Truth Social, former president Donald Trump’s MAGA Twitter clone, has spent its first few years of existence limping from quarter to quarter with underwhelming user numbers while bleeding money. But the company got a lifeline last month in the form of a merger that made available a pot of investor cash, and made it possible for anyone to directly buy stock in a Trump-owned company. While the long-awaited merger with a SPAC that created Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG) could be a significant financial windfall for Trump himself, it is far more likely to become an ethical, and even national security, disaster if he becomes president again. A public company will offer even more ways for foreign governments, special interests and wealthy donors to personally enrich Trump as they endeavor to curry favor with him and his administration. 

Trump Media has reported that it made just $4.1 million in 2023, while losing a staggering $58 million. Just about everything that could go wrong with a fledgling social media company has gone wrong. The company has struggled to attract users, boasting only about 5 million monthly users in the US, which is just a fraction of hundreds of millions of active users on competitors like Facebook and Twitter when they went public. And advertisers on the site—which are TMTG’s only source of revenue—are less akin to what you might see on other platforms, and more like what you’d see if you were watching cable TV at 3AM. Yet in the earliest days after the merger, the company has somehow hit valuations above $8 billion. 

For comparison, Reddit—which went public on March 21—had $800 million in revenue last year. On the first day of Trump Media’s trading, Reddit saw 32 million U.S. visitors, or about 6 times more than Truth Social’s estimated monthly traffic. Yet, despite vastly more users and revenue, shares of Reddit have been trading lower than shares in Trump Media, even after Trump Media shed a fifth of its value in a single day

That’s because Trump Media isn’t selling a product. It’s selling Donald Trump. The fundamentals of the business are, to put it charitably, a mess. It’s embroiled in a number of lawsuits. It’s bleeding money, and no one who isn’t already a fan of Donald Trump wants to use it. But it is a good way to enrich Donald Trump, which is an enticing possibility for anyone hoping to hold sway over the potential 47th president of the United States. As Axios put it last week, “At this point, owning TMTG is basically an in-kind donation to Donald Trump. Both financially and reputationally.”

“That’s because Trump Media isn’t selling a product. It’s selling Donald Trump.”

It’s not much of a leap from there to consider just how appealing it might appear for a foreign government, wealthy donors and special interests to use an investment in Truth Social as a way to curry favor with the once and, potentially, future president of the United States. After all, this was the playbook of Trump’s first time in the White House because Trump made the unprecedented decision of refusing to divest his businesses when coming into office, and there’s no reason to believe he would do otherwise a second time around. 

While in the White House, Trump gave special perks to paying customers at his properties, invited foreign governments to spend money at his hotels to get access to him and his administration and handed out favorable policies to special interest groups who spent millions holding events at his properties. All told, he made up to $160 million from his international business dealings while in office. Even after leaving office, Trump was apparently still making sure his wealthy patrons got their money’s worth—so much so that in one instance he apparently presented classified information about U.S. nuclear submarine capabilities to an Australian billionaire member of Mar-a-Lago who then reportedly went on to share the information with others. 

But now the influence game is even easier, because any well-resourced entity wanting to cozy up to Trump and his administration won’t need to go through the trouble of making numerous reservations at Trump properties, signing up for a Mar-a-Lago membership, or moving their annual conferences to the ballrooms at Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster. All they have to do is buy a significant amount of shares in Trump’s company—enough that they get Trump’s attention, but low enough that it doesn’t break the five-percent threshold that triggers SEC disclosure. This all comes with the added benefit of being able to dangle the investment over Trump like a sword of Damocles—threatening to sell off shares and tank the value of the stock if Trump does anything to anger his benefactors. 

In this way, TMTG creates the same national security concerns raised by Trump’s mad dash to try to cover his bond in New York. If anything, the risks are worse, because once a bond is paid, it can’t easily be rescinded by a party who helped cover it, while shares in a stock can always be sold. With a relatively cheap investment, foreign countries or state-owned firms could invest in Trump’s company and make sure that he knows they have the ability to crash his net worth by flooding the market with TMTG stock, if he does anything they don’t like. Notwithstanding due diligence and disclosure requirements, corrupt actors will always seek ways to keep their investments secret from the public, the government and regulators—posing a serious national security risk. 

Advertising offers another avenue for influence, both garnering Trump’s attention and benefitting his bottom line. First, the only way Trump Media makes money, for now, is by selling advertising on Truth Social. Buying ads helps bolster the company’s withering balance sheet, but it also means that anyone with the resources could flood the site that Trump spends his days on with ads trumpeting whatever message they want to get in front of Trump. Trump posted more than 100 times on Truth Social in one day recently, and given the targeting capabilities inherent in social media advertising, anyone buying the ads can be sure to target them at men above 75 years old in West Palm Beach. 

All of these same avenues for influence are open to wealthy donors too. Just as he did as president, Trump is now diversifying the ways in which wealthy donors and special interests can sidle up to him and stay in his good graces while lining his pockets. These donors can now pay Trump directly, either to help him cover the bond he needed to appeal his civil fraud judgment in New York, or to buoy his faltering company. 

In the case of TMTG, at least one deep-pocketed donor has helped finance Truth Social, while appearing to get what they need from Trump. Jeff Yass, a Pennsylvania billionaire and major political donor, and Yass’s firm, Susquehanna International Group, appears to be one of the largest institutional investors in the shell company that merged with Trump’s company to create the TMTG. While Susquehanna has downplayed its investment, it might still be paying off for Yass. It was reportedly Yass who met with Trump last month. After that meeting, Trump reversed his position on TikTok, another company Yass is invested in. Trump denies the two men talked about TikTok.

This is to say nothing of the immense power Trump would have as president to make sure that his business is taken care of. For example, he will have the power not only to reward his biggest investors with cabinet positions or other plum agency gigs, but he’ll also be able to nominate allies to regulatory positions in agencies like the SEC. And if he succeeds in implementing rollbacks of longstanding civil service protections, he’ll also have much more leeway to fire nonpolitical career officials who stand in the way of his business interests.  

These conflicts of interest and national security concerns are precisely what the Founders and countless other reformers had in mind when they created the Constitution’s emoluments clauses and various ethics laws that followed. CREW fought for four years during Trump’s presidency to hold Trump accountable for his profiteering in office, but the U.S. Supreme Court instructed lower courts to dismiss that and other cases when Trump left office, leaving the question of what constitutes an emoluments violation unanswered. If Trump becomes president again, his new, arguably worse, conflicts of interest will surely pose even more serious threats to our democracy and will require renewed efforts to fight back.  

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