(WASHINGTON) --The Trump campaign rolled out its official "Latinos for Trump" coalition two weeks ago with a blockbuster event featuring Vice President Mike Pence in Miami—but behind the scenes— tensions between the campaign and Latino surrogates from the last election had been boiling over for months.
Several Latino organizers who say they’ve spent the past few years working on building support for the president in Hispanic communities tell ABC News they felt shunned and ignored when they heard the Trump campaign was launching its own “Latinos for Trump” coalition, using the same name they’d worked under since the 2016 election, without their involvement.
Over the last few months, as the campaign pushed its outreach efforts in Hispanic communities, pro-Trump Latino advocates and surrogates have been in an internal war of words and legal threats with the president’s reelection campaign over its decision to launch their own Latino coalition under the same name in late June. Since April, the Trump campaign has issued multiple cease and desist letters threatening legal action against the "Latinos for Trump" organization, according to documents provided to ABC News. The campaign also filed a letter to the Federal Election Commission disavowing the group. The group continues to solicit donations on its website despite the campaign's multiple requests.
“After all this time spent, they are cannibalizing and taking credit for our work," Gutierrez, the "Latinos for Trump" president, tells ABC News. Gutierrez also worked alongside the 2016 Trump campaign as a surrogate for Hispanic outreach. He made national headlines during the 2016 election cycle for warning that there would be “taco trucks on every corner” if Trump wasn’t elected.
Ileana Garcia, co-founder of a separate pro-Trump Latino organization “Latinas for Trump,” and former deputy press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security under the Trump administration, also tells ABC News she was stunned to hear the campaign "refused to embrace surrogates from the Latino community who did the real groundwork, took the bullets, took the insults and lost their jobs.”
“It's actually quite disappointing,” Garcia said, who left the Trump administration in March of this year.
The dispute comes as the Trump campaign continues to ramp up efforts to attract Hispanic voters, hoping to capitalize on the president's performance in the 2016 election when he took 29 percent of the Latino vote, barely topping 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who took 27 percent of the Latino vote in 2012.
However, President Trump's 2016 performance still trails far behind President George W. Bush's support among Latinos voters.
Latinos are poised to become the largest minority voting bloc during the 2020 cycle.
But some in the community view this latest tussle as an example of the campaign not respecting the work that those in Hispanic communities have done on the ground to push the president’s message amid heightened levels of scrutiny and backlash.
“Maybe this is why Hispanics don't get involved with this stuff because a lot of us Latinos feel used—And used in a not accepting way,” Gutierrez said, though the long-time Trump supporter maintains that he still will work to see the president reelected.
Gutierrez’s “Latinos for Trump” group dates back to September 2016. Since then, Gutierrez says his non-profit organization has helped organize dozens of events in Latino communities during the president’s last campaign and into his presidency. And with nearly 30,000 Facebook followers, the pro-Trump Latino organization currently has a significantly larger social media presence than the newly verified and campaign sanctioned group under the same— which has yet to cross 3,000 likes.
Over the course of the reporting of this story, Gutierrez was removed as president of "Latinos for Trump" organization he founded during the 2016 election "due to breaching his non-disclosure agreement," according to a press release.
Trump supporter Jazmina Saavedra, who’s worked in California as "Latinos for Trump" spokesperson since the organization’s inception during the 2016 election, also told ABC News in an interview that she was shocked to hear the campaign was moving forward without their group’s involvement.
“We all said, 'What's going on?' We started calling each other asking if anyone was invited and no one was,” Saavedra said after hearing about the Miami roll out in June. “President Trump needs to know who are the people who really support him and who really created the moment,” she added.
In a statement to ABC News, a Trump campaign spokesperson said that while they appreciate the support, the campaign reserves its right to delineate which groups are officially sanctioned by the president’s reelection team.
“We appreciate the enthusiasm that President Trump inspires and the amount of time and effort his supporters have put into his election and re-election. President Trump’s strong record of accomplishment for Latinos – and all Americans – motivates people at the grassroots level. The campaign has a responsibility, however, to make clear which coalitions are official and sanctioned by the campaign,” the Trump campaign told ABC News.
“It’s great that activists want to help the President’s reelection. But raising money for themselves in his name and actually trying to trademark his name are not the ways to do it,” the campaign official added.
But while Latinos for Trump, which lists Moni Casarez as a treasurer, has been registered with the FEC as a political action committee since August 2018, it has barely been active. So far this year, the only donation has come from treasurer Casarez -- $242,45 on Feb. 11 -- and the only expenditures were a total of $334 to Trademarkengine.com for "trademark our name & logo" in January.
In response to Gutierrez and others criticizing the reelection campaign for using the name the group has worked under for years, the Trump campaign says President Trump selected "Latinos for Trump" for the coalition without any prior knowledge of Gutierrez's work or organization.
The White House official Twitter account retweeted a tweet by Gutierrez's "Latinos for Trump" group as recently as a month before the campaign rolled out its coalition under the same name.
Long-time Latino pro-Trump surrogates say not only is the campaign using their “Latinos for Trump” name, but they also placed a number of high-profile, GOP establishment Latino leaders at the helm of its own coalition—including some who’ve publicly blasted the president’s record in the community.
The campaign named Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez co-chair for its Latino outreach coalition, despite Nuñez’s history of criticizing the president, including calling Trump a supporter of the Ku Klux Klan during the 2016 election cycle.
“Wake up Florida voters, Trump is the biggest con-man there is,” Nuñez wrote in a now-deleted tweet while she was supporting Sen. Marco Rubio’s failed 2016 presidential campaign.
Nuñez’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
And for some Latino surrogates who say they've spent the past few years working to build support in Hispanic communities for Trump, having the newly established Trump campaign coalition lead by those who didn’t support the president during the slog of the 2016 election feels like a slap in the face.
“It's something that we don't understand —How do these people continue to make up this board and be close to the Trump campaign if they're not even pro-Trump? We feel that the people on the ground who have the scars of the moment—they don't acknowledge them," Gutierrez said.
In late April, weeks before the Trump campaign’s Miami event, Trump campaign lawyers sent multiple cease and desist letters threatening legal action against Gutierrez and his pro-Trump organization, according to documents provided to ABC News and confirmed by the Trump campaign. The campaign demanded that all of Gutierrez’s websites and social media accounts related to “Latinos for Trump” add disclaimers noting that the organization was not endorsed or authorized by the president or the campaign.
Over the next few weeks, Gutierrez’s "Latinos for Trump" organization exchanged multiple heated letters with Trump campaign lawyers— including one where the Trump campaign slammed the group's "tone" during the discussions. “Rather than complying with the campaign's fair and reasonable requests, it appears that LFT has chosen a much more obstructionist path," Trump campaign lawyer Amy D. Carli wrote in a letter obtained by ABC News and confirmed by the Trump campaign.
In one letter to the campaign, Gutierrez’s organization also claimed to have trademarked “Latinos for Trump” name. However, according to the US Patent and Trademark Office database, “Latinos for Trump” received an "initial refusal" from the office in late April because the name of the group contains the name of "a particular living individual" without their consent.
This isn’t the first time the president's re-election campaign has tussled with outside pro-Trump groups using the presidents likeness. Back in May, ABC News first reported that the campaign had filed a FEC notice of disavowal with former Trump campaign staffer Corey Stewart’s Keep America Great superPAC. Stewart promptly lashed out, telling ABC News he's "starting to feel like an abused dog who keeps getting kicked trying to help the president out."
The campaign also called out "any organization that deceptively uses the President's name, likeness, trademarks, or branding and confuses voters" after news broke that former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie had raised millions of dollars using the president's likeness.
The splintering emerging from outside pro-Trump groups appears to be in part the result of a once insurgent campaign and movement evolving into a more conventional and professional organization around an incumbent president candidate.
"These are now marginalized grifters," Mike Madrid, a veteran Republican political consultant who opposes the president told ABC News. Madrid sees these early rifts between political outsiders who jumped on the Trump train in 2016 and the reelection campaign as a sign of things to come.
"These are people who picked up these titles, created these titles, when nobody else would touch it. And because this is amateur hour, once those titles are taken from them, their entire identity goes away," Madrid added.
The Trump campaign is now staffed now with political veterans, the RNC is fully backing the effort, granting even more traditional resources and staffing. And as the campaign looks to minimize the number of voices speaking on behalf of the president of the unified states, those who helped build that 2016 insurgent campaign are starting to feel the movement they worked years on is leaving them behind.
However, despite the contentious relationship with the campaign, Gutierrez says he is considering changing the name of the group to “Latinos for Trump Network” to continue his work supporting the president. However, it’s clear that recent events have rocked his political ambitions.
"I still support the president and his re-election,” Gutierrez said. “But those around him need to be more inclusive to immigrants like me.”
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