A Maryland man is offering contest participants a chance to have dinner with Donald Trump. Or is he? 25-year-old Ian Hawes of Maryland set up dinnerwithtrump.org, a site that at first glance looks an awful lot like a Trump campaign page, until you read the fine print.
The homepage tells visitors to “Enter for a chance for you and a guest to have dinner with Donald Trump.The flight, food & stay are on us.”
It allows people to enter their name, email address, and zip code. Upon doing so, the next page says that people can double their chances of winning by donating, giving options for people to give different amounts.
Hawes’ organization, American Horizons PAC, took out ads on Facebook to promote the site, according to a Politico report, drawing social media users to the site. They reportedly raised more than $1 million. But the small print on the bottom of the site tells people what they’re actually getting, and it’s not a private dinner with the Republican Presidential nominee. “Prize is for winner & guest to attend a Donald Trump fundraising event with other attendees,” it says, adding that it includes airfare and hotel accommodations, with a total approximate retail value of $3,600.
It does not say what kind of fundraising event the winner would get to attend, but the phrase “with other attendees” means that not only is it not a private meeting with The Donald, it could refer to a large-scale event with hundreds, or thousands in attendance. It also does not say anything about actually meeting Trump.
The site says that donations are not required to enter the contest, and that giving money does not increase one’s chances, despite the “double your chances” offer on the donation page.
Not only do the donations not go towards a chance for a dinner with Trump, the money collected doesn’t go to him either, as none of it has been donated to the campaign. The website does say that American Horizons PAC is not affiliated with any candidate.
Donors feel like this was all very misleading. “I feel ripped off and taken advantage of. This is horrible,” Mary Pat Kulina told Politico after giving $265 to American Horizons PAC. “I assumed it was coming from Trump and we donated a $1,000 because you might have a better chance than if you’d given $100,” attorney David Easlick said.
Hawes has denied that his operation is a fraud. “The dinner being a scam, I’m completely against that assertion,” Hawes told OpenSecrets in July. “This isn’t some sort of scam, this isn’t some sort of swindle, we make it very clear to all the folks who donate that we’re not affiliated with the Trump campaign.”
Hawes said that if people asked for their money back, he would do it, saying that he had already given 110 refunds.
American Horizons PAC ended its activity in June with $88,197 in cash. Hawes was vague when he told Politico how the funds will be used. “We use the money that we collect in a way that we feel best creates value for the people who have donated to us.”