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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  • PDQ

    Trump makes his volunteers sign pledges even though they aren’t getting any consideration in exchange for their work.

    Carson, Christie, etc. have supposedly been offered positions in Trump’s administration in exchange for their endorsements which is certainly “consideration”. Did they have to sign pledge agreements too? I read that Trump humiliated Christie to his face the other day, yet Christie apparently didn’t say anything. Is he (and Carson) under some kind of “gag order” not to say anything disparaging or something that will reveal the inner workings of Trump’s organization?

  • Yeah, but get enough of them together and it could turn into class action. Once the counter-suit pile of money becomes high enough, a law firm will jump at it.

  • It is different because you received compensation in exchange for your NDA agreement, exactly as Jon noted in his post. There is also a difference between non-disclosure and ex-post-facto (effectively) lifetime bans on ever saying anything negative about Donald J Trump.

    As for the threat of a lawsuit, under current law, not a single media outlet, broadcaster, or other journalist could be found culpable for a source opting to break an NDA or other gag-order.

    Things change when we’re talking volunteers and when it’s in the political realm, as opposed to corporate business.

    The purpose of these volunteer agreements is intimidation, nothing more.

  • nicho

    Unenforceable, of course. You know that, and I know that, but Trump followers aren’t the brightest bulbs on the porch. He can scare them. And if he decides to sue them, he would lose — assuming they have the money to combat him. He has a roomful of lawyers at his disposal. The question is whether the followers can raise the money to hire a lawyer to argue their side. As the tobacco industry lawyers once said about plaintiffs, “We don’t have to spend all our money. We just have to make them spend all theirs.”

  • No, but the threat of a lawsuit would make it less likely for anyone to publish anything written by any of the volunteers. In addition (and in Trump’s defense) as a celebrity he has surely had people get jobs working for him in some capacity for the sole purpose of selling a tip to a tabloid. These sorts of agreements are common for people who work for famous people. As to whether or not they would be enforceable, is there any case law on this. I certainly had nondisclosure agreements at all my jobs for big banks. How is it different than that?

  • Unenforceable, precisely as you note Jon, because these people are unpaid volunteers. And unconstitutional, because there are limits to how much of one’s own rights a person can sign away whatever the reason. A free speech gag clause making it a breach of contract ever to say anything negative about Herr Drumpf would seem on its face to surpass that limit.

    Then again, we’re talking a malignant narcissist. The weakest part of his extremely thin skin is accepting criticism of any kind whatsoever. People have remarked already on the many illegal things Trump would do or order if elected president, including launching unprovoked wars or ordering torture be done. I honestly think the first thing he’d go for would be to make it illegal to say, print, or broadcast anything negative about him.

    After all, remember how in 2011, he stewed and fumed through that White House Correspondents’ dinner when people made fun of him, including worst of all, President Obama. Trump still obsesses over being called a “short-fingered vulgarian” decades ago; he will not have forgotten the humiliation of being roasted in public.

  • iamlegion

    The fuck? You can’t support any other political candidate? Wow… I really really want to see him bring that weak sauce to a real court.

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