Report says Trump backed a bizarre grassroots campaign to smear Jon Bon Jovi

  • In 2014, Donald Trump lost to Terry Pegula in the bidding for the Buffalo Bills.
  • A new report says Trump secretly backed a grassroots campaign to smear Jon Bon Jovi in the Buffalo area.
  • The efforts of the group seemed to work but other factors kept it from helping Trump win the bidding.

In 2014, Terry Pegula, the owner of the Buffalo Sabres, agreed to buy the Buffalo Bills for an NFL-record price, $1.4 billion. But a new report suggests the more interesting — and perplexing — fight was behind the scenes between the other two bidders, Jon Bon Jovi and Donald Trump.

According to a story in GQ by Ben Schreckinger, Trump secretly backed a grassroots campaign to turn the people of Buffalo against Bon Jovi's group, which included investors from Canada, in an effort to "scare them off." 

RELATED: Jon Bon Jovi with Hillary Clinton

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Jon Bon Jovi with Hillary Clinton
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (R) applauds next to rocker Bon Jovi as she is introduced by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (unseen) during a campaigns stop at Rutgers University's Newark campus in Newark, New Jersey, U.S., June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
CHARLOTTE, NC, UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 6: Jon Bon Jovi holds a performance to campaign for Hillary Clinton during a public 'Get Out The Early Vote' event at the Filmore in Charlotte, North Carolina, United States on November 6, 2016. (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 06: North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper speaks during Get Out the Vote at The Fillmore Charlotte on November 6, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jeff Hahne/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, right, stands with singer Katy Perry during a campaign event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. Clinton's campaign has planned concerts by major artists including Jon Bon Jovi, Jennifer Lopez and Katy Perry to get out the vote in battleground states before election. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 06: Singer/guitarist Jon Bon Jovi performs for Get Out the Vote at The Fillmore Charlotte on November 6, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jeff Hahne/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, right, stands with singer Katy Perry during a campaign event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. Clinton's campaign has planned concerts by major artists including Jon Bon Jovi, Jennifer Lopez and Katy Perry to get out the vote in battleground states before election. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, center in white, speaks during a campaign event featuring singer Katy Perry, not pictured, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. Clinton's campaign has planned concerts by major artists including Jon Bon Jovi, Jennifer Lopez and Katy Perry to get out the vote in battleground states before election. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 20: Jon Bon Jovi of Bon Jovi performs on Broadway during the final Tidal X live listening party for the upcoming album 'This House Is Not For Sale' at the Barrymore Theatre on November 20, 2016 in New York City. The album will be released on November 4th. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton (R) and singer Jon Bon Jovi attend the Clinton Global Citizen Award in New York, U.S., September 19, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (C) stands next to rocker Bon Jovi as she is introduced by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker during a campaigns stop at Rutgers University's Newark campus in Newark, New Jersey, U.S., June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (R) applauds next to rocker Bon Jovi as she is introduced by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (unseen) during a campaigns stop at Rutgers University's Newark campus in Newark, New Jersey, U.S., June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, right, stands with singer Katy Perry during a campaign event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. Clinton's campaign has planned concerts by major artists including Jon Bon Jovi, Jennifer Lopez and Katy Perry to get out the vote in battleground states before election. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, center in white, speaks during a campaign event featuring singer Katy Perry, not pictured, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. Clinton's campaign has planned concerts by major artists including Jon Bon Jovi, Jennifer Lopez and Katy Perry to get out the vote in battleground states before election. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, right, looks on as singer Katy Perry shows of a coat reading 'I'm With Madam President' during a campaign event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. Clinton's campaign has planned concerts by major artists including Jon Bon Jovi, Jennifer Lopez and Katy Perry to get out the vote in battleground states before election. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 06: Singer/guitarist Jon Bon Jovi performs for Get Out the Vote at The Fillmore Charlotte on November 6, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jeff Hahne/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 06: Singer/guitarist Jon Bon Jovi performs for Get Out the Vote at The Fillmore Charlotte on November 6, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jeff Hahne/Getty Images)
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The former Trump adviser and Buffalo resident Michael Caputo told GQ that he secretly helped lead the campaign. Since he was a known associate of Trump, Caputo recruited local fans to serve as the faces of the group that called themselves "12th Man Thunder," including a double-amputee cancer survivor, who served as the leader.

"Trump knew he couldn't outbid the Canadians," Caputo told GQ. "I had it all set up with neighborhood guys who lived by the stadium."

The group rallied against Bon Jovi's group based on the speculation that they would attempt to move the team to Toronto if they won the bidding. At the time, the Bills were playing one home game each season in Toronto. The group's antics included "Bon Jovi-Free Zones" in local bars and a "Ban Bon Jovi" movement to rid the area of his group's music.

RELATED: Bon Jovi through the years

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Bon Jovi through the years
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Bon Jovi through the years
Bon Jovi 1985 Jon Bon Jovi (Photo by Chris Walter/WireImage)
SINGAPORE - SEPTEMBER 20: Musician Jon Bon Jovi of Bon Jovi performs live on stage on Day 3 at the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 20, 2015 in Singapore. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)
Jon Bon Jovi And Richie Sambora, Jon Bon Jovi And Richie Sambora (Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images)
AMERICAN BANDSTAND - 'Dance Contest' - Airdate June 11, 1985. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) BON JOVI
UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Jon Bon Jovi of Bon Jovi performs on stage circa 1986. (Photo by Mike Cameron/Redferns)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: Singer Jon Bon Jovi and bassist Alec John Such of Bon Jovi perform on stage circa 1987. (Photo by Richard E. Aaron/Redferns)
Jon Bon Jovi during Bon Jovi in Concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City - August 1, 1987 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Bon Jovi on 4/3/89 inMinneapolis, Mn. (Photo by Paul Natkin/WireImage)
Bon Jovi (Photo by Ke.Mazur/WireImage)
Jon Bon Jovi (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Jon Bon Jovi perfrms in concert circa 1992 in New York City. (Photo by L. Busacca/WireImage)
Jon Bon Jovi poses for photographs during the 'Bed of Roses' video shoot in 1993 in Death Valley, Nevada. (Photo by L. Busacca/WireImage)
Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
NEW YORK - 21st JULY: Jon Bon Jovi from American rock group Bon Jovi performs live on stage at Jones Beach on Long Island, New York on 21st July 1995. (Photo by David Corio/Redferns)
Bon Jovi Gibt Mini-Konzert Im Hamburger Cafe Fees . (Photo by Franziska Krug/Getty Images)
Jon Bon Jovi (Photo by Ke.Mazur/WireImage)
Jon Bon Jovi (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
UNDATED FILE PHOTO: Singer/musician Jon Bon Jovi. (Photo by In Focus/Richard Maw)
NETHERLANDS - SEPTEMBER 01: Photo of BON JOVI; 01-09-2000/BON JOVI/JOHN/GELREDOME/ARNHEM (Photo by Peter Pakvis/Redferns)
Will Ferrell, Jon Bon Jovi, and Jimmy Fallon (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
Jon Bon Jovi (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)
PHILADELPHIA - NOVEMBER 6: Jon Bon Jovi, musician and now co-owner of the Philadelphia Soul AFL football team speaks with the media after Philadelphia Magazine named him one of the 22 'People to Watch' that will change Philadelphia at Tiffany & Co. November 6, 2003 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 22 people were selected not only because of their success, but Philadelphia Magazine believes will become household names in the next decade. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
Jon Bon Jovi performs 'It's My Life' during 32nd Annual American Music Awards - Show at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by M. Caulfield/WireImage for American Music Awards)
(EXCLUSIVE, Premium Rates Apply) Bon Jovi (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 5: Rocker Jon Bon Jovi holds up his 'City of Philadelphia Brotherly Love Award' during the Liberty Medal Gala October 5, 2006 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton received the 2006 Liberty Medal for their efforts in helping raise more than $1 billion for disaster relief efforts. (Photo by Tim Shaffer-Pool/Getty Images)
Bon Jovi performs live Opening Night at the Prudential Center October 25, 2007 Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bill McCay/WireImage)
NEW ORLEANS - JULY 27: Jon Bon Jovi co-owner of the Philadelphia Soul celebrates at the end of the Arena Bowl XXII at the New Orleans Arena on July 27, 2008 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Philadelphia Soul defeated the San Jose SaberCats 59 to 56. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 1563 -- Air Date 12/12/2009 -- Pictured: (l-r) Richie Sambora, Jon Bon Jovi (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 17: Jon Bon Jovi of Bon Jovi performs on stage at the Sydney Football Stadium on December 17, 2010 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 13: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Musician Jon Bon Jovi looks on before the New England Patriots play against the New York Jets on November 13, 2011 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Patriots defeated the Jets 37-16. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 09: Musician Jon Bon Jovi and his wife Dorothea Hurley (R) attend The Cinema Society With Chrysler & Bally Host The Premiere Of 'Stand Up Guys' After Party at The Plaza Hotel on December 9, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Fernando Leon/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 07: Jon Bon Jovi of Bon Jovi performs live for fans at Etihad Stadium on the first show of his 2013 Australian Tour on December 7, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 21:New England Patriots Owner Robert Kraft and National recording artist Jon Bon Jovi hang out before the start of NFL game action against New York Jets during a game at MetLife Stadium on December 21, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jerome Davis/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - SEPTEMBER 20: Musician Jon Bon Jovi of Bon Jovi performs live on stage on Day 3 at the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 20, 2015 in Singapore. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)
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While the group did receive widespread attention, including a New York magazine article titled, "Jon Bon Jovi Is the Most Hated Man in Buffalo," the benefit to Trump's efforts to buy the team is not clear.

The trust of the late owner Ralph Wilson was expected to accept the highest bid regardless of where the new owner wanted the team to play. Because of that, public sentiment wouldn't have played a role in deciding who won the bidding. In addition, if Bon Jovi's ultimate goal was to move the team to Toronto, it is not clear why he would be concerned about people in Buffalo hating him.

But maybe the most perplexing part of all of this is simply that Bon Jovi's group was never considered the favorite to win the bidding, in large part because NFL rules limited how much his group could offer. In addition, Trump admitted that his bid was not going to compete with Pegula's bid.

When the first bids were submitted, Pegula's was reported to be $1.3 billion, Bon Jovi's was $1.1 or $1.2 billion, and Trump's was was believed to be $1.0 billion.

In order for Bon Jovi to have been considered the principal owner, NFL rules stated that he had to contribute at least 30% of the sale price in cash. According to the Toronto Sun, Bon Jovi had an approximate net worth of $500 million at the time. In order for the group to increase their bid to $1.4 billion, Bon Jovi would have needed to contribute $420 million of his own money. It was unlikely that the group would be able to top their bid without pushing Bon Jovi to the background.

As for Trump, he seemed unlikely to up his bid. Trump told Greta VanSusteren on Fox News at the time, "I'll be bidding. Many other people will be bidding. And I would say the chances are very, very unlikely [that I will win] because I'm not gonna do something totally stupid. Maybe just a little bit stupid, but not totally stupid."

The fan group also got into a fight with Texas A&M University which threatened a lawsuit over the use of "12th man" which is trademarked by the school. According to Caputo, the embarrassment of threatening a double-amputee cancer survivor with a lawsuit led to a settlement in which the school gave the group $25,000 and they changed their name to "Bills Fan Thunder."

Once Trump submitted his bid to buy the Bills, he was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement and was "forbidden from participating in public outreach efforts related to the sale," according to GQ. According to Caputo, at that point, Trump said the group was on its own. From GQ:

Charlie Pellien, a Buffalo local who co-founded the group said that keeping a lid on Trump's involvement was a challenge. "It was all behind the scenes and we weren't even allowed to mention his name because of the agreement that he signed," Pellien told me. "I was bursting at the seams to tell people, 'Hey, this was Donald Trump's idea.'"

With Trump having removed himself from the picture, Caputo took the gloves off. "We immediately made it far more aggressive and anti-Toronto than the president ever envisioned, mostly because we didn't have to worry about getting him crossways with the NFL," he said.

In the end, Bon Jovi was removed from his group in an effort to increase their bid, but they still came up short and Pegula purchased the team. Meanwhile, Trump found a different occupation to fill his time and some in the NFL believed his recent attacks against the league were sparked, at least in part, by his failed bid to buy the Bills.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

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