Trump Campaign Forces Volunteers To Sign Non-Disparagement Agreement

If you want to volunteer for Donald Trump, you'll have to agree to never disparage Trump, his family, his campaign, or any of his businesses. Forever.

Donald Trump Victory South Carolina

If you want to volunteer for Donald Trump, you’ll have to sign an agreement stating that you will never talk about, or disparage, the campaign or Mr. Trump:

Online volunteers seeking to help Donald Trump by making phone calls might be signing up for more than they bargained for.

To sign up on Trump’s website, potential volunteers must agree to a 2,271-word non-disclosure agreement in which they also promise they won’t compete against or say anything bad about Trump, his company, his family members or products – now and forever.

The agreement is a required part of the sign-up process for Trump Red Dialer, an online call system that connects volunteers for the Republican presidential candidate with potential voters.

Earlier this year, volunteers for Trump in New York had to sign non-disclosure agreements in person before making phone calls at Trump Tower. But the website requirement is the first indication that online volunteers must also sign the form, even if they’ll never meet a Trump family member, attend a Trump rally, meet a campaign staffer in person or step inside a Trump campaign office.

The agreement defines Trump’s family as “Mr. Trump’s spouse” and then individually names his children, including his 10-year-old son Barron, while generally referencing Trump’s siblings and nieces and nephews, as well as his children’s spouses and children.

The agreement does state volunteers can campaign for other candidates after the election is over. No such deadline applies to the non-disparagement provisions.

The agreement seems very similar or identical to a Trump non-disclosure agreement described by the Associated Press in June. Trump is known for requiring those in his businesses and campaign to sign the agreements, up to and including senior advisers. He has sued associates over similar contracts, including his ex-wife Ivana in 1992. He settled with her a year later.

But requiring an online volunteer to sign such a document is a requirement unique to the Trump campaign. The campaign website for his rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, requires no agreement for online volunteers to sign up and make phone calls.

“It’s not a typical procedure,” said Matt Moore, chairman of the GOP in South Carolina, where campaigns had volunteers making similar calls from their homes ahead of the primary in February. Moore also oversees phone bank operations as the state seeks to elect its candidates in legislative races.

Phone calls are a common tool to persuade voters and to encourage supporters to get out and vote. While presidential campaigns still have volunteers meet at phone bank locations, both the Clinton and now Trump campaign have an online dialer system to which volunteers can get call information and scripts to read to so they can make calls from anywhere.

“We’re most concerned about private information not being shared publicly and maintaining database security, so we do at times require volunteers or volunteer leaders to sign agreements to that effect,” said Moore. But nothing like the non-disparagement clause.

(…)

When asked about the necessity of the non-disclosure agreement for online volunteers, Trump Ohio campaign spokesman Seth Unger said: “We are running a state-of-the-art campaign for Mr. Trump that involves best-in-market volunteer platforms, and it is attracting thousands of volunteers who are tired of the same old Washington corruption and back room deals and are securing votes for a change in November.”

Moore said he hasn’t heard any complaints about the non-disclosure agreement from state GOP chairs elsewhere in the country.

“Donald Trump supporters are very passionate. I don’t imagine that it would discourage them, much if any at all,” he said.

The most likely reason that Moore hasn’t heard any complaints, of course, is because, much like few of us actually read the license agreements that we’re required to click to accept when installing a piece of software on our computer or an application on our smartphone or tablet, they don’t read what they’re agreeing to, or if they do they likely only had a layman’s understanding of what it meant. (Heck, as an attorney I almost never read those things myself.) Additionally, as eager volunteers for the candidate they support, it’s likely that they wouldn’t question the campaign’s request to sign something before they get started making phone calls. Finally, on some level every campaign does have a legitimate interest in at least some form of a non-disclosure agreement since it’s likely done some work in developing the call list that these online volunteers are using and wouldn’t want it to fall into the hands of an opponent, or even an ally.

This agreement, of course, goes far beyond requiring the volunteer(s) to agree that they won’t disclose information about the software or the database to others, or that they won’t make the list(s) they are given available to others. It also purports to require volunteers to agree that they would never say anything disparaging about Trump, his family, or his businesses. This is highly unusual for something that a campaign volunteer is required to sign, and indeed may be the first time anything like this has been required in political circles, and it’s unclear whether it would be considered legally enforceable against mere volunteers. Much like the non-competition agreement that one fast-food company was attempting to force its line employees to sign, the enforcability of an agreement like this would depend very much on whether or not it could be demonstrated that the agreement is reasonable under the circumstances and whether its restrictions on individual liberty serve any real interest. One could arguably see the case for such agreements in the case of highly placed officials and employees who become privy to private information about the candidate and their family as a result of their position, but it’s hard to see what justification there can be for enforcing such an agreement against a volunteer, especially one who never had any direct contact with the campaign or the candidate outside the online environment.

Enforceable or not, though, the fact that this agreement exists says much about Trump and the way he runs both this campaign and his businesses. As the linked article notes, it’s long been suspected that Trump makes liberal use of agreements like this in his business activities, and that the reason one rarely hears anything negative about Trump from past employees or business associates is because the people in question are under a binding agreement not to share their opinion about the man or his business practices with the public. While that may be common in the business world, it’s virtually unprecedented in politics, and largely unknown in government. More importantly, it raises questions about what kind of business Trump is running, what kind of campaign he’s running, and what kind of President he would be. Would he require White House employees to sign agreements such as this, for example? How transparent would his Administration be when it comes to decision making and who Trump is consulting with in making decisions? These are legitimate questions that the campaign ought to answer immediately. Of course, it also might want to make clear exactly what it has to hide if it feels it necessary to requirement volunteers to sign this type of agreement to begin with.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    This demonstrates a certain high level of paranoia on Trump’s part, doesn’t it? What’s a phone bank volunteer working in South Dakota going to learn about Trump, detrimental or otherwise?

    And what, as you say, does Trump have to hide? Rhetorical question, obviously.

  2. Moosebreath says:

    Somehow, I would be more concerned that Trump’s former campaign manager and now CNN commentator Corey Lewandowski is still on Trump’s payroll and helping Trump with debate preparation, while employed by CNN.

    Our liberal media at work.

  3. grumpy realist says:

    I consider this sort of document equivalent to the misspellings in a Nigerian spam letter: after you see this, you can’t complain down the road you didn’t know what you were getting into.

  4. Tony W says:

    He is clearly just as scared as he wants all of us to be.

  5. Tyrell says:

    I can see now that the news media is ignoring the candidacy of Gary Johnson and William Weld for obvious reasons. With the current Trump – Hillary lunacy, they know that Johnson would soar in the polls to 40 % or more, and that is the last thing the controlled news media wants.
    The amazing Gary Johnson – a man who has climbed Mt. Everest, one of the top triathlonists in the world. Look at their platform: sensible, progressive, reasonable.

  6. Jen says:

    So, a 19 year old kid volunteers for the campaign by making phone calls, and a decade later he’s hired as a journalist for XYZ Media Corp., and writes a story that while is reporting, may be considered by Trump to be critical…that person can be sued?

    This is insane. Anyone who signs on to this campaign, in any fashion, is as crazy as the candidate.

  7. CSK says:

    @Jen:

    That’s a very good question. Add to it the fact that Trump has mentioned wanting to change the libel laws to make it easier to sue reporters and news agencies for disseminating what he considers to be false information.

  8. CSK says:

    Slightly OT, but here are the debate moderators:

    Sept. 26: Lester Holt

    Oct. 9: Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper

    Oct. 19: Chris Wallace

  9. Franklin says:

    Two random unrelated thoughts on this:

    1) I read in several places that the Comedy Central roast of Donald Trump had one topic that was off-limits: his wealth. You could not question his wealth.

    2) What? Sarah Palin hasn’t complained that he is infringing on her 1st Amendment rights?

  10. SKI says:

    @Doug – you missed the most egregious – and illegal – aspect: it purports to require the volunteers to prevent their employees from working for any other presidential candidate.

    (8) No, you can't prevent your employees from volunteering for Hillary. Coercive and illegal! pic.twitter.com/ZoIXjm6pBA— Rachel Sklar (@rachelsklar) September 2, 2016

    Sklar, btw, has a great twitter-storm breakdown of some of the more insane aspects…

  11. al-Alameda says:

    If you want to volunteer for Donald Trump, you’ll have to sign an agreement stating that you will never talk about, or disparage, the campaign or Mr. Trump:

    And this, mind you, is for VOLUNTEER work.

  12. Hal_10000 says:

    I’ve written and signed non-disclosure agreements and non-competition agreements before. This is … more like the billion year contracts scientologists sign.

  13. grumpy realist says:

    @Hal_10000: I’m constantly arguing with companies who try to shove off on us one of those “anything that might possibly relate to us or anything we ever talked about or any topic we raised has to be considered confidential” NDAs.

    And let’s not get into the large companies who try to commandeer all IP you may develop down the road…..

  14. Pch101 says:

    Non-disparagement agreements should be void as a matter of public policy. We already have laws against libel, slander and defamation; we don’t need anything more than those.

    I could understand some sort of limited non-disclosure requirement if there were trade secrets involved, such as some fantastic and innovative campaign strategy that volunteers could share with the other side. But this is just a permanent gag order with no justification whatsoever — I would hope that a court would toss it.

  15. CSK says:

    @Pch101:

    I would think that the part about the volunteers being required to prevent their employees from working for another campaign would totally abrogate this agreement, since it violates the First Amendment.

  16. Jen says:

    @CSK: …and, since it has been pointed out that there is no severability clause in the agreement, were that to get thrown out, the whole thing is toast.

    Win/win.

  17. Moosebreath says:

    And, of course, such loyalty is only expected to run one way:

    “Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has run an unusually cheap campaign in part by not paying at least 10 top staffers, consultants and advisers, some of whom are no longer with the campaign, according to a review of federal campaign finance filings.

    Those who have so far not been paid, the filings show, include recently departed campaign manager Paul Manafort, California state director Tim Clark, communications director Michael Caputo and a pair of senior aides who left the campaign in June to immediately go to work for a Trump Super PAC.”

  18. CSK says:

    @Jen:

    I’m sure Trump’s house legal staff drew this up fully aware that it’s not enforceable. BUT…isn’t that a perfect illustration of the contempt in which they hold the Trumpkins? “Heh, heh, we’ll make the rubes sign this. They’re too stupid to know it’s not legal.”

  19. Mikey says:

    @Moosebreath: Manafort got paid, it was just by the Russians…

  20. Pch101 says:

    @CSK:

    The First Amendment protects you from the government, not from individuals or corporations. You are free to sign away your speech rights to others if you choose.

    I would prefer that this was not the case, but it is. Still, I could hope that a court would find some reason to void it. (Ambiguity and errors go against the party that wrote the agreement.)

  21. CSK says:

    @Pch101:

    True. But what about the part concerning compelling, or trying to compel, your employees not to work for the Clinton campaign, the Johnson campaign, or the Stein campaign? No, it’s not the government abrogating your free speech, but when your employer essentially tells you, “You’re fired if you work for anyone but Trump,” isn’t that litigable?

    And…does the phone bank worker who signs this nda then in turn require his or her employees to sign one?

  22. gVOR08 says:

    @CSK: I get the impression that Trump’s legal people eagerly do whatever Trump tells them to do: write this agreement, sue this author, threaten this contractor; knowing full well they can milk it for billable hours until Trump loses interest and then they’ll let it die.

  23. grumpy realist says:

    @CSK: That’s the thing. You can’t sign a third party to a contract unless he’s provided you with the authority to do so or a court has determined that he’s so incompetent that someone else has to take over on his behalf.

    Standard employment contracts do not rise to that level of transfer of authority.

  24. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:

    Do his attorneys charge billable hours, or are they paid a salary? Trump once famously remarked that he enjoyed being sued and suing people, because it only cost him a few dollars and it beggared his opponents. Granted Trump’s version of a “few dollars” might be several hundred thousand, but it sounded as if the house team, already on salary, took care of this stuff for him.

  25. Pch101 says:

    @CSK:

    Non-compete clauses are legal in all but a few states. (California is a notable exception.) Quite legal and enforceable in most cases.

    Within the context of the agreement, an “employee” would be an employee of a campaign contractor. Your boss at your office who volunteers for Trump at night and on the weekends would not be binding you or his other staff to the Trump agreement.

  26. Jen says:

    @Pch101:
    @CSK:

    My question is, since this is for a campaign for elected office, would the law be the same as it is under private corporations or individuals? The government cannot infringe on speech, which extends to elected officials, as once they are elected they are representatives of the government. Since he is running for a position AS an elected official, cannot the argument be made that the prohibition on infringing speech be extended to his campaign? I honestly don’t know this one, and it’s been a very long time since I took con law classes.

    I do remember New York Times v. Sullivan treats those in the public eye differently in the case of libel…those running for office are held to a different standard than private citizens or even corporations.

    In short, I don’t think he can bank on being treated as just another private person/company asking for these sorts of concessions from volunteers.

  27. CSK says:

    Here’s the relevant clause:

    No Competitive Services. Until the Non-Compete Cutoff Date you promise and agree not to assist or counsel, directly or indirectly, for compensation or as a volunteer, any person that is a candidate or is exploring candidacy for President of the United States other than Mr. Trump and to prevent your employees from doing so. [Italics mine]

    If by “employees” what is meant is “people you employ to work in the Trump campaign,” shouldn’t that be more specific? And would a phone bank volunteer in South Dakota be likely to hire people to work in the Trump campaign?

  28. Concerned UK Citizen says:

    Really sounds like a man with a lot to hide…….

  29. CSK says:

    @Concerned UK Citizen:

    Oh, he is. A lot of it, I suspect, has to do with his ties to Russian oligarchs (I don’t think there are any U.S. banks who will lend him money) and the fact that he’s not worth nearly what he claims to be.

  30. grumpy realist says:

    Great article on the implosion of Ailes over at Fox.

  31. anjin-san says:

    Trump has also insisted that his fanboys sign an agreement not to think – now and forever. Suddenly Jenos’ comments make more sense…