Friday, March 22, 2024

Who will own DJT?

Joseph Fishkin

In a perverse way, it’s brilliant: by taking Truth Social public via SPAC at a wildly inflated price (future ticker symbol “DJT”), former president Donald Trump is now making it possible for any entity—a foreign government, sovereign wealth fund, domestic high-dollar lobbyist, a mere political supporter—to literally buy a piece of DJT.

Rather than going through the at-least-somewhat-regulated campaign finance system, starting next week, anyone can simply buy shares of DJT on the New York Stock Exchange. Given Trump’s large stake in the company, and the certainty that he will attempt to sell some of that stake, any investment in DJT is exactly what it sounds like: an investment in Donald J. Trump, the presidential candidate. Investing in a purportedly for-profit public company does not fit comfortably within the usual definitions of either a bribe or a campaign contribution, and falls primarily under the regulatory purview of a completely different agency (the Securities and Exchange Commission), which is understandably not accustomed to the task of regulating mechanisms for funneling cash to potential future presidents. They will have to get up to speed, and quickly.

To state the obvious, Trump’s enormous present and future legal liabilities make him more profoundly in need of a multimillion-dollar personal cash infusion than any presidential candidate in American history. (There’s already plenty of speculation about the fact that the largest investor in the SPAC through which DJT is going public—a SPAC that has already earned the ire of the SEC—is Susquehanna International Group, the privately held firm whose co-founder and major shareholder, Jeffrey Yass, is a billionaire Republican megadonor; with his wife Janine, Yass is already the single largest contributor of the 2024 election cycle according to Forbes, having given more than $46 million to expenditure groups such as Club for Growth Action and the Congressional Leadership Fund. Yass’s own major immediate financial interests include a multi-billion-dollar stake in TikTok; unsurprisingly, he’s forcefully and expensively opposing the TikTok divestment law, a position Trump recently adopted after meeting with Yass, who Trump is considering as a potential Treasury Secretary.) This is only the beginning. Ask yourself: If the Saudi government was eager to hand $2 billion to Jared Kushner as an “investment,” why wouldn’t they consider buying shares in DJT, if that's what Trump needs them to do?

To me, the most interesting question here is actually about the press. Will Americans hear in the coming months who’s amassing a stake in DJT—that is, in plain English, who is providing money to help keep candidate Donald J. Trump afloat? Even before Trump sells his shares, anyone buying shares of DJT is at a minimum bolstering Trump’s paper net worth, which can be important to someone facing huge liabilities and desperately seeking financing. Just as traditional Supreme Court reporters have needed to supplement their number with new reporters with new expertise in order to make sense of the present Supreme Court, business reporters and campaign reporters will need to join forces and learn some new skills in order to inform the American people of exactly who is “investing” in Trump—and what kinds of returns they may be seeking.

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