WaPo: Wealthy NC conservative funder Fred Eshelman wants his money back

Fred Eshelman – Image: UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy

Effort to find fraud in the presidential election fizzles

Be sure to check out a fascinating story posted this afternoon by the Washington Post about a wealthy North Carolina financier of conservative causes who gave big bucks to support the right-wing group True the Vote in its effort to uncover voter fraud in the November election, but has since sued to get his money back.

As the Post reports in “A GOP donor gave $2.5 million for a voter fraud investigation. Now he wants his money back”:

Like many Trump supporters, conservative donor Fred Eshelman awoke the day after the presidential election with the suspicion that something wasn’t right. His candidate’s apparent lead in key battleground states had evaporated overnight.

The next day, the North Carolina financier and his advisers reached out to a small conservative nonprofit group in Texas that was seeking to expose voter fraud. After a 20-minute talk with the group’s president, their first-ever conversation, Eshelman was sold.

“I’m in for 2,” he told the president of True the Vote, according to court documents and interviews with Eshelman and others.

“$200,000?” one of his advisers on the call asked.

“$2 million,” Eshelman responded.

Over the next 12 days, Eshelman came to regret his donation and to doubt conspiracy theories of rampant illegal voting, according to court records and interviews.

Now, he wants his money back.

The story goes on to cite court documents and interviews in order to explain how True the Vote’s repeated claims that it was on the cusp of uncovering massive voter fraud in last November’s election were, in effect, baloney. This is from the Post story:

“We were just not getting any data or proof,” said Tom Crawford, who had worked for Eshelman as a lobbyist and served as his representative on the True the Vote effort. “We were looking at this and saying to ourselves, ‘This just is not adding up.’?”

Within a couple of weeks, as effort after effort by True the Vote, its allies and the Trump campaign made no headway in uncovering widespread fraud, Eshelman grew angry and demanded his $2 million — by far the biggest contribution True the Vote had ever received — back. This is from the article:

On Nov. 17, he sent [True the Vote president Catherine] Engelbrecht an email demanding the return of his money. True the Vote offered on Nov. 23 to return $1 million to settle the matter. Eshelman filed his first lawsuit two days later, saying the group had failed to provide an accounting of how the remainder of his money had been spent.

He withdrew the federal lawsuit on Feb. 1 and filed the suit in Texas state court.

None of Eshelman’s money has been returned, court documents show.

Ultimately, the Post reports, several of the actors involved ended up concluding that the alleged massive fraud simply didn’t exist, though Eshelman, equivocated somewhat:

Eshelman said he still believes there was “some misbehavior” in the election. “But do I believe it might have risen to a degree that would change the electoral outcome?” he said. “I don’t know.”

Fred Eshelman is perhaps best known to North Carolinians as the person for whom the Eshelman School of Pharmacy and the Eshelman Institute for Innovation at UNC are named.

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