Donald Trump makes his volunteers sign their political lives away

If there’s one thing we know about Donald Trump’s organization, it’s that it’s over-the-top litigious. In business dealings, Trump’s go-to strategy is to test the law’s limits and dare his less-powerful opponents to challenge him in court.

It appears as though Trump is running his presidential campaign much in the same way.

According to the Daily Dot, not only is Trump making volunteers submit to background checks and sign non-disclosure agreements (as had previously been reported), but he also makes them sign a contract that includes ridiculous and possibly unenforceable restrictions that could potentially extend for the rest of Trump’s life.

The contract, reviewed by the Daily Dot, includes a non-compete clause that prevents volunteers from working for any other presidential candidates in the event that they decide they no longer support Trump. It also includes a non-disparagement clause that “forbids [volunteers] from criticizing the Republican presidential front-runner, his family members, any Trump businesses or products, or his campaign.” As they continue:

Donald Trump, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Donald Trump, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

In addition to forbidding volunteers from disparaging Trump, the contract also includes a sentence that demands volunteers prevent their employees from criticizing Trump, thus making volunteers responsible for the free speech of others for an indeterminate amount of time.

“I guess he doesn’t know about the First Amendment,” Davida Perry, an employment lawyer in New York City, told the Daily Dot. “This is really shocking.”

However, these kinds of clauses, which are usually included in employment contracts, are likely not enforceable for volunteers who receive nothing in exchange for signing their political rights away. From NBC:

Typically, NDAs allow employers to protect specific information held by employees – who are paid for that restriction – not volunteers on a political campaign. “This sort of an agreement would not be enforceable,” says employment lawyer Davida Perry.

“There can’t be a contract without consideration,” she told NBC, “his campaign isn’t giving the volunteer anything in exchange for their agreement to not speak about what they see or hear.”

Finally, the contract’s terms apply through what the contract terms the “Non-Compete Cutoff Date,” which is defined as the point at which Trump stops running for president. If he wins in November and runs for re-election, that could mean 2024. If he loses but holds out the possibility of running again, that could mean for the rest of Trump’s life.

For a candidate who is known for speaking his mind, it might seem odd for Trump to effectively muzzle his volunteers, preventing them from speaking their minds if they decide that Silvio Trumpusconi isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. Then again, Trump is running on a platform that explicitly calls for making it illegal to say mean things about Donald Trump. Applying said restrictions to his volunteers seems natural, not surprising, in this context.

Needless to say, these kinds of restrictions on campaign volunteers are all but unheard of, as they run counter to the basic idea of political expression.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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