A top Republican donor who gave $2.5m to a group investigating former president Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud has reportedly filed a lawsuit to get his money back.
Fred Eshelman, founder of Eshelman Ventures, had contacted a Texas-based nonprofit called True the Vote as Mr Trump started losing his lead in key battleground states following November’s vote.
The organisation, which was founded back in 2010 by a Tea Party activist and has pushed for stricter voter ID laws, filed cases alleging voter fraud in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – but later abandoned all four, according to a Washington Post report that reviewed previously unseen court documents.
Defending the organisation’s efforts, its president Catherine Engelbrecht said: “A good thorough investigation takes the course it takes, and we were not going to expose whistleblowers to make a quick headline.” She said that the group’s investigation “is ongoing even now”.
But Tom Crawford, who worked for Mr Eshelman as a lobbyist and served as his representative in the True the Vote effort, said the group failed to produce any data or proof. “We were looking at this and saying to ourselves, ‘This just is not adding up,’” he said.
In the suits it filed, True the Vote said the evidence for its claims was still being developed, despite the fact that as early as 6 November the group said in a news release that there was “significant tangible evidence” of illegal ballots being cast.
The organisation said in the suits that they would use “sophisticated and groundbreaking programs” to support their case. James Bopp, the lawyer who filed the cases for True the Vote, told the Post that there was “tons of evidence” of voter fraud but it was “anecdotal and circumstantial”.
The group reportedly coordinated its efforts with Mr Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow and senator Lindsey Graham, but decided to drop its own lawsuits once the Trump campaign’s started gaining more traction.
Mr Bopp said True the Vote offered to join forces with Trump’s team but received no response. The group finally dropped the cases when it concluded that they had little chance of advancing before the certification of the election results in December, particularly without Trump’s official backing.
In Mr Eshelman’s lawsuit, he alleges that True the Vote did not spend his initial $2m and a subsequent donation of $500,000 in the way they had told him they would. He claims his donation money was instead directed to people and businesses connected to the group’s president, Ms Engelbrecht.
In court documents, the nonprofit group said Mr Eshelman’s money was spent properly. Mr Bopp said that in any event Mr Eshelman was not entitled to the return of his money since there were no preconditions attached to his donation.
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