On 28 March 2016, Stephanie Cegielski, a one-time strategist for the “Make America Great Again” super PAC, published an open letter to Trump supporters on the web site xoJane:
Even Trump’s most trusted advisors didn’t expect him to fare this well.
Almost a year ago, recruited for my public relations and public policy expertise, I sat in Trump Tower being told that the goal was to get The Donald to poll in double digits and come in second in delegate count. That was it.
The Trump camp would have been satisfied to see him polling at 12% and taking second place to a candidate who might hold 50%. His candidacy was a protest candidacy.
The letter immediately went viral, and while some pondered Cegielski’s main talking point (that Donald Trump doesn’t want to be president and didn’t expect to be the GOP frontrunner) others questioned whether or not Cegielski was really Trump’s top campaign strategist.
Complicating things, the headline appeared to contradict the body of the article. xoJane identified Cegielski as Trump’s “top strategist” in their title, but Cegielski identified herself as the “Communications Director of the ‘Make America Great Again’ Super PAC” in her open letter to Trump supporters:
In 2015, I fell in love with the idea of the protest candidate who was not bought by corporations. A man who sat in a Manhattan high-rise he had built, making waves as a straight talker with a business background, full of successes and failures, who wanted America to return to greatness.
I was sold.
Last summer, I signed on as the Communications Director of the Make America Great Again Super PAC.
It was still early in the Trump campaign, and we hit the ground running. His biggest competitor had more than $100 million in a Super PAC. The Jeb Bush deep pockets looked to be the biggest obstacle we faced. We seemed to be up against a steep challenge, especially since a big part of the appeal of a Trump candidacy was not being influenced by PAC money.
While Cegielski’s official title may be unclear, it’s certain that labeling Cegielski “Trump’s top campaign strategist” is incorrect. Cegielski worked for a super PAC (which, despite the name, is not legally recognized as a political action committee and by law cannot contribute directly to or coordinate with a political campaign, although they can use raised funds to campaign independently) and not for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign:
Technically known as independent expenditure-only committees, super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates. Unlike traditional PACs, super PACs are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates, and their spending must not be coordinated with that of the candidates they benefit.
Hope Hicks, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign, told Yahoo News that Cegielski was never employed by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign:
Evidently she worked for a Super PAC which Mr. Trump disavowed and requested the closure of via the FEC.
The “Make America Great Again” super PAC went dark as of October 2015 amid ongoing scrutiny of where the money was coming from and going to, and whether the committee had direct ties to the Trump campaign.
Cegielski, Stephanie. “An Open Letter to Trump Voters from His Top Strategist-Turned-Defector.” March 2016.
Stableford, Dylan. “Former Trump Super-Pac Director: Donald Doesn’t Even Want to Be President.” Yahoo! News. 28 March 2016.
BallotPedia.org. “Super PAC.”