Trumpworld Turns on One of Its Own Over New ‘Panhandler’ PAC

Until recently, he was considered the “Mayor of Mar-a-Lago.” But now that he has a rival Trump super PAC, sources told The Daily Beast he’s being called “the Patio Panhandler.”Published Mar. 05, 2024 4:46AM EST exclusivePhoto Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/GettyDonald Trump’s political and personal worlds are often one and the same, so closely intertwined that distinctions

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Until recently, he was considered the “Mayor of Mar-a-Lago.” But now that he has a rival Trump super PAC, sources told The Daily Beast he’s being called “the Patio Panhandler.”

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A photo illustration of former President Donald Trump and money swirling around him.

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

Donald Trump’s political and personal worlds are often one and the same, so closely intertwined that distinctions between the two are almost meaningless. But the man behind a new upstart super PAC supporting Trump’s candidacy has somehow managed to find a way to cross even those tightly knit wires, sowing confusion—at a critical time—among Trump megadonors, strategists, and the Mar-a-Lago patio set.

That man, Trumpworld social climber Sergio Gor—known to insiders as the “Mayor of Mar-a-Lago”—has forged tight friendships in the MAGAsphere, growing particularly close to Trump and his family.

But Gor appears to be risking those relationships by starting a new super PAC, with some sources close to Trump claiming the new group serves Gor’s personal ambitions more than the intricate political operation.

“It’s a power play and a financial play,” one of those sources told The Daily Beast, describing the professionalism of the nascent PAC as “almost laughable.”

“Sergio’s obviously just trying to find a new way to line his pockets,” this source claimed. (The group is still too young to have released any financial records—its first disclosure is due in April—so it’s unclear whether Gor or entities tied to him have received any money from the new PAC.)

Still, other people close to Trump shared concerns about Gor’s intentions, claiming to The Daily Beast that the new group is viewed not as an act of goodwill, but as a means to cash in on the former president’s re-election bid.

“He basically found a way to make himself rich,” another Trumpworld source said.

Gor declined repeated invitations to comment on this article.

Gor’s stumble is perhaps best captured by the demotion that Mar-a-Lago members have given him with his nickname. While formerly known as “the Mayor of Mar-a-Lago,” he’s now been re-christened, three people familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast, as “the Patio Panhandler.”

Although Gor appears to have crossed some boundaries for operatives in Trumpworld, the view of Gor as a grifter wasn’t universal. Some sources attributed the concerns to personal grievances rather than legitimate complaints about the PAC. Others suggested it was just standard Trumpworld sniping.

“Sergio is a trusted friend and adviser to the Trump family,” one source close to the family told The Daily Beast. “It’s safe to assume that none of the people complaining about Sergio are similarly situated in Trumpworld, so you can chalk their comments up to sour grapes and jealousy.”

But multiple sources skeptical of Gor’s super PAC moves were also open about their personal fondness for him, a contrast that they characterized as demonstrating the validity and specificity of their criticism.

Gor, a close friend of Trump’s oldest child—Donald Trump Jr.—has made himself a mainstay at Mar-a-Lago, where he chops it up with club members, politicos, socialites, and other VIPs, occasionally occupying a chair next to Trump himself on the patio. He also has his hand in the political cookie jar, running two related political publishing entities, including Winning Team—an imprint co-founded with Don Jr. that has become a go-to for MAGAworld luminaries, selling both of Trump’s post-presidential books and reaping windfalls from an array of political sales.

Gor—who left his post as deputy chief of staff to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to join the Trump team’s high-dollar fundraising operation in 2020—has also reportedly leveraged his consultancy abroad, forging ties between the MAGAsphere and the right-wing former president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, ahead of Bolsonaro’s own attempted election defiance in 2022.

Since Gor joined Trumpworld, about $1.5 million in political payments from Trump and MAGA allies have flowed to his two related entities, Federal Election Commission records show. By contrast, Gor has personally contributed $2,500 in his lifetime, according to those records.

Sergio Gor accompanies his former boss, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) through a group of supporters in Las Vegas in 2src15.

Sergio Gor accompanies his former boss, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) through a group of supporters in Las Vegas in 2015.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

But in January, Gor stepped up as CEO of a new pro-Trump super PAC called “Right For America.” The group is planning to put tens of millions of dollars behind Trump’s re-election efforts and already boasts a major commitment from Trump megadonor—and former Marvel Entertainment mogul—Ike Perlmutter, as Axios reported last month.

(Perlmutter reportedly committed to cutting a major check last summer to the other pro-Trump super PAC, “Make America Great Again Inc,” but FEC records show the check that was proverbially in the mail never actually arrived. He did not respond to The Daily Beast’s emailed questions.)

Despite Gor’s résumé, four people close to Trump told The Daily Beast that Gor does not have the experience or acumen to run an A-list outside group in such a high-stakes election. These people also noted that Trump already blessed a super PAC—the deep-pocketed MAGA Inc—which has, in its various iterations, served as the one-stop shop for MAGA megadonors over the last three years. The dual groups could give rise to competition, tensions, and even contradictions in donor solicitations, messaging, spending, and political strategy.

To that end, Trump’s political team does not generally understand what gaps Gor thinks he’s filling with the new group, these four sources said. Two people close to Trump said the group appears to be something of a bespoke outlet for Perlmutter, who could exert direct control over spending and messaging—decisions that he couldn’t directly impact with the larger, established MAGA Inc. (Last month, The New York Times reported that Trump had told people close to him that the new group’s ads would be produced by Perlmutter associates in Hollywood.)

But these sources contended that Gor’s attempt to insert himself into the race smacks of personal grift rather than a helpful contribution to the re-election efforts, noting little upside to the arrangement and plenty of potential downside.

According to one person close to Trump, Gor was upset that he “didn’t get the keys to the kingdom” when the 2024 operation first took shape.

“Sergio wanted a flashy title, chairman or director of this or that, but that didn’t happen, and that doesn’t get you as much gravitas on the patio,” this person said, noting that those groups generally don’t have a lot of built-in hierarchy, and swanky titles aren’t easy to come by.

“But Sergio does get that kind of title with this super PAC, even though he gave it to himself,” this source said.

While most of these sources said they personally liked Gor, they were clear that his freelance project has rubbed much of Trumpworld the wrong way.

“Sergio has redeemed himself a lot since 2020,” one source said, “but with this we’re seeing the bad Sergio Gor again, and I hope that side goes away.”

Generally considered a fixture in Trumpworld, Gor has become a bit of a divisive figure—if not a fascination. For starters, Gor’s patio status is unusual. Most members pay an initiation fee of at least $200,000 on top of their monthly bill. But Gor was given the opportunity to join on a payment plan, according to three people familiar with the matter. That special treatment, these people said, appeared to clash with his super PAC chiefdom.

“Other MAL members are like ‘Wait, you gave the Patio Panhandler a payment plan so he can annoy the shit out of us begging for money on the patio when we just want to be left alone in peace?’” one source close to Trump told The Daily Beast.

Originally a welcome presence, Gor has since started to “ruffle feathers” of other Mar-a-Lago members, according to another person close to Trump. That view has sharpened with the advent of the super PAC, leaving club members feeling as though Gor is “leveraging his membership to benefit himself personally.”

While the PAC is said to have Trump’s blessing, people close to the former president interpret that less as a stamp of approval and more like a temporary license for a test run.

“Does Trump view Ike’s money as useful to getting re-elected? Yes,” one of the sources told The Daily Beast, explaining that Trump is willing to give Gor a chance to deliver on that promise. “Sergio gets to say it’s blessed when really it’s just Trump saying ‘Let’s see what happens.’”

In all, four sources close to Trump viewed the “blessing” this same way. All of them noted that not many people seem to have been taken in by Gor’s pitch that he created this PAC solely as a way to help Trump. Rather, these sources said, the super PAC is mainly seen as a vehicle for Gor to enrich himself at the expense of Trump’s re-election bid, as one source familiar put it.

In other words, Gor’s profit could come at a political cost for Trump.

Until now, MAGA Inc has been the only super PAC game in Trumptown. But Right For America’s surprise debut in Axios last month sent confusion rippling through the ranks of wealthy donors eager to support the former president’s quest to reclaim the White House.

“One thousand percent that’s happening—how could it not?” a person with knowledge of the situation told The Daily Beast, explaining that donors were “almost immediately” calling Trump’s political team, asking who they should be giving to and if anything about the setup had changed.

“It’s a disservice to the president, where he has selfishly created this environment where donors are confused, and at a critical time,” this person said.

As the primary heads into Super Tuesday, cash is tight for Trump’s official political committees. Alarms have been flashing for his campaign, his “Save America” leadership PAC, and his joint fundraising vehicle—with MAGA Inc still committed to sending another nearly $20 million back to Save America to help cover personal legal costs for Trump and select allies.

But another source close to Trump downplayed any mixed messaging, telling The Daily Beast that initial confusion among donors would likely have been in reaction to the announcement, not due to Right For America dipping its cup into MAGA Inc’s donor well.

“This is more of a targeted group, getting money from friends and family who want to donate,” the person explained. “They’re not going to be out holding fundraising events, things like that.”

MAGA Inc, however, is still holding events and continuing on its charted course with no signs of any contentions from Trump. That work, however, doesn’t merely entail raising fistfuls of cash and then shoveling it into ads. Modern super PAC operations are layered and sophisticated, both responsive and proactive, and not typically well-suited to newcomers.

It also presents a number of practical challenges. Just because an outside group is drowning in cash doesn’t mean it will be successful—the slow-motion implosion of the pro-Ron DeSantis “Never Back Down” super PAC provides one fresh example. An effective group requires a cohesive plan, dedicated strategists, and proper staffing, as well as a fully fledged research and data operation.

These teams have to work well together under immense pressure, while trying to read and predict the moves of voters, opponents, and the candidate they support. They must also present and justify this work to wealthy donors, who often boast business and finance pedigrees themselves and care deeply about how their money is spent.

People close to Trump are expressing concerns that, when it comes to Gor’s group, those qualities are in short supply.

“Super PACs are complex, not just about placing ads—you have to have the infrastructure in place, the relationships, the strategy, and we’ve got all that down in Trumpworld. This is still basically just Sergio and Perlmutter,” one source told The Daily Beast. “Where’s your insight? Where’s your strategy? It doesn’t have those same fingerprints of a serious group and it will not.”

That same complexity, along with the fact that super PACs are forbidden from coordinating directly with candidates or campaigns, also makes super PAC pockets ripe for exploitation. (Two people close to Trump said that this same coordination rule could also complicate Right For America’s operations, to the extent they’re centered on Mar-a-Lago.) Super PAC consultants can charge cush margins for services like ad placement, media production, fundraising, and strategic advice. That fact also troubled the waters for Never Back Down, which sent tens of millions of dollars to firms owned by its consultant-founder, Jeff Roe.

In his 2020 bid, Trump had multiple super PACs supporting his effort, including most prominently America First Action, helmed by Brian O. Walsh, and Preserve America PAC, led by Chris LaCivita, who’s now running Trump’s campaign.

While Gor helms Right For America, he isn’t the group’s only official. The super PAC’s board also counts two other Trump donors—Anthony Lomangino and Lee Rizzuto.

One person close to Trump said that Rizzuto and Lomangino are viewed as “great friends and supporters” of the former president, and an example that Right For America should keep in mind.

“People don’t want them being taken advantage of,” the source said.

“They’re sincerely under the impression that, in their words, ‘nobody is making money on this,’ when all the seasoned donors who’ve come across Sergio take one look at what they are pitching and realize these guys are just being taken for a ride,” the person said.

Rizzuto, who is listed as RFA’s treasurer on its initial filing with the FEC, is an heir to the Conair beauty product fortune, a major Trump donor, and another fixture on the Mar-a-Lago patio. In 2016, Rizzuto posted a number of conspiracy theories about Trump’s Republican primary rivals, which came back two years later to help tank his nomination as ambassador to Bermuda in the GOP-controlled Senate. In 2020, Trump appointed Rizzuto as consul general to Bermuda, a position that doesn’t require Senate confirmation, sparking days of protests on the island and a petition protesting his appointment reportedly 35,000 names long.

Another Mar-a-Lago mainstay, Lomangino derives his wealth from the garbage empire he built in New York City. He later sold his empire for a small fortune and headed south to set up shop in Florida. But his Palm Beach operations were swept up in a massive legal dispute, with a judge reversing a $20 million jury award in Lomangino’s favor last summer; the next month, a mystery buyer reportedly snatched up a $43.5 million home Lomangino had been developing on “Billionaire’s Row,” five miles south of Mar-a-Lago.

Lomangino has contributed $500,000 to MAGA Inc since November 2022, FEC records show. But Rizzuto, like Perlmutter, has never donated to the group.

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