Donald Trump Jr. event canceled after Chase bank ends deal with Missouri conservative group

Event in St. Charles with ex-president’s son, expected to draw 3,000, in limbo after company reverses course

By: - November 17, 2021 4:44 pm
Donald Trump Jr. speaks

Donald Trump Jr. speaks during a rally on July 3, 2021 in Sarasota, Florida (Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images).

The biggest bank in the United States is walking back its refusal to do business with a Missouri conservative group that forced cancellation of an event next month featuring Donald Trump Jr.

The Defense of Liberty PAC hired WePay, a payment processor owned by JPMorgan Chase, for the Dec. 3 event at the St. Charles Convention Center, the group’s founder, former state Rep. Paul Curtman, said Wednesday. 

On Nov. 9, the company notified Curtman that it had canceled the contract, refunded the $30,000 already paid for tickets and would not do business with the group in the future.

The message cited an entry placed under the general heading of “Illegal” in the WePay list of prohibited activities.

“It seems you’re using WePay Payments for one or more of the activities prohibited by our terms of service,” a copy of the message, forwarded to The Independent, states. “More specifically: Per our terms of service, we are unable to process for hate, violence, racial intolerance, terrorism, the financial exploitation of a crime, or items or activities that encourage, promote, facilitate, or instruct others regarding the same.”

On Wednesday night, after The Independent reported that the event was canceled and the reason, a spokesperson for JPMorgan Chase wrote in an email that the decision had been a mistake.

“After further review, we determined that this organization didn’t violate the terms of service, and we are reaching out to the client to discuss reinstating the account,” the statement read. “To be clear, we have never and would never close an account due to a client’s political affiliation.”

Curtman could not be reached after the JPMorgan Chase email to The Independent.

In an interview before the reversal, Curtman said he was puzzled by the decision. WePay did not responded to his messages seeking more information, he said.

“My personal sense of why they did this is kind of along the same lines we have been seeing in our culture in recent years,” Curtman said. “If someone has a different idea politically, there is an attempt to silence them or shut them down.”

Trump Jr., is a target of venom from the left but popular as a speaker for conservative groups. It was going to be the second fundraising event since Defense of Liberty PAC organized in July.

“It threw a wrench right into the middle of everything,” Curtman said. “We had vendors and small businesses and other people who were relying on this as part of their business. We are going to get back on track.”

Curtman founded the Defense of Liberty group. He used that name for annual dinners while he was in office and has worked with Sen. Bill Eigel and former Sen. Jim Lembke to expand the organization and give it a higher profile. 

The political action committee held a fundraiser in August with conservative media personality Candace Owens.

That event drew about 1,200 people. The Trump Jr. appearance was expected to bring 3,000 people, Lembke said.

Lembke made the cancelation known Tuesday during an appearance on KFTK-97.1 radio in St. Louis.

“I think it directly speaks to a woke corporation that is trying to cancel free speech and specifically the speech of Donald Trump Jr.,” Lembke said Wednesday in an interview with The Independent.

JPMorgan Chase has the biggest market share of deposits of any bank in the country, surpassing Bank of America this year.

The Defense of Liberty PAC hired WePay because it offered services that fit the event, Lembke and Curtman said. They could handle a variety of ticket prices and the company’s costs were reasonable, they said.

“We have gotten to a point where the event has grown to such a size that we did not feel we could handle it in-house any more,” Lembke said.

The evening’s schedule included a $500 per person pre-event with Trump Jr. and a pricing plan for the auditorium with tickets ranging from $70 to $250 for front-row seats, Lembke said.

The group’s events have been drawing officeholders and conservative thought leaders, with an audience from throughout the Midwest, Curtman said.

“I can’t think of a single instance where anything we have done at any one of these events violates one of their terms of service,” Curtman said. “They are trying to shut us down because they don’t like our politics.”

This story has been updated since it was initially published.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget and the legislature. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent 22 of his 32 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics for the Columbia Daily Tribune, where he won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.