Trump Fumes at Top MAGA Policy Group Over Millions He Claims Are His

america first agenda summit trump

His former aide has been making bank off his name for years and he wants his cut, right now. At least that’s how former President Donald Trump sees it. 

“It’s my fucking money!” the 2024 Republican presidential frontrunner privately vented in October, referring to an alleged sum in the tens of millions of dollars, a source with direct knowledge of the matter tells Rolling Stone.

Trump wasn’t talking about a business deal. Rather, he’s been grumbling about money donated to a think tank his former staffers and allies founded in 2021 to “advance the America First agenda.”

For several months now, according to three people with knowledge of the situation, the former president has complained to an array of confidants and Republicans about the millions raised by the America First Policy Institute, a MAGAfied think tank launched near the start of his post-presidency. The nonprofit is populated by several former high-ranking Trump administration officials, including Larry Kudlow, Rick Perry, and Linda McMahon, and it’s led by Brooke Rollins, who served as a top White House domestic policy aide to Trump. AFPI is one of several Trump-aligned organizations and think tanks working to craft an intellectual framework for hardline policies, ranging from voter crackdowns to potentially invading Mexico.

In the ex-president’s mind, Rollins was making a “killing” off of his name, sources recount, and was stiffing Trump. “It’s not right,” the former president has groused in recent months. 

Doing what Trump has privately suggested would raise several legal issues, four experts told Rolling Stone. AFPI is a tax-exempt, educational nonprofit and is expressly barred under IRS rules from spending money on elections or donating to a political candidate like Trump. Given that Trump is a candidate for office, paying him personally could be seen as attempting to aid a political campaign. One of the experts pointed out that tax-exempt nonprofits must also operate for public benefit, and they cannot disproportionately benefit private individuals or pay them more than fair market value for their services.

“I don’t even know if she would legally be allowed to give him all that money, to be honest with you,” says a person close to the former president. “It’s not like [Rollins] got caught selling a bunch of knockoff Trump ties.” 

The unrealistic and likely unwarranted complaints underscore Trump’s efforts to determine which operatives and groups would hold sway in his future administration, as well as concerns about his soaring legal costs related to four indictments, plus accusations of fraud, sexual misconduct, defamation, and more. For years, the former president has also been viscerally sensitive to any sign, real or imagined, that somebody is raising money off of his image or name without his explicit permission.

It’s unclear if Trump actually knows the total amount of what AFPI has raised over the years, but in different conversations this year with close associates, Trump has alternately claimed it’s anywhere from tens of millions to as much as $60 million. (AFPI’s tax filings show the group reported $38 million in revenue from 2021-22.)

Trump has stated his belief that this money is held in an account by “Brooke,” and that she can easily transfer it to him, personally, if she wanted to do so. In some of his discussions on the topic, Trump has said that he’s willing to settle for “just half” of the haul, two of the people with knowledge of the matter say. He’s suggested he’ll let Rollins off easy, and “she can keep” the rest of the cash.

This has become such a common complaint from Trump that members of his campaign staff, longtime political allies, attorneys advising him, media pals, GOP lawmakers, and former elected officials have all heard about it from Trump, according to the three sources. The grievance baffles some of Trump’s associates, as it demonstrates how warped the former president’s understanding is of money, organization, and the law.

Trump has at times asked if “the lawyers” should get involved in this supposed financial matter with Rollins and AFPI. (“I said that was a bad idea,” one of the people who Trump discussed this with bluntly says.) To be clear, there’s no real reason the think tank should give Trump cash, and there are obvious legal reasons for it not to do so. 

The sources add that Trump has been consistently, gently told that it’s not Rollins’ cash, but money raised for a nonprofit group.

No matter how many times this has been explained to the former (and possibly future) leader of the free world, he apparently refuses to accept the logic. He fires back that the only reason the think tank and other MAGA-friendly groups get so many donations is because of Trump’s name and “my brand,” and therefore, he’s entitled to a substantial cut.

When contacted by Rolling Stone, Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung emailed a blanket denial in response to details of this reporting: “None of these conversations ever happened, and these sources who pretend to speak for President Trump clearly have their own agenda so they’ve fabricated elaborate stories to make it seem like they know what’s going on,” he said. “America First-aligned organizations exist because of President Trump and the movement he created, and we look forward to their continued work.”

Marc Lotter, AFPI’s chief communications director, wrote in an email: “This story is typical FAKE NEWS and is easily disproven with the simple fact in the past three years President Trump has headlined a half dozen events for AFPI, including our Hispanic leadership conference in Miami, his first return trip to Washington, D.C., the Big Tech lawsuit, and three fundraising events at Mar-a-Lago, as recently as last month.”

AFPI’s board of directors includes several megadonors to Trump and the GOP. McMahon, who chairs AFPI’s board, served as administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration under Trump. During the 2020 election cycle, she helmed a pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, and poured $16 million into the group. 

According to its 2022 tax return, AFPI’s board has included Florida Scientologist Trish Duggan, who previously donated $9 million to America First Action and gave $5 million to another pro-Trump outside group this year. Goya Foods CEO Robert Unanue, a director on the AFPI board and 2020 election denier, donated $100,000 to the Trump Victory committee during the 2020 campaign. 

Florida businessman Mark Pentecost was a new addition to AFPI’s board in 2022. While Pentecost has little history of political giving, in 2021 his family foundation donated $10 million to a Georgia church whose senior pastor previously served as an evangelical adviser to Trump, according to research provided by the progressive watchdog group Accountable.US. Pentecost’s multi-level marketing company has pitched “skinny coffees” and other weight-loss products to young women on TikTok. A Business Insider report last year called the products “scientifically dubious and potentially dangerous.”

Other AFPI board members include Texas oil tycoons Tim Dunn and Cody Campbell, as well as informal Trump adviser and former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

Trump’s fuming over the “millions and millions” raised by AFPI has helped chill his relationship with Rollins, his onetime senior aide, this year. It also adds to the list of reasons why the ex-president and his campaign lieutenants now view AFPI and other allied right-wing operations with growing resentment and caution. 

“Eight of Trump’s former cabinet members and 20 former White House senior staff joined AFPI to promote the America First policies proven to help all Americans and stop the horrible damage done to our country by Joe Biden’s Administration. Those leaders, including Brooke, remain in constant contact with the former president and our friends who are advising him,” said Lotter, AFPI’s chief communications director. “Anyone who suggests otherwise shows little ‘actual knowledge,’ as evidenced by their fear to be identified and talking to Rolling Stone, a website with stage 5 Trump Derangement Syndrome.”

At the heart of all the pettiness is the matter of who or what organizations will hold the keys to influence on personnel and policy decisions if Trump reconquers the White House next year. 

On one end, you have an assortment of groups, composed of MAGA true believers and also “establishment” Republicans, who are angling to shape the next GOP administration. On the other end is Trump’s determination not to be “handled” or undermined, as he often complains he was during his first term, by the so-called old guard of his party who think they know better than a former game-show host and TV celebrity does.

These two spheres often align and agree. However, Trump and a number of his most dedicated policy diehards are trying to pre-bake a government-in-waiting that will look like his own wholly owned subsidiary, rather than a constellation of independent departments. And the former president wants to send a clear message — roughly a year out from his expected rematch against President Joe Biden — to other party leaders and activists currently jockeying for influence. 

During Trump’s post-presidency, AFPI has attempted to brand itself as a “White House in waiting,” should he win in 2024. Indeed, the group is one of several organizations and networks that are providing detailed blueprints for a possible second Trump administration, and hoping to guide senior and mid-level hiring.

In recent weeks, the leadership of Trump’s presidential campaign has publicly cautioned these groups to ratchet it down.

“Despite our being crystal clear, some ‘allies’ haven’t gotten the hint,” Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita, two of Trump’s top campaign advisers, said in a written statement in early December. “Let us be very specific here: Unless a message is coming directly from President Trump or an authorized member of his campaign team, no aspect of future presidential staffing or policy announcements should be deemed official. Let us be even more specific, and blunt: People publicly discussing potential administration jobs for themselves or their friends are, in fact, hurting President Trump… and themselves.”

Trump, Wiles and LaCivita added, “is not interested in, nor does he condone, selfish efforts by ‘desk hunters.’”


The jabs were directed at various actors. But there was no question that a share of Trump and his staff’s irritation was aimed right at Rollins and AFPI, according to multiple advisers and sources close to the ex-president.

As one Trump adviser succinctly tells Rolling Stone, “The thing AFPI and all of them need to remember is: You are not running the show. Donald J. Trump is running the fucking show.”

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