In a text message to supporters Wednesday, the Trump campaign launched a sweepstakes to celebrate his inauguration a year earlier, offering them chance to win dinner with Trump at the Mar-a-lago resort in Florida. The event will take place on January 20th, the one year anniversary of Trump's swearing in to the presidency.
The text message and accompanying web pages do not specifically name the site of the upcoming dinner, announcing only that it will be held in Palm Beach. However, Trump campaign executive director Michael Glassner confirmed to Politico that it will indeed take place at Mar-a-lago, one of the president's flagship properties.
The contest was launched to raise money for the president's reelection, which Trump filed papers for on the day of his inauguration. However, it's also possible to win the sweepstakes without donating anything at all via a separate online entry form.
"You have the opportunity to be flown out to have dinner and your photo taken with President Trump in Palm Beach," one of the websites says. The winner "will receive round-trip transportation and accommodations and tickets to attend a dinner with President Trump at the January 20, 2018 Trump Victory Dinner in Florida (approximate retail value $3000)."
The contest is only open to U.S. citizens.
Two days before the January 20th event, Mar-a-lago will host a separate dinner to celebrate Trump's first year in office, Politico reports. That event will feature a keynote speech by Fox News host Jeanine Pirro and a musical performance by Predator 2 star Robert Davi.
By offering supporters a chance at dinner with the president in an effort to raise campaign funds, the Trump campaign is borrowing a technique popularized by Barack Obama. During his 2012 reelection campaign, President Obama ran several contests in which supporters could win a dinner with him, and his campaign posted videos of those dinners after they took place.
A minor scandal erupted during the 2016 campaign when a political action committee called American Horizons launched a contest offering "a chance for you and a guest to have dinner with Donald Trump." The initiative raised a million dollars from over 20,000 Trump supporters before Politico reported that in fact, the PAC was being operated by a single 25-year-old with no connections whatsoever to Trump or the Trump campaign. The "dinner" being advertised was actually, as the fine print stated, "a Donald Trump fundraising event with other attendees."
The Trump campaign eventually sent a cease-and-desist letter to American Horizons, accusing the PAC's founder of "knowingly defrauding every person who gives you his or her email address or who makes a donation through your unauthorized website." Later, Open Secrets reported that only one percent of funds raised from the contest actually went to the Trump campaign. Ian Hawes, the man running the PAC, denied that it was a scam, however.
Wednesday's contest, by contrast, was launched by Trump's own reelection campaign, so it is a legitimate sweepstakes. Although it's primarily a fundraising effort, supporters — or more likely, detractors — of the president have the option of entering the contest without donating anything at all at a separate website.
The trip is not all-expenses-paid, however. As stated in the sweepstake's rules, the winner will have to pay for ground transportation to and from both the airport and Mar-a-lago, as well as "all other expenses that such winner and his or her guest incur in connection with the Trip."
Although the Mar-a-lago resort is in Palm Beach, Florida, Politico reports that the text message sent by the campaign mistakenly identified the city as Palm Springs, which is in California.