The Story Behind Trump’s $35,000 Payment to a Fictional New Hampshire Ad Agency Gets Stranger and Stranger
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Other times, fiction is all tangled up with the truth like a pair of earbuds in your front pocket, and the whole thing is a big ol’ bizarre mess.
The case of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his $35,000 payment to a fictional New Hampshire ad agency appears to be an exceptional example of the latter.
The Trump campaign filed its monthly Federal Election Commission campaign disclosure report for May, and included in the nearly 1,700 pages were four payments totaling $35,000, made on the campaign’s American Express card to “Draper Sterling” of Londonderry for “web advertising.” Fans of AMC’s Mad Men will recognize this as half the names in the series’ fictional, Madison Avenue advertising firm.
From here, it only gets stranger. Draper Sterling was registered in March with the New Hampshire Secretary of State to Jon Adkins and headquartered at his home in Londonderry. Adkins cofounded a medical device startup with Paul Holzer, a former Navy Seal and current medical student at Dartmouth, who performed “voter contact strategy” for Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s 2014 campaign. (Baker, America’s most popular governor, is an avowed #NeverTrumper.)
Holzner, who briefly studied at MIT in 2009 before heading back to Afghanistan for a fourth combat deployment, served on the “management and strategy team” of Missourians For John Brunner, another Republican gubernatorial candidate. He’s also listed as the cofounder of the Boston nonprofit XenoTherapeutics, which appears to conduct research on skin grafts for burn victims.
“Part of the agreement with any client is that you sign a non-disclosure agreement, so I won’t discuss any specific work done for any specific client,” Holzner told Fortune. “Most people would say full-time is 40 hours, but every waking hour for me is a workday. So I’m at XenoTherapeutics full-time, at Dartmouth full-time and, on the side, I’ve got another way to pay the bills—since being a student and running a small nonprofit aren’t very lucrative. The Wright Brothers built bikes; I build spreadsheets.”
Holzner emphasized there was “nothing untoward” about Draper Sterling’s work, and cryptically indicated that the firm may turn up on future FEC reports as “success begets success.”
An FEC complaint filed in May by economics professor Aaron Hedlund notes that “Patriots for America,” a super PAC involved in the Missouri gubernatorial race, listed a $56,234 debt to “Draper Sterling LLC” for “business consulting.” Patriots for America, as ThinkProgess’ Judd Legum found, as run by Adam McLain—Holzer’s brother.
Patriots for America’s listed number reaches a voicemail for Grace’s Grantham Cafe, a New Hampshire coffee shop boasting “great New England flavors, the New Hampshire spirit, with a touch of Southern Hospitality.”
A spokesperson for Gov. Baker did not immediately return a request for comment on his current relationship with Holzner.