Matthew Tunstall, a 34-year-old man from Texas, was charged along with two other men in November for allegedly operating two different PACs that used robocalls and written solicitations implying they were supporting 2016 presidential candidates — in some cases Hillary Clinton and in others Donald Trump.
The Justice Department says the men collected approximately $3.5 million from unwitting contributors, using it to enrich themselves instead of supporting the political candidate.
CNN’s KFile found Tunstall used another PAC he created in 2019 — called Campaign to Support the President — to send more than 166,000 robocalls, according to data from an anti-robocall app, to solicit donations just last month.
Tunstall’s Campaign to Support the President PAC ran 128,000 robocalls following his arrest on November 9, according to data reviewed by CNN’s KFile from Aaron Foss, the founder of the anti-robocall app NoMoRobo. The calls, which used spliced-together recordings of Trump’s public statements, first started running on November 4 and continued until November 30, running more than 166,000 in total. Tunstall was indicted on November 2 and arrested on November 9 after the indictment was unsealed, according to court filings.
The Campaign to Support the President PAC was one of two PACs investigated by CNN’s KFile in July 2021, which found Tunstall raised millions of dollars through robocall solicitations impersonating the Trump presidential campaign. CNN’s reporting did not indicate that either of the other two men indicted by the Justice Department in November is involved in Tunstall’s Campaign to Support the President PAC.
Though Campaign to Support the President was not part of the November indictment, it bears all the hallmarks of a scam PAC, according to experts CNN spoke with.
“The purpose of a PAC, or a political action committee, is essentially they get donations and then they spend those donations to help elect people to office. What we call a scam PAC is one that raises the money under those guises and then basically pays themselves and their friends,” said Jordan Libowitz, the communications director for the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonpartisan watchdog group.
“[Scam PAC operators] basically redirect the money to themselves rather than trying to actually elect candidates. So, they’re scamming their donors essentially into giving them money that would otherwise go towards an election,” said Libowitz, speaking broadly about scam PACs. He added that scam PACs often have names that sound either plain or legitimate to trick donors into giving money.
The Justice Department declined to comment to CNN. Tunstall and his lawyer did not return CNN’s multiple requests for comment.
Though the PAC has just restarted its campaign to run robocalls, the group hasn’t filed a Federal Election Commission report since April of 2021 so it’s unknown exactly how the PAC is spending its money. But the PAC is raising money almost exactly like the alleged 2016 scheme Tunstall was indicted for last month. Tunstall could also face new charges for other PACs he has run or other legal jeopardy.
“There are few things that infuriate prosecutors and judges like a defendant who continues to commit crime while out on bail — particularly the same crime for which he is already indicted,” said Elie Honig, a former federal and state prosecutor and a CNN senior legal analyst. “If proven, the consequences here for Tunstall could be serious: revocation of bail, additional criminal charges, and enhanced sentencing after any conviction.”
Tunstall’s Campaign to Support the President PAC was one of the largest robocall operations in the country in 2020 and 2021, according to NoMoRobo, but the PAC stopped sending robocalls in mid-June 2021, shortly after CNN’s KFile first contacted one of the PAC’s former treasurers. The group didn’t restart calls until November 4, according to the data from NoMoRobo.
“It’s a constant game of cat-and-mouse,” Foss, the founder of NoMoRobo, told CNN’s KFile. “We’re already seeing copycat groups pushing out similar messages. As long as people are falling for these scams, they’re going to continue.”
The November calls for the Campaign to Support the President PAC asked for donations of $35 to receive a Trump Christmas card.
“On behalf of the entire Trump family, we wish everyone a merry Christmas and a very, very happy New Year,” Trump says in the call.
“President Trump wants everyone to celebrate Christmas and holidays, including you, while Democrats want to cancel Christmas gatherings. Get your Trump family Christmas card for every contribution of at least $35,” a narrator added.
When CNN’s KFile attempted to call the number mentioned in the robocall in December, an automated voice said that “the number you dialed has been disconnected or is no longer in service.” The phone numbers used to send robocalls were also not working numbers.
The PAC has raised approximately $193,000 since its founding in 2019, spending much of the money raised on “fundraising and travel,” according to filings. None of the money the group has raised went directly to Trump or his campaign during the 2020 presidential cycle or this year; the money the PAC says it’s spent in support of Trump was spent on robocalls or advertising.