When ex-president Donald Trump held a press conference this week to announce his class-action lawsuit against social media companies, most people shrugged. One group, however, saw it as an opportunity.
Officials with the America First Policy Institute (AFPI), a so-called “dark money” nonprofit backing the lawsuit, joined the former president at the lectern, where they directed supporters to a website to sign on as co-plaintiffs.
That site won’t actually sign anyone on to the lawsuit though. The fine print on the landing page explicitly says entering a name does not make someone a plaintiff. Instead, it’s a fundraising effort for the nonprofit, which as a 501(c)(3) organization is not required to disclose its donors.
Brooke Rollins, a former Trump administration official who now heads up the organization, stood next to the former president on Thursday and said people could “join the lawsuit” by going to “take on big tech dot com.”
“We really are looking for the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of Americans,” she said.
But visitors to that website were redirected to a fundraising page for the Constitutional Leadership Partnership, an arm of AFPI headed up by former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi.
On that page, visitors will find a form where they can enter their information and donate to the group, as well as this fine print: “Signing up as a supporter or donor does not make you a party to, or class member in, any lawsuit in which AFPI may or may not be engaged.”
Created in April, AFPI is the largest pro-Trump group yet. Its membership resembles something of a shadow post-White House administration, boasting a number of high-ranking former Trump officials. Alongside Rollins, the group includes former White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, and Keith Kellogg, who was national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence.
Former top White House aides Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner reportedly serve as informal advisers.
As for the nascent lawsuit against social media companies, legal experts immediately blasted it as a ploy. Ari Cohn, a lawyer at tech policy think tank TechFreedom, told The Daily Beast the move was little more than a “fundraising, publicity stunt.”
The lawsuit itself, he said, would likely only serve as an appellate vehicle—a means to force higher courts to engage with Trump’s pet issues surrounding social media and First Amendment rights.
“They know that they’re going to lose,” Cohn said.
The cloaked fundraising push wasn’t limited to AFPI. Trump’s leadership PAC, Save America, also raised money off the announcement, promising “5x” matching donations.
The Justice Department is reportedly looking into such promises as empty and fraudulent. And on the Save America page, the repeating donations box is pre-checked, a common Trump campaign practice that has recently received criticism for deceiving donors into giving more money than intended.