It's been a strange election season, to say the least, and many seem willing to go great lengths to gain an audience with Donald Trump. One guy even went as far as 21 floors with suction cups attached to his hands. But most Americans are lazy and would rather just throw cash at their hopes and dreams. It's less than shocking, then, to learn that thousands of fine US citizens have donated money on a website floating dinner with the candidate—without reading the the fine print first.
As Politico reports, Ian Hawes, a 25-year-old self-proclaimed "registered genius" who has no affiliation with the Trump campaign, has control of the domain name dinnerwithtrump.org and an affiliated PAC. The project teases a chance to enjoy a meal with the presidential hopeful, and although participants don't have to donate to enter the contest, the website has reportedly fooled more than 20,000 donors into ponying up to boost their chances. Hawes has raked in some $1 million in donations—none of which has made it to the Trump campaign. A large tranche of the money has instead found its way into CartSoft LLC, a company Hawes owns, according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
"I assumed it was coming from Trump and we donated $1,000 because you might have a better chance [at winning the dinner] than if you'd given $100," David Easlick, a Virginia-based lawyer, told Politico after learning the truth of Hawes's scheme.
To be fair, the website does disclose—in very fine print, at the bottom of the page—that the dinner contestants are entering to win is actually just "a Sponsor-selected fundraising evening event held with Donald Trump and other attendees." Hawes also indicated he was happy to return donations to anyone who makes a complaint and claimed he's made 110 refunds so far. (Hawes disputes that he's engaged in a "scam" even as participants tend to think they were helping the GOP nominee.)
Returning some money might be the only price Hawes pays for his experiment, which isn't technically in direct violation of any federal laws—not enforceable ones, anyway. "There's very little recourse," FEC commissioner Ann Ravel told Politico. "People give money thinking it's going to go to a particular person or a particular cause, and it's a consumer protection issue as far as I'm concerned."