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Trump’s Allies are Handing Out Cash Envelopes to African-American Voters at Events

File photo of US President Donald Trump.

File photo of US President Donald Trump.

The cash giveaway immediately drew harsh criticism from Democrats, who said paying off potential voters was a desperate tactic.

Washington: A nonprofit organisation run by one of President Donald Trump’s most prominent African American allies recently held an event in a black community where it promoted Trump administration policies like criminal justice reform while doling out cash prizes to participants.

The event, a “Christmas Extravaganza” in Cleveland last month, was hosted by a charity group run by Darrell Scott, a longtime Trump surrogate who has also been advising his campaign. Organisers with the group, the Urban Revitalization Coalition, handed out thousands of dollars of cash stuffed in envelopes for an event it advertised as a “$25,000 Cash Giveaway.”

The event was first reported by Politico.

In an interview, Scott said that his organisation was nonpartisan and that the event had not been organised by the Trump campaign. But he acknowledged that interspersed throughout the event were positive remarks about some Trump administration policies that have affected black communities.

“We talked about the country,” Scott said. “We said there are a number of things that are benefiting black America right now. For instance, criminal justice reform.” Trump’s campaign has been highlighting the 2018 passage of the First Step Act, which revised a number of the nation’s sentencing and prison laws, as part of its outreach to African American voters.

Scott has been a top surrogate for Trump since the 2016 campaign, when they were first introduced by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer who implicated the president in a scheme to pay hush money to two women who said they had had affairs with him. Trump has denied the affairs.

Cohen had created a so-called diversity coalition for Trump during the last campaign; Scott remained close to Trump even after Cohen broke from the president and called him “racist” during a congressional hearing.

The cash giveaway immediately drew harsh criticism from Democrats, who said paying off potential voters was a desperate tactic.

“It’s a mistake to say there aren’t black voters who have struggled, who don’t think the country has their interest at heart, who think Trump’s bravado is at least interesting,” said Adrianne Shropshire, the executive director of BlackPAC, a progressive group. “For the Democratic Party and the campaigns, assuming those vulnerable black voters aren’t out there and don’t need to be touched will be an epic failure.”

But trying to buy off potential voters, Shropshire said, “just demonstrates the utter disrespect that Trump and his allies have for black voters. The cynical use of the Christmas holiday — when people really do want money to buy gifts for their children — is so offensive.”

Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change, a racial justice organisation, said black voters deserved more than “last-minute handouts.”

“They deserve real economic development,” he said. “If Donald Trump is really willing to have clear conversations about the kind of investments in these communities that aren’t about fast checks but about helping families, then that’s a different conversation. But he hasn’t been interested in any of that.”

It was unclear if the event last month ran afoul of any election rules; federal law prohibits campaigns from giving money directly to voters, but nonprofit groups have greater leeway for certain activities.

A Trump campaign official said the event was not “affiliated with or sanctioned by” the campaign. A spokesman for the Republican National Committee also said it was not affiliated with the event.

“We gave away turkeys at Thanksgiving, we gave away a great amount of toys around Christmas,” Scott said in the interview. “We couldn’t think of a better thing to do with Christmas than to help people with cash.”

The Trump campaign has increasingly been trying to make inroads with black voters, a group among which the president has enjoyed only meager support. In November, the campaign introduced an effort in Atlanta called “Black Voices for Trump,” with the goal of changing the narrative. Trump’s campaign hopes that the outreach will do double duty, peeling away some African American voters whom the Democratic nominee will need to defeat him in November, and reassuring suburban white voters discomfited by his use of racist tropes.

Black Voices for Trump has been holding informal organising events in key states since its official kickoff.

“Don’t be afraid to speak up and speak out,” Steve Parson, a Virginia-based pastor, told a group of about a dozen African American Trump supporters who gathered last month at Boogaloos Bar & Grill in Richmond, Virgina, for a meet and greet. “There’s not a racist bone in his body. It’s all a game. You’re part of a movement. Black people are coming off of the plantation. Black people are waking up. And I’m woke.”

Addressing a small crowd of black people wearing “Make America Great Again” caps, Harrison Floyd, the executive director of Black Voices for Trump, said: “No, we are not mythical creatures. We are African Americans who truly support Trump.”

But there have also been examples of attempts to sway voters with disinformation.

A pamphlet of material titled “Make Black America Great Again” was distributed to black voters in Virginia on Election Day last year. The pamphlet promoted “Defending Black Families With the Second Amendment” and criticized “modern-day Jim Crow Democrats” who it said were “keeping black Americans under heel.” It said that “Trump’s conservative agenda will set them free.”

The pamphlet, reviewed by The New York Times, had no identifying material showing who produced it or paid for it.

Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman c.2020 The New York Times Company

first published:January 30, 2020, 10:25 IST