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The Weird Story Behind The Trump Campaign’s $35,000 Payment To ‘Draper Sterling’

CREDIT: PHOTO BY EVAN AGOSTINI/INVISION/AP
CREDIT: PHOTO BY EVAN AGOSTINI/INVISION/AP

On Monday night, the Trump campaign filed its monthly Federal Election Commission campaign disclosure report for May. The headline was that his fundraising was anemic and he finished the month with just $1.3 million on hand, a pittance for a presidential nominee.

But buried in Trump’s 1699-page report was something much weirder. The Trump campaign made $35,000 in payments to an entity called “Draper Sterling” for “web advertising.” Three $10,000 payments and one $5,000 payment were placed on the campaign’s American Express card on the same day.

Draper and Sterling, of course, are the fictional names of the two lead characters in Mad Men, the hit AMC show about advertising.

Draper Sterling was registered with the New Hampshire Secretary of State to Jon Adkins, the co-founder of a medical device startup. Its headquarters is Adkins’ home address in residential New Hampshire.

Adkins co-founded the medical device company with Paul Holzer, a former Navy Seal and current medical student at Dartmouth. Holzer was involved in Charlie Baker’s run for governor in 2014 — he ran the campaign’s “voter contact strategy.” He was also part of the “management and strategy team” for Missourians For John Brunner, a candidate for governor.

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Trump paid an additional $3,000 each to Holzer and Adkins in May for “field consulting.” Holzer listed Adkins’ home as his address.

This is when things get interesting.

The only other apparent public mention of Draper Sterling effectively accuses it of being a scam that helps perpetrate legally questionable activity.

It comes from an FEC complaint against an entity called “Patriots For America,” a federal super PAC seeking to influence the Missouri governor’s race. The complaint, filed on May 12 by an economics professor named Aaron Hedlund, alleges that Patriots For America listed no receipts or disbursements on its FEC filings, yet sent out direct mail.

It also highlights an unusual debt of $56,234 to “Draper Sterling LLC” for “business consulting.” Hedlund describes the debt as “mysterious,” “highly unusual” and a potential violation of the law.

Patriots for America is run by Adam McLain, who is Paul Holzer’s brother.

To recap, there is a nexus between Jon Adkins, Paul Holzer and Adam McLain that meets at the mysterious Draper Sterling. We still aren’t sure what Draper Sterling actually does but these individuals are going to considerable lengths to obfuscate their activities.

This is where things get really weird.

The number listed by McLain for “Patriots For America” forwards to a voicemail for Grace’s Grantham Cafe, a New Hampshire coffee shop that, according to its website, was supposed to open on Memorial Day. Grace’s Grantham Cafe is registered to Jon Adkins, the same person who registered Draper Sterling.

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When ThinkProgress called Grace’s Grantham Cafe directly on the number listed on its website, Adam McLain answered. (McLain’s super PAC filing says he lives Virginia.)

Asked about his connection to Draper Sterling and what services it provided to his super PAC, McLain said he had “no comment.” Asked whether Grace’s Grantham Cafe was a real cafe that has opened, McLain said he had “no comment.” Asked whether Paul Holzer was his brother, McLain also said he had “no comment.” McLain said he didn’t find the questions “relevant.”

Neither Adkins or Holzer immediately returned inquires from ThinkProgress. Holzer spoke to Fortune and confirmed that he worked for Draper Sterling but refused to discuss the nature of his work, citing “a non-disclosure agreement.” He also compared his work to the Wright Brothers.

An inquiry to the Trump campaign about what services Draper Sterling provided was also not immediately returned.

Late last night, however, Republican operative Matt Mackowiak tweeted that the Trump campaign was doing a “forensic audit” of ousted campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s spending.

A Republican consultant familiar with McLain and Holzer described Draper Sterling as “a front for Paul Holzer” and speculated that it was more likely that Adam McLain was doing the actual work and Holzer was “taking a cut.”

What exactly is Draper Sterling and what did they do for the Trump campaign? It is not yet entirely clear.

What is clear is that the Trump campaign finance report is a mess. They might want to take some advice from the real, fake, Don Draper.

Additional reporting by Josh Israel.

Update:

This morning, the bios of Jon Adkins and Paul Holzer, two individuals associated with Draper Sterling, were deleted from the website of Xeno Therapeutics, the medical device company they founded. Here is a screenshot of the deleted page, taken at about 12:15AM Tuesday morning:

Update:

The entire website for Xeno Therapeutics, the medical device company founded by the Jon Adkins and Paul Holzer, has been taken offline. It now goes to a password protected page.

Update:

As of approximately 3PM EST, the Xeno Therapeutics website is back up.

Update:

This piece was updated with Paul Holzer’s comments to Fortune.