterday, we made the difficult decision to dismiss our current lawsuits in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin,” Engelbrecht said in a November 17 statement. “While we stand by the voters’ testimony that was brought forth, barriers to advancing our arguments, coupled with constraints on time, made it necessary for us to pursue a different path.”

One day later, Engelbrecht told far-right website Breitbart that she had personally spoken with Trump. “I had the incredible privilege of receiving a call from the president two days ago,” Englebrecht said. “There’s so much to be encouraged about in the days ahead because our eyes are wide open.”

President-elect Joe Biden has since been certified the winner in every state mentioned in the lawsuit except for Wisconsin, where Republicans have sued to delay certification in a state Biden won by more than 20,000 votes. Trump, who has continued to make baseless claims of election fraud, said for the first time Thursday that he would voluntarily leave the White House if the Electoral College votes for Biden next month, as it’s expected to. 

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The same day the lawsuits were dropped, Eshelman allegedly requested a refund. After several requests, he threatened a lawsuit, at which point Republican attorney Jim Bopp—who had filed the lawsuits that were withdrawn—offered Eshelman $1 million of his money back if he waived his right to a legal claim. Eshleman filed his lawsuit in a federal court in Texas on Wednesday. 

“Each day that passes makes it less likely that Plaintiff will be able to use the funds Defendant is wrongfully withholding for the purpose he initially intended them to be used—that is, to support efforts to investigate allegations of illegal and fraudulent conduct in connection with the 2020 general election,” Eshelman wrote in the complaint. 

True the Vote did not immediately respond to a request for comment from VICE News.